For Youth, Texting Is the New Radio

Have you noticed what young consumers are doing with their cell phones?

If you're a baby boomer or Gen Xer, your cell phone could be in your pocket or briefcase until you need it.

But Millennials hold their phones in the palm of their hands -- all the time. Ready to send and receive text messages and stay connected with their social circle.

Look around. You'll see.

Understanding the importance of this is major if you're in the music or media business.

We know that cell phones are probably the single most important device to the next generation.

Even more critical than an iPod.

Certainly more than a radio.

While older demographics tend to be practical -- reserving a cell phone for necessary calls and the like, Gen Y has embraced the cell phone literally and figuratively. A phone might be, well -- a phone to older consumers, but it is much, much more to a young person.

I realize that older business types are as in love with their Blackberries as kids are attached to their cell phones. So observe them -- walking down the jetway to get on a plane, ignoring the flight attendants who greet them, sitting in their seat waiting for takeoff pounding out yet another message until the last possible moment.

These Blackberry addicts are akin to the next generation when left to their devices, but young people are even more hardcore.

The cell phone is an extension of their bodies -- for that matter, themselves.

They want to be ready to receive or send.

When I used to walk across the campus of USC in Los Angeles, I would observe in students the downright need to touch their phones and talk or text somebody -- anybody.

I once assigned students a project where they were asked to give up their cell phones and iPods for two days. They were reluctant until I mentioned an alternative project -- a 25-page paper. They were into what they thought would be easier -- no cell phones -- and when the two days passed, they were to report to their fellow students about life without cell phones.

It was ugly -- I think they wished they wrote the 25-page paper.

By the way, the students anonymously graded each other on how honest each person was in actually giving up the phone. No cheating.

I've mentioned this before but to some of my newer readers I think this is worth reviewing again.

What we found was angry parents -- especially moms who could no longer contact their children at will several times a day. Of course there is a name for these folks -- helicopter moms -- because they constantly hover around their children's lives.

Angst was reported -- feeling naked without a phone in their hand.

Out of touch with their peers. All of a sudden they voluntarily vanished from their social network radar screen -- a fate worse than death for most.

Giving up their iPods was easier. They have a love/hate relationship with their iPods anyway. No one is ready to give them up, but they are plainly bored with the same songs over and over again. Sounds like a future radio program director to me.

Notice none turned to radio. Just casual listening if they were in a car -- most opted to keep their radios silent.

I learned a long time ago that Gen Y really doesn't want a radio included on their cell phones -- at least not terrestrial radio. Pandora, yes -- but for selected listening.

The transistor radio of the baby boomer generation or the Walkman of Gen X is not today's cell phone.

This is what fascinates me.

Can you imagine how thrilled radio broadcasters were when transistor radios came to America from Japan in the 1950's and 60's? Now think of a cell phone that is never out of a listeners palm but they don't want to use it as a radio -- or even as an iPod.

The mobile phone is the killer app.

When radio people try to make terrestrial radio relevant to the 80 million or so Gen Yers who are coming up into the ranks, they rarely understand the sociological changes that prohibit it.

This presents quite a problem for people looking to find a place in the palms of the next generation.

Radio broadcasters can no longer look to 7:20 in the morning and expect their world of listeners to be tuned in.

There is no more 7:20 in the morning.

No prime time.

Just "my" time.

Is there anything radio can do to get on that cell phone and in the hands of the next generation?

Is there anything that record labels can do to get their music directly to cell phones that will cause more of an addiction than the current way in which music is accessed on the phone or iPod?

Can you deliver a newspaper to a cell phone? Is that a business?

How about television? Does TV adapt to a cell phone? I'm not just talking about a few moving pictures. I'm talking about making the cell phone a replacement for the TV. Possible?

The answer is yes.

Tomorrow I'll explain. (Just kidding).

The cell phone is more than just text, video or audio. It is an enabler.

Perhaps you heard a few weeks ago about teens in the Cincinnati area who were taking nude photos of themselves or others -- sending them on their cell phones or posting online.

As the Cincinnati Enquirer reported:

"A year ago, a 19-year-old Goshen cheerleading coach was charged and prosecuted for a misdemeanor, contributing to the unruliness of a child, for taking a topless photo of herself and a 15-year-old girl. A Glen Este Middle School boy was taken to juvenile court during the last school year for taking explicit photos of his girlfriend. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and last month revealed results of a study that showed 20 percent of teens say they have sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures or video of themselves".

Look, I'm not saying all teens use their cell phones for this purpose although local school officials estimate that half to two thirds of their students probably have indecent pictures either of themselves or somebody else on their phones.

What this illustrates is that the dream device that gives media companies direct access to their audience cannot be programmed for a passive consumer.

They want to create their own content -- dressed or undressed -- and send it along in the viral way that has become a characteristic of their generation.

Radio and TV news operations want to broadcast news over the Internet or cell phone. There is a conflict in what young consumers apparently want and what media companies want to give them.

I know in radio, executives are hanging on to the hope that stations will once again become viable -- after all, radio stations broadcast entertainment and information.

Perhaps you can understand my passion for podcasting as it relates to the next generation and their receiver of choice -- the cell phone.

Content will be sent to them in bits and pieces. The consumer will be the "program director" who decides what gets heard and what is "broadcast" over the phone to others.

It's unsettling. Confounding. And damn exciting.

Someone has to provide content for them to work with -- how about radio people who have professional production values.

I've mentioned before that I have a delightful client that has asked me to work with them to build a new age radio show in segments for mobile consumption. We are using social networking to regather their former audience (as the show was a victim of consolidation cutbacks). It will be monetized without relying solely on commercials. No one will ever fire them again except their listeners if they ever let them down.

Oh, one more thing -- no music. Just the bits.

And, no -- this will not work for radio morning shows also doing a terrestrial show because that's considered radio.

Sexting is the scary extreme, but it shows you to what lengths young people will go just to take charge of their media. This is a generation that demands to be the PD of entertainment content that can be time-delayed, deleted, shared, stopped, restarted.

You don't broadcast to them.

They broadcast to others.

For those of you who would prefer to get Jerry's daily posts by email for free, please click here. IMPORTANT: First you must check your mail or spam filter to verify your subscription immediately after signing up before daily service can begin.
Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.