Online Radio Listening

Edison Research and Arbitron did a survey recently in which 17% of the respondents said they listened to online radio in the survey week.

That’s an estimated 42 million Americans 12 years or older.

I am not disputing the research from these solid companies – far from it, I concur. But there are nuances regarding online listening that should be discussed.

Radio listeners – happy with the terrestrial signal – obviously like accessing their favorite programming where they live – on computers, WiFi radios, mobile phones and the like. As one of my readers told me last week – too bad no one in the radio industry ever sat down to design a cool multi-functional device like an iPod but called a radio.


What if someone in the industry came up with the iPod design and flywheel navigation of the early iPods – thin, sleek, cool, colorful – and put called it a radio and then added other functionalities later.

That never happened and radio got left off of iPods and most mobile devices because the next generation ultimately decided it liked to be in charge of its entertainment and could live without terrestrial radio.

Nonetheless online listening is an attractive but dangerous destination ahead. I say dangerous because many make the assumption that putting radio on the Internet kisses the boo-boo and makes everything better. It really doesn't for many reasons.

You see, radio broadcasters often see Internet radio as being terrestrial radio delivered another way.

That would be incorrect at best.

If there were a level playing field for Internet entrepreneurs (i.e., royalty fees), they would be seeing that to broadcast to people is so – yesterday.

I’m not saying that there will not be a market for Internet streaming but it will not be as a replacement for terrestrial radio stations.

I see developers building radio stations for advertisers, municipalities and I have a radio friend who is working under the radar and achieving much success selling Internet radio as something other than radio as usual.

Another friend, the outstanding program director John Rook, is so high on WiFi radio that he never misses an opportunity to enlighten others. WiFi radio is its best when it brings you variety, quality – that which terrestrial radio may not deem as legitimate.

But where we have to be careful is to not forget the generational engineering.

You can’t expect an attention deficit young generation to sit and wait for someone to broadcast to them. They have been able to access and play exactly what they want – or think they want.

This is the key.

Content providers of the future should take a page out of Steve Jobs’ play book and try to learn as much about how entertainment and information is consumed by a generation very different from theirs.

Here’s what I’m thinking about the future of new and traditional media:

1. I see Internet stations in places where 24/7 access is experienced now -- public places where 24/7 broadcasting makes sense.

2. But the Internet may become a delivery system for one program a day – at a set time – or occasional programming. It costs next to nothing to put an Internet station up (aside from royalty fees). The Internet is like having a transmitter and no one has to program 24/7.

3. The key will be making whatever is offered so addictive that people will crave it. That’s a high but necessary standard. For example: apps sold by Apple for their iPhone and Touch are addictive – so addictive many people actually pay for them.

4. The radio station of the future is podcasting. Here’s an update on an experimental program I am working on with a radio morning show client vis-à-vis podcasting. Their show (which I will tell you about soon) has no music, does not sound like radio, gets its audience from viral social networking and makes its money from ancillary forms of revenue not dependent on “radio” commercials.

5. The medium will become the transmitter not the message. The message is what experts or talent come up with. We’ll no longer be able to hire an “air staff” because we’ll have to discover talent to aggregate in ways that are most marketable. Believe me this is exciting. When my morning show clients first crossed over to podcasting it was like a near death experience. Now they don’t want to go back.

6. You may want to sit for this one. It is entirely possible that some forms of entertainment may disappear over the years and decades ahead because they no longer fit into generational media. For example, few could argue that listening to drama or a variety show on terrestrial radio would have much appeal to today’s available listeners. But in the early days of radio – before TV – and in another era, that was the attraction. We change – evolving one generation at a time. This is not bad. It’s just different.

I hope that traditional radio always has a place in our world but it may not.

However, the tried and true formulas that are well-known by seasoned radio managers, programmers and talent will still apply to whatever comes next.

As we see radio CEOs fumble around as they try to force their radio into a generational breach, you see what you get.

Let’s think it through and learn from mistakes that only become failure when we stop trying.

You can bet that radio will no longer be 24/7. You may not like that prospect, but if you want the habits of the next generation you can see the signs on the horizon.

Actually radio consolidators who are ruining their stations by cutting off the life blood -- talent and local shows would have been wiser to cutback by programming only 12 hours a day (or less) of local content but make it compelling. Rerun the good stuff. That would have been better than importing national programming.

If you are inclined to fantasize about radio returning to its former position of power and might after the recession, you've got lots of company.

Radio can only have a future if it adapts to the sociological changes of this new generation (the change makers) and stakes out property where their live -- online, on the phone and through social networks.

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