Heads Up On Your Next Big Competitor

There's iPod, iPhone, social networking, YouTube, Hulu, texting, smart phones, filesharing.

Now -- there is something on the horizon that may be coming along within months -- certainly within the year -- that will pose a new threat to traditional media -- radio, television and the music industry.

It's a product that Apple is said to be working on right now.

Of course, Apple is tight lipped about anything in its pipeline, but the huge Apple underground says this product is most certainly on the way.

Maybe in June -- or the other traditional Apple product intro dates such as September or January.

So, I'd like to give you a heads up and discuss the ramifications real and imagined.

The next big competitor to radio, TV and the music industry is going to be what some term the Apple iPad.

That may not be the name, but here's what we're hearing.

It's a handheld unit -- larger than the iPhone or iPod and smaller than a laptop computer.

It may download and play movies on the fly, be a cooler Kindle (digital book reader), display newspapers and magazines (probably in color), contain your pictures from iPhoto, allow you to use your apps and may have one or two other surprises from Apple CEO Steve Jobs such as display PDFs and store college textbooks.

You won't see an FM radio on it.

The New York Times
recently gave some added credibility to the buzz that Apple is indeed planning to bring this product to market.

I am hearing the price will be around $800 -- could be slightly less -- and rebates may make it a few hundred dollars cheaper as a phone contract will be required.

That's a second phone contract in addition to what most consumers have now for texting, voice and/or surfing the Internet.

Verizon is rumored to be getting this franchise or part of it.

Yes, it will look cool. Does anything from Apple not look cool?

It would be a mistake to dismiss this pivotal product as just an add-on to the iPod or iPhone line because it has the potential to deliver another pounding blow to traditional media that oddly enough is trapped in its former shell (an ugly portable radio, a car radio, unremarkable TV set or CD).

While radio happy talkers cheer every time someone like Larry Wilson buys a small station for cash -- no debt -- they neglect to get real over what a radio station in a world without the next generation can amount to.

Certainly, not a growth business.

The significance of all this is that, ironically enough, if you want to be in the radio business, you'll have to include video and text in what you do.

Radio is an aural industry.

It was established before pictures could be transmitted over television.

Way before the Internet, instant messaging and the current day advantages to modern communication.

However, we have 80 million Gen Y'ers continuing to come of age over the next years and significantly enough this generation never had to choose between audio, video or text. They get any one or all three at a simple click or a swipe.

Painfully for a lot of radio people, this means to stay in the game over the years ahead, radio will have to acquire picture, video and text qualities as part of its audio stream.

If you leave it to radio, they'll be saying, "how can you cram pictures into a radio?". That would be the wrong approach in my opinion. It's actually the opposite, you have to use radio talent to create content for new technology.

If radio wants to be around for the digital future, it will have to have pictures, video and text. And since it is hard to get all of this into a traditional radio, the radio industry better get to work fast on a non-traditional radio device.

Or, better yet ...

Become part of this new Apple iPad (for lack of a better name).

In other words, the radio industry will have to port over to the technology that is being embraced by the marketplace.

Radio CEOs would be the worst people to look towards in this context. They will be doing more of the same in the months ahead -- repeater radio, staff cuts, no innovation, no plan to provide content where the next generation lives.

As many of you know, that's a "do not pass go" card if you've ever seen one.

The record industry would look at an iPad as another place to air music videos.

The sad fact is that after MTV, music videos hit their peak. Of course there are many around today but the significance or desire by the market for music videos has waned.

Record labels would be wise to build a strategy around this new product, but not just music videos. That's not a growth business.

Since the device promises to be interactive, this is a great opportunity to use the iPad as a music discovery device.

Label execs hate Steve Jobs so much they can't see straight and this shortcoming may leave them out of the next big thing.

It shouldn't.

Here's a strategy:

1. Radio companies should build content for the iPad -- and not your watered down morning shows or repurposed terrestrial radio content.

2. Use the employees you are now firing (or have fired) who have great skills in production values to build this new revenue stream for you and be ready to get into the iPad as soon as possible.

3. Think interactive and social networking. The iPad will allow for two-way communication and this is a good thing because there can be no future for any medium that doesn't enable social networking.

4. Radio should be reborn but not as radio programming but content that includes video, audio and text that just happens to be supplied by radio talent.

5. The iPad is a canvass and you can use broad strokes to create new content that can be accessed through it.

6. Record labels should turn the iPad into a music discovery machine that can probably also sell music as Apple TV sells and rents movies. I recommend charging five cents for each new song consumers want to discover and want to own. Then see it, hear it, share it and use it on all your devices for one price.

So, the radio industry can continue to lick its wounds and deny that the market for audio-only programming will not be enough to make it relevant for years to come.

The labels can continue to embarrass themselves by trying to find more ways to get consumers who can download free music, pay $19.95 a month for an all-you-can-eat plan that heretofore has proven to be a dud with consumers.

The point:

There is no reason to deliver only audio or only TV on any device.

There is no reason to read a printed newspaper.

If the Internet had been developed before radio there would have been no need to invent radio -- or for that matter television.

Oddly enough, if radio and TV people do not soon conclude that one dimensional delivery of content is so yesterday, they will be stuck in yesterday forever more.

As you'll keep in mind, I'm sure, the day Apple introduces this product -- sound, vision and text are now one.

Maybe not to traditional media executives.

But there is no doubt young consumers are no longer limiting themselves to one thing.

Even the early iPods morphed into video machines and picture books.

iPhones became roving Internet devices and mini-computers.

Laptops, once word processors, are now also TVs for consumers to watch YouTube and their favorite network programs on Hulu.

You can see the evolutionary trend.

But not in radio and music.

And that will have to change soon or call the Museum of Radio & TV and reserve your place in yesterday.

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