It's 2010, Do You Know What Your Biggest Competitor Will Be?

In less than three months, we'll be ten years into the 21st century and I'm getting the feeling that the media business is at least ten years back into the 20th century.

So I thought I'd give a little pop quiz this morning to test our readiness for the next decade.

Here's the question for media industry execs: what will your biggest competitor be over the next decade?

The Internet?

Well, ten years ago the Internet was around but it wasn't so much of a factor that Viacom or Clear Channel had to worry about it. Remember when Clear Channel demoted its CEO, Randy Michaels and concocted an Internet job for a radio man? They didn't get it then or now. Turned out the Internet wasn't radio's version of Siberia, it was the growth potential of China

Could the Internet be radio and television's biggest competitor in the next ten years?

It's hard to see ahead.

I'll prove it.

If you can remember back to 1999, could you have envisioned then listeners preferring iPods over radio or sharing music online that they didn't buy? Or, even email that existed but didn't yet proliferate? How about instant messaging? Or social networking? Radio groups near bankruptcy. Music industry dissipating.

See, a lot has transpired in ten years -- most of which we could never have anticipated and most of which the media industry has not adequately addressed. Thus the media crisis that started before the current recession and continues to this day.

Perhaps the Internet is the killer app.

No peeking.

This test is a little harder than you might have thought.

Okay, perhaps webcasting -- a specific Internet function -- is the fearsome competitor of the future. Terrestrial stations broadcasting on this omnipresent medium and with WiFi proliferating and mobile devices like the iPhone becoming so popular, maybe it's that.

Imagine every radio station on your cell phone or mobile device -- think that would be radio's competitor right there all in the family?

I know the industry is hoping for it which is why you've likely been reading a lot of hype lately about how much listening is being done to radio stations on mobile devices.

Some 227 iPhone apps for Citadel stations, Clear Channel's iHeartRadio's 3.5 million apps, Pandora's 11 million application downloads. A recent Inside Radio article reports that streaming already accounts for up to 10% of CBS Radio’s total audience, and 16% of Clear Channel’s.

Is this spin, hope or reality?

One thing about apps -- and you may experience this yourself -- is that we don't use most of the ones we download. Research says this even applies to the ones we paid for. So it's a big jump from millions of consumers downloading apps to millions of consumers actually using them to listen to radio.

There are also questions of attention span -- and sharing any radio listening time with video and stored music. But perhaps I'm throwing a curve ball at you.

Still -- do you know what your biggest competitor will be?

Could podcasting be ready for prime time in the next ten years?

Is that something you need to track? Podcasting currently is only good for the spoken voice because so many music royalty issues exist thanks to the record labels. But podcasting to me is the new radio.

While radio companies eliminate their personalities, podcasting will increasingly become their new homes. And it is relatively easy for podcasters to recapture their terrestrial audiences through social networking means. Some podcasters have had success monetizing their podcasts through ancillary forms of revenue other than commercials.

Maybe it's podcasting.

Before you decide -- how about video?

You know how I always say the next generation demands video when they want it, audio when they want it and text when they want it. That's how they got to be our on-demand generation.

YouTube has some big legal problems with Viacom -- a lawsuit pending over content rights that could go bad for parent Google and for the genre itself. As popular as short form video has become, these aggregators are in some cases displaying content without compensation to the owners (sound familiar?).

If precedent is an example, I'd say some big companies will prevail in lawsuits against video companies, win the battle and then lose the war.

One way or the other the next generation will go on to watch video -- stolen or paid -- because that's what it demands.

Operators like Hulu that are increasingly popular ad-supported models are simply ways for young consumers to watch TV shows on their laptops. Whether it is the model for the future is your guess. After all, this is a quickie quiz.

Will something Apple puts out be traditional media's biggest competitor of the coming decade?

I've talked about the iTablet (or whatever Steve Jobs decides to call it) that is said to be in the works. This handheld device is thought to be bigger than an iPhone and smaller than a laptop screen.

Speculation says that the iPad (like that name?) may he able to read PDFs making it perfect for educators and students to augment the expense of textbooks, play apps, play music, access the Internet, read best selling books (some breathlessly predict the iTablet will be a Kindle killer). Yes, watch movies and TV and, of course, access the iTunes store for your every need.

Apple has revolutionized the music industry and has put a dent into teen radio listening because of its previous devices, the question is -- will Apple provide traditional media's biggest competition over the next ten years?

Before you turn in your answer -- keep in mind that television is likely to experience a decline as severe and damaging as radio. Newspapers were already dead on arrival but I've got a few theories about newspaper companies that explain why they can't use their assets any better than radio has to access future growth streams.

Let's see -- we've covered webcasting, podcasting, Apple products, video -- oh, I didn't mention social networking because as far as I'm concerned social networking would be my choice to answer this question if it applied to the just-concluding decade.

Will Facebook be all the rage even five years from now?

The dew is off the lily at MySpace and has been since Rupert Murdoch bought it and tried to make a traditional media model out of it.

If social networking doesn't advance beyond Facebook, will it be dead or will the next iteration of social networking be the competitor that will haunt radio, television and the music industry for years to come?

Now it's time to answer.

Just one more thought -- here's how I'm grading.

If you've even spent any time thinking about the question, I'd give you an "A" -- after all, who knows what the future will hold. If we get accustomed to watching not just the technology but sociology of media going forward and keeping an eye on generational similarities and differences, we're likely to do well in the future.

If corporations continue to try to bend sociology to fit their acquisitions and lack of consumer focus, then they'll get another "F". I don't know about you but I'm giving them an "F" for the first decade of the century.

After all, the radio industry doesn't budget even one percent of its operating budget for new media and the music industry is doing all it can to discourage Internet access to music discovery.

So, do you know what your biggest competitor will be for the next decade?

I'm thinking -- text messaging.

I know -- not sophisticated enough. Not rich content. No ad-supported model. No way to make revenue.

But, the one thing the next generation will tell you they cannot and will not live without is texting. Texting is the main reason they carry phones around in their hands ready to respond in a second. Even talking on the telephone would allow them to put the phone in their pockets when they finished.

But texting? No, right in their hands -- all the time.

I sure wouldn't fold my traditional or new media company as a result of this -- but I sure as heck would never forget that texting will come first and everything else second if present indications can predict the future.

Texting is not a tool for radio contests.

It is the contest.

Now it's getting easier to attach pictures and videos to texting so like it or not, every person is a amateur broadcaster, communicator, picture taker and mini-movie maker.

The social issue of the next decade -- in my view -- will be texting. Safety implications while driving. Health consequences to the finger joints. Courtesy issues in social and business situations. Texting instead of communicating in person (breaking up with boyfriends, refusing to respond to convey anger).

This is a big area and we'll delve into it more in the coming weeks but as of this moment, you have to look seriously at text messaging as a major competitor for time spent consuming media.

A great start to being a better traditional media competitor in the future is to know what your biggest competitor will be. They didn't do that in the last decade and they don't seem to be doing it now.

Denial won't work.

I love radio and its people and I'd love to say that everything is going to be okay because Radar says so or this research substantiates it. Research is only one of our tools, and an important one. But the history of great radio has been built on sharp programmers observing and responding to the sociology of these audiences. The best PDs call it their "gut" feeling.

Heck, Proctor & Gamble and General Foods researches every product it launches and they still have their flops. And the research companies still get paid.

There is no getting around the need for smart people observing and responding to the human condition.

The future of all media is exciting and promising as long as we work together to keep a realistic view of how society is changing technology -- not the other way around.

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