How I See Radio’s Digital Future

Imagine not having to tune in to a terrestrial radio show from 5 to 10 am but still hear the things about radio you used to love.

Instead -- a personality or team of personalities making content available on mobile devices like the iPod, iPad, iPhone, smartphones, car entertainment centers and whatever other technology may surface in the months and years ahead.

This terrestrial show does not exist on-the-air. Just as a cornucopia of features for your favorite mobile Internet device.

You’re a listener.

You choose from a menu of “bits” or “features” all variably timed. But you have the option to mash them up in a menu that, say, allows you to start with the “Kim Kardashian” bit and ends with Lady Gaga.

Or sample today’s content a la carte.

For now, the content is likely to be just talk because record labels have made it too expensive for Internet and mobile content providers to include music in these new media offerings.

But -- no worries.

There are plenty of places to get your fill of music once you’ve been entertained by "radio" personalities in the digital future.

And, at any time, you can take a break and choose an app that will give you the latest live, local newscast.

If you’re watching and not just listening, you can view the content -- see the pictures, videos.

Want to learn more, you can dig deeper and read – or save text for perusal later.

You can respond instantly through the traditional social networking tools or you could respond through a special, closed group of listeners known as “your fans”. These people can interact with each other. You can provide additional content and yes, you will be required to spend time interacting with your fans. In the future this will be seen as a benefit not a mass marketing tool.

While each segment may be sponsored in traditional ways with live-read commercials from your favorite personalities, produced commercials, unless they are very creative, would probably be a non-starter in the digital morning show of the future.

Of course, you could see visual ads on the phones and mobile devices.

But the greatest and largest source of revenue will come from event-based deployment of your fans – that is, on a regular (maybe even monthly basis), you invite fans to local venues to participate in live happenings that are sponsored by companies looking to have direct access to your fans.

A Wango Tango for niche groups, if you will – referring to the annual Clear Channel event developed by Roy Laughlin and still going strong today.

Parts of what I have just described are already available and some are under development.

But to bring it all together, radio companies have the inside advantage over other content companies in informing and entertaining digitally. Their biggest disadvantage is a dim view of the digital future.

Many of you are aware that I use my business as a “lab” to develop things such as paid models for content and the next iteration of social networking beyond Twitter and Facebook. I often first try what I ultimately recommend.

By the time I convene my next Media Solutions Lab in Scottsdale (January 27, 2011), I will share the latest successes and challenges with content providers in and out of the broadcasting space. We plan to spend some time on how to effectively transition to the digital future.

What is exciting is that the tower and transmitter is being replaced by the mobile Internet through intuitive and entertaining devices that fans carry with them – meaning you no longer have to wait for a car radio to be turned on or a clock radio to go off in the morning to connect with your fans.

These fans in the digital space are always connected –
to you!

And you see I have used the term “fans” and not “P1s” because we need to humanize the audience. Ask me about the people who read my work every day and I can go on for a half hour. There are between 175,000 and 200,000 visits per month, passionate, well-informed people curiously looking to the future and trying to comprehend present media trends.

That's just the beginning in the era of social networking.

If I tell you that I communicate with up to 300 “fans” a day who write to me personally and actually know them from previous emails, circumstances, likes and dislikes, you'd begin to see that my view of the digital future is not to create new age excuses to do mass marketing but personalized contact to promote social networking.

Social networking is two-way communication -- not today's direct mail.

One third of all the topics I write about are suggested by “fans” – and most support my independence from undue advertiser influence.

The lines are blurred – and it’s a good thing.

Radio can be the provider of content – written, spoken, and viewed.

You and I can as well. You’ll hear me, see me (God forbid) and continue to interact.

But there are new rules.

One, all content must be unique.

Copycats may have worked in format radio but it will lay an egg here.

Two, what you present must be compelling – that is, will you start your day with it?

Will you end your day with it? Will you use it all day? Or just check in two, three, four times a day the way we used to encourage them to use news radio.

There will be no more traditional morning rush.

Each individual with access to mobile Internet will determine their own prime hours. Maybe they listen to Pandora on the way to work and listen to a favorite personality (sans music) at night or in their spare time.

And three, content must be addictive to succeed.

With an infinite number of streams, apps and ways to reach audiences, what you do must be so addicting that your fans will look forward to coming back for more.

Terrestrial radio will not die. There will still be an audience for 24/7 programming – but not repeater radio which is not unique, compelling or addictive. And terrestrial radio will likely never again be a growth industry as long as consumers want to be the PD of their mobile devices.

I see the digital future as an aggressive growth business which is being held back currently by music industry royalty impediments, radio companies in denial that 24/7 broadcasting is not how consumers want their content and the failure of many of us to embrace the unknown.

All it will take to buy a ticket of admission to the digital future, is an open mind.

And those tickets have been hard to come by in a media industry obsessed with the past.

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