The Next Generation – Unplugged

What happens when you take mobile devices and cell phones away from the next generation?

A new study has become public that confirms what I discovered when, as a professor of music industry, I asked students at the University of Southern California to go iPod and cell phone free for two days.

The new study was conducted by the International Center for Media & Public Agenda and students at the Merrill College of Journalism in Maryland.

In the Maryland research, 200 students were asked to give up all media for 24 hours. Students then had to report their experiences.

The USC project involved 44 students who were required to give up their iPods and cell phones for two days or opt to write me a 27-page paper. Obviously, no one chose the paper.

They were also allowed to use traditional media to replace iPods and cell phones but few chose to.

In both studies, the conclusion was the same – abstinence meant anxiety.

They missed texting, calling and staying connected to friends. Many did a workaround by asking friends to text people for them – clever. Their professor (me) never thought of that one.

Some of my students discovered pay phones and didn’t like them.

Most could easily live without their iPods for two days. Few could stand being without cell phone connectivity even though some admitted to enjoying being free from constant contact.

In the Maryland experiment, students reported missing information.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project reported that text messaging has become the number one way teens reach their friends with as many as half of them sending 50 or more text messages a day – 1,500 per month. And one in three send more than 100 texts a day or more than 3,000 per month,

The Maryland study includes college students who send even more text messages – 5,000 or more a month. One participant admitted to sending over 9,000 texts a month.

You wonder why radio operators get their backs up when I remind them that text messaging is their biggest competitor -- not another station, not Internet streaming, not iPods.

A Pew study in 2008 indicated that the Internet had overtaken newspapers as the main source of campaign news in the United States for the first time. Now the Maryland undergrads rarely mention television and newspapers when talking about their news habits.

There are conclusions that are noteworthy in both the Maryland and USC research:

1. Students and presumably young people of the next generation crave the latest technology to keep them in touch and connected to the people they choose.

2. Students do not care about traditional journalism in spite of what traditional journalists think. In the Maryland study it became apparent they did not care about newspapers, TV or even blogs (ouch!).

3. What mattered most was gathering information through numerous ways, devices, networks, sites and applications. In other words, the next generation is their own editor.

If all this is true, and I believe it to be, perhaps you can see why I think our focus should be understanding both technology and sociology going forward.

The radio industry offers 24/7 programs in an era that defies the findings of these two studies.

Radio believes that listeners exist to follow their lead, hear their content and let them chose the ways in which they will be entertained. This is a major misjudgment of the emerging new audience.

It’s obvious as to why radio operators feel this way after all, they own towers and transmitters that are designed to broadcast programming in real-time all the time.

But the world no longer lives in real time.

Consumers have gathered numerous ways to get access to what they need to know and what to hear when they want it on demand. And if this is true, and I believe it to be, can you see why radio stations need to go back to the drawing board to create a new kind of content for the next generation.

Radio as we know it today will not exist one day too soon.

Record labels will become irrelevant (if they aren’t already) even sooner.

But radio companies that invest now to hedge their bets will find a new growth industry in a world that has technologically and sociologically changed from the days when this video was produced. It was made in 1951 about the independent station WMCA in New York City then owned by the Strauss family. It is dated and will give you a laugh here and there but if you’re like me you’ll see two things.

One, why radio was so important when it did things like WMCA and local stations of its day did and two, how this very ancient example kind of gives perspective as to how radio has changed to repeater formats and national focus with emphasis on cheap entertainment.

You can view this WMCA video here (thanks to Neal Mirsky)

You may conclude, as I do, that the natural evolution of radio from the WMCA days to today must be one of redeploying the use of talent and marketing and community service using today’s preferred mobile Internet devices.

To do less will land you in the Museum of Radio and TV.

To do more will guarantee you a prominent position in the lifestyle of consumers who have changed from sixty years ago and will continue to change as new devices and preferences present themselves to the next generation.

For those of you who would prefer to get Jerry's daily posts by email for FREE, please click here. Then look for a verifying email from FeedBurner to start service.
Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.