Radio's Music Discovery Solution

In a recent memo about music discovery, Edison’s Tom Webster notes the radio industry’s erosion as a source of music discovery for listeners.

Radio in its best days was the major source of exposing new music, but back then, powerful program directors (and/or music directors) decided on what relatively few songs would attract the biggest audiences.

Often, local or regional artists were broken on-air and then record promoters would move to spread their success nationally.

The term Top 40 often did not really describe a station that actually played forty top hits.

There were “paper adds” (basically lies, to help record companies build momentum about airplay), Billboard “bullets” – buying big ads in the music trades in the hope of getting a “bullet” next to the artist to show upward progress and gain more airplay and the mere fact that most pop music stations never really played 40 songs in a meaningful rotation.

The argument was that there weren't 40 good current songs to play at any one time.

The answer actually was radio stations didn’t want to expose that much music. And over the years, 40 became 30, 30 became even fewer. I programmed a major market station once with 19 currents.

We had a million cume.

No -- no People Meter.

Short playlists have worked for a long time and still do if your goal is to trick the People Meter. But you can’t fool the audience.

Some of my programming friends tell me, “you know better than to say add music to a hit music station playlist” and my response is that when the generation you are trying to attract is used to previewing more and different music in one day than you can play in a week – it’s time to change.

Here are some of the findings in the Infinite Dial study and my comments:

“Nearly one in four Americans has listened to audio from an iPod or other MP3 player connected to a car stereo: Although consumers often have to deal with myriad adapters and other barriers to in-car listening, 54 percent of iPod/MP3 player owners have listened to their device in their car; this equates to 24 percent of all persons age 12 and older having listened to an iPod, iPhone or other MP3 player while connected to a car stereo”.

The car is now an entertainment system with four wheels – not just a radio. But there are opportunities for radio stations willing to adapt to the inevitable trend of mobile Internet availability in the car.

“Consumers say radio station Web sites are improved but TV and print sites are leading the local battle: Nearly half of people age 12 and older give credit to radio for improvements in their Web sites. Forty- eight percent say that radio station Web sites have gotten more interesting compared to 17 percent believing them to be worse or less interesting. However, monthly visitation to radio station Web sites (16 percent) among persons 12+ lags visitation to local TV and local newspaper Web sites”.

Here is another local radio warning. Newspaper and TV sites win fans because they are – well, local. That’s exactly what big radio has gone out of its way to eliminate for financial reasons.

“The Internet passes TV as most essential medium in Americans' lives: For the first time, more Americans say the Internet is "most essential" to their lives when given a choice along with television, radio, and newspapers".

Only Wall Street radio executives could be surprised by this, but as I have said in the past they make fees whether they succeed or fail.

“Texting has become a daily activity for nearly half of all mobile phone owners: Nearly half of mobile phone owners (45 percent) age 12 and older text multiple times a day. Three quarters of teens (75 percent) and persons age 18 to 24 (76 percent) text multiple times a day compared with nearly two thirds (63 percent) of 25 to 34s; and four in ten (42 percent) 35 to 44s and 45 to 54s (37 percent)”.

Thus my warnings that radio needs to worry about its competition – not the station across the street or whatever Steve Jobs comes up with next, but what consumes their listeners' lives -- and that includes their passion for text messaging.

The full Edison/Arbitron study is here.

It is not possible for traditional media to revive a growth industry using only terrestrial radio. Consumers are far more complicated.
  • They have more choices.
  • They want the Internet on-the-go.
  • And want to choose programs on-demand.
  • All age groups – not just Millennials – have shorter attention spans.
  • Don’t need 24/7 access to traditional media.
  • Must have social media connections to share with peers.
  • Demand music discovery because a stations playlist no longer suffices.
  • Free file sharing is their new radio but they will still buy what they want to own.
  • The concert business is headed for the dumpster.
  • Hulu’s new Hulu Plus online video paid subscription model will lay an egg.
  • Apple’s new streaming service tied in to iTunes will work because it is tied into the 100 million strong iTunes customer base.
  • Local is the word to remember whether it is radio, Internet, news, music discovery.
  • The Worldwide Web should have been called the LocalWeb and the results would have been better even if the name isn't as sexy.
What this tells me is that if we pay attention to how radically the consumer is changing and embracing new technology, there are new growth businesses that will emerge.

The radio solution is to build a brand that includes separate (notice I said separate) distribution streams of different (notice I said different) content for music discovery.

That is, a station brand can distribute music over a 30-song terrestrial "jukebox", offer deeper content elsewhere and on another platform, tons of new content in yet another place but when the entire brand is pulled together as one thing.

The idea of using new media platforms to proliferate what is already on-the-air is a no-growth strategy.

What is on-the-air is good, but different and separate streams, downloads or sites of content within the brand will be the way to maximize potential. We're not generally doing that. We're doing radio as we know it on technology that consumers use differently than a radio.

Knowing the difference is the difference.

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