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Tuesday, April 17, 2012
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It's One More Radio Industry Convention

The good news is there's more about "measurement" coming out of this NAB/RAB convention than in any previous year. The bad news is it looks to be a scramble for putting technology words on the table, again. The end result will be the audience going home to do what it's done in years past after each of the other radio conventions - continuing the same old routines.

I'm glad to see the discussion of metrics finally being taken seriously. As of last September's gathering it wasn't mentioned with any substance. Relative to what technology companies are offering advertiser through metrics, though, this discussion is not about the same animal.

"If the radio industry places a registration process in front of a visitor, for what's available at a radio station web site today, there are major reasons why this action will fail." A good place to start is by reading NAB Gordon Smith's opening statement for this year's convention, and then scanning his opening statement from the September 2011 NAB/RAB Radio Show. Despite both speeches reflecting a similar "now, let's go get them competitors" feeling, the fact remains there has been little movement within the radio industry towards integrating technological advances for improving audience or advertiser experiences.

One glaring mistake that's about to be made is in a call for registration of visitors to radio web sites, a suggestion made in a speech at NAB/RAB by Triton Digital CEO Neal Schore, and mirrored by radio commentator Mark Ramsey. This action is being approached in as fumbled a way as seeing radio move into social media, or its entrance into design of web sites. In the end, it will end up chasing more folks away than it gathers information from.

If the radio industry places a registration process in front of a visitor, for what's available at a radio station web site today, there are major reasons why this action will fail. In no particular order they are:
Radio has not developed - and shows no sign of putting energy into developing - content on its web sites that is worthy of a person giving up personal information.
There is no effort by radio to create an anlytics system that would make use of the data gathered. There may be attempts at gathering numbers, but that's a far cry from an analytics system.
The cost of creating a systematic approach for using data will be overshadowed by the radio sales and programming team's inability to devote time to learning how a system like this is used. (It is not a simple process that can be easily understood.)
What technology companies have in common - and I include Pandora, Live365, Targetspot, Spotify, etc. - is that they have a team of developers and analytics gurus who spend 24/7 on their specialties. The tweaking that's required once a system like this is in place is immense. As a developer I'll attest that one third of the time creating a product/service is spent on debugging. It's only then that the upgrading process begins (and this is continual).

Mark Ramsey has a video titled "Radio, Should You Register Your Listeners Online?" He says "yes," so, upon viewing, I wrote him my observations. He responded, "All of the main providers of radio's CMS platforms will soon provide social login which, at a moderate to low cost, will provide all of what you describe." Sorry, Mark. There are no CMS platforms, or understanding how to use them, that come at "a moderate to low cost."

Time spent understanding how to implement is one part of the equation that's not being considered. The other is that true "analytics" of data is like chess; it takes moments to learn but a lifetime to master. The third reason is that all technology-centric companies have a head start on radio that's measured in years.

A basic spreadsheet to define advertiser ROI is not simple to create. Nor can one be applied across all advertisers; online, success metrics vary from advertiser-to-advertiser. Each campaign needs to be designed from the ground up (to accommodate landing pages, at the least).

While I do not have the slug-lines used for 2011 or 2010's NAB/RAB Radio Show, let's take a run through the uplifting statement used this year - "The Great Content Shift: Define your evolution." In 2009, 2008, and 2007, in order, they were: "The Dial and Beyond - Profit from what's now and what's next;" "Bold Signals - On Air, Online, On Site;" and "Opportunities - High Tech, High Touch, High ROI are on the horizon." All spoke of promise; none was followed through by broadcasters once they left the convention. (Clear Channels' "iHeartRadio" is not considered here because it is a mere duplicate of Pandora and not a radio industry-created technology thrust.)

In 2009, we also had "The Best of Radio" web site launched. Its purpose was to... actually, I'm not sure, and you probably don't know because of not having paid a visit to it since that year either. It's another example of how the radio industry has this propensity for jumping into the digital world with both feet before it realizes the work involved in making success.

To close, let's point towards the end of Mr. Smith's opening remarks yesterday, where he says this line: "But despite the tired claims of our misguided critics, broadcasting is a robust business."

As a "misguided critic," I'll state that there are plenty of examples where criticism was proven correct. What's needed is for the NAB or RAB to acknowledge them. There have also been numerous times when comments showed the radio industry needed to grasp the basics of technology before trying to pull the fruits of it off higher branches.

Here's what I wrote in September of last year, which is still applicable: "The radio industry needs to get a better grasp of how digital works before jumping into this type of business. A good place to start would be to get the RDS system working at all stations. Then radio needs to quantify ads-served and response attained. Finally, for anyone involved in the sales of radio advertising, or the building of radio audiences, there needs to be a weekly online course outlining just how difficult moving into digital is; nearly everything at radio industry conventions is presented in a way which suggests it's much easier to pull off."

What is displayed at this year's NAB/RAB is, again, much bravado for crowds desperate for words that say "you remain relevant." If only they would go home, study what's being done in the technology sector, apply some time and money to learning what's common knowledge in tech, and then discuss with clients (and audience) why radio is as tech savvy as any media. Then we'd see forward movement.

Until the above occurs, I'll ask the same question I've asked over the past decade: Once you get home from NAB/RAB, how did it change what you do on the local level? Please let me know. So far, not one answer has been recorded. I anticipate no change after this convention ends, either.

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