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Tuesday, May 1, 2012
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Radio's Defense: Selective Hindsight

There is an excellent thread of a conversation in progress at the "Radio Broadcasting" LinkedIn group. Started by Assistant Professor [of] Broadcasting at Western Kentucky University, Dick Taylor, it revolves around an observation that riles old school radio industry personnel: "Pandora #1 radio station in Los Angeles? Latest Media Audit says it is. While most broadcasters say it isn't radio, my broadcast students think it is. The next generation will define 'radio.'"

There are 40 comments, stated in a civil manner, which outline each person's view. Some support the concept of Pandora gaining ground and being "radio." Others rip into it as if there's no validity to a claim that anything will ever unseat the king of audio - radio - or claim that nomenclature. Though I wasn't around, I'm guessing the latter sounds much like the conversations of horse owners when the automobile first made its appearance.

"We've entered an age of fragmentation and accountability in delivery. These are the radio industry's two biggest nightmares - not a single company called Pandora and whether it's building a base in individual towns." To be sure, radio is not dead. It's not even on a deathbed.

But for anyone to argue that the problems generated within the radio industry over the past fifteen years haven't decreased the quality of product, or that the introduction of a delivery platform using an Internet infrastructure has not gained ground, is ludicrous.

To argue that Pandora - and other online audio services - have not made significant headway, cutting into the time-spent-listening-to-audio, is to keep one's head in the sand. That was the approach by radio industry executives for the first decade of Internet evolution. Some continue to keep their heads there today, saying radio will always be a major player.

Let's use one quote in particular (from William Tucker, Jr.), since it exemplifies the misalignment of truth stated: "...nearly 300 million Americans claim to listen to broadcast radio at least once a week. In contrast, roughly 1 in 3 Americans listen to Internet radio once a month. Consumer adoption of high-speed Internet stands just above 70% nationwide...."

The claim is that 93% of Americans tune into radio once each week - that's across 13,000 commercial stations, which forces a fragmentation about the audience in question. This diverse offering is the same reasoning used by radio traditionalists to shoot down claims Pandora makes on market penetration. (Pandora offers thousands of individual streams, and is not "radio.")

Meanwhile, the statements of "roughly 1 in 3 Americans listen to Internet radio once a month" and "consumer adoption of high-speed Internet stands just above 70% nationwide" need to be put into perspective. In 2001, 3 in 100 Americans listened to Internet radio once a month, and high-speed Internet stood at 4% penetration. It's not change that needs to be at the center of this discussion, but the velocity of change. We've not seen anything approach this adaption rate in our lifetime.

In less than twenty years, relative to its past, the radio industry has stopped catering to youth by large margins. In less time than that, the radio industry has dismantled many elements of its programming which delivered "local" (i.e., newsrooms, airstaff, and an omnipresence within the community at events).

Currently, Arbitron is disassembling methods for alerting those in the industry (and out) on the true nature of "ratings" in markets. Refusing to list "non-Receivers" in public rankings leaves radio in a quandary, taking away a very public method for discussing top rankers. Unless you're in that inner-circle of Receivers, it's a guess as to which station is pulling the most listeners. That's not a way to keep public discourse on radio competition alive.

Another item within the framework of this worthwhile topic in the Radio Broadcasting group is use of data, discussed by a passionate radio supporter, Mary Beth Garber. I hardly ever agree with her comments but respect her fervent stance. One example here: "The Media Audit DID NOT release the information, according to one of their top people" is certainly true. But that was stated in the original release, because this study was done for "internal guidance." Did Pandora try to use it externally? Sure. Just like we've seen the radio industry verbalize the so-called benefits of HD Radio.

My one objections to Ms. Garber's position is that she acts as if the twisting of data is something which only Pandora does. In countless versions of interaction between the public and the radio industry, we have the twisting of truths so as to make radio appear to be "winning" in ways which scrutiny shows is false. The most recent was when Clear Channel published its press release touting "iHEARTRADIO beat out other digital radio platforms PANDORA and SLACKER, among others, to become consumers’ choice for the Best Radio App, with 72% of the final votes." (Pandora showed 4% recognition in this "contest.")

If that claim sounds fuzzy it may be because of an unannounced caveat. As reported to me by the person running this for "The finals are roughly a month-long period during which the finalists spread the word and ask their fans to vote for them... That, in some ways, may explain the distance between iHeartRadio and Pandora here; I'm not aware of Pandora having done any promotion of the voting to their users, while iHeartRadio promoted it on Facebook and Twitter (I believe)."

Statistics can be used for self-service, and they are often used to mislead. But to disavow data based on bias alone is a similar sin that I believe radio industry supporters exhibit when not acknowledging a claim that Pandora is capturing substantial amounts of listening time in major markets.

The radio industry isn't up against a substitute delivery system; it's facing competition for a listener's time. Taking statistics from Arbitron, time-spent-listening is drastically dropping and well may be the cause why a chart outlining TSL has not been updated at the Arbitron web site since 2007.

Radio broadcasters do not define for the public what the public perceives as "radio." All arguments contained within the "Radio Broadcasting" group saying "Pandora is not radio" are moot.

It's not what we call "radio" that's being questioned, but the amount of time devoted to each audio source by the public (and remember that Pandora is but one of thousands of alternative audio sources being discovered daily).

It's very good that we have a civil discussion, sans name-calling and the gigantic defense postures of yesterday which prevented people from communicating in a valuable give-and-take.

I think (and it is only MY opinion) there is so much content floating around today that even the little "good content" being produced has trouble finding an audience - whether it's on what you call "radio" or not.

We've entered an age of fragmentation and accountability in delivery. These are the radio industry's two biggest nightmares - not a single company called Pandora and whether it's building a base in individual towns. To argue against it is just wasting time that could be better spent on building technologically-based relationships with consumers and advertisers. That is where the future lies for students of Dick Taylor at Kentucky University.

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