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Tuesday, August 2, 2011
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There's More Than One Way to Say "Radio"

It appears the radio industry is fixated on defining the term "radio" when, in today's world, the lines are becoming more blurred between it and online radio and music services.

This story isn't just about listeners, but also the number of advertising dollars that are finding themselves on computers and digital devices. There are so many choices in the audio arena that it's mind-numbing.

Talk to a broadcaster and you'll hear the repeated refrain "it's not local," whatever that means in a voice-tracked, newsroom absent, and hub-based traffic report-distributed radio industry.

"If you can't see what's in front of the you by now, you won't be able to see how a continued morphing of listener's options has the potential to damage the broadcast radio industry."
As an exercise, check the Radio Business Report comment section for its article, "Pandora Media pitches its first market ratings." In a near comical response, one person writes: "The answer is simple. Pandora needs to PPM-encode their streams so they can be measured like everyone else." (This person actually believes that PPM delivers a more precise listener count than digital delivery - and he's not the only one in the thread speaking this way.)

The degree of ignorance about digital delivery is immense, so I thought a deeper dig into what broadcasters are up against is in order.

Let's just look at the options for listening to music, without going into the choices advertisers now have.

It's amazing how little is said in the radio industry about what is available for listeners. Pandora is mentioned over and over again, as if it's all that's being found by people seeking alternative forms of audio entertainment and information. We occasionaly read about other sources of music, seldom hear about the movement for talk radio online, and nearly never see anything on how individuals are bypassing the entire "radio" experience.

Since radio industry trades want to concentrate on Panodra, those who read the stories are left with an impression that it (Pandora) is the only 800-pound gorilla. Here's where I see the problem, though. We have a number of 400-pound gorillas running around which don't get mentions. They appear as non-threatening to the radio industry at large.

In 1998, I began warnings about the building of online radio and urged radio industry leaders to take this digital experience seriously. That warning proved to fall on deaf ears. However, there must have been some movement in new media otherwise we'd not be discussing the topic today. (Kind of like the silence heard about HD Radio - no movement, no mentions.)

We live in a time when people choose to read/watch/listen to only those viewpoints which reflect their own opinions, which is why you won't see the following in publications catering to readers who work in the radio industry. Here is a short list of 25 alternatives to "radio," many of which are called "radio," and others which are considered "radio" by consumers (though, by even digital experts, they are "music services"). Notice, Pandora is not mentioned. Even though Clear Channel is building its "iheartradio" to be "Pandora like," I don't see the need to bring it up again.

These alternatives are drawing youth and, to a large degree, 35+ adults away from turning on the local radio station in home, office and car. Whether you believe they pose a threat to "local" broadcast is something I have no control over. I can, though, tell you that they are real and building audiences filled with people who used to spend all their radio-time listening to the "local" station(s). For watchers of Triton Digital's Webcast Metrics, take notice on how many of these do not use this service.

Facebook Music
Sky FM
Google Music
Yahoo! Music
MTV Music
AOL Music
Windows Media Guide
Soma FM
Voice America
BlogTalk Radio
1Club FM

These are only a slim list of choices that people find today. All reflect "radio" or a radio-like music service that offers multiple formats, and all can be accurately measured for audience, ad delivery, geo-targeting, and ad response. Add them to the radio industry moving online, with duplicate programs they place on-air (yet, are not rated by Arbitron), and you begin to see the potential for drain on traditional radio's rated audience.

I pointed to a comment made at the Radio Business Report article on Pandora to start this discussion. Let's end it by pointing to another comment at the same place: "Remember the AM guys in the 60s who never thought FM would amount to much..."

If you can't see what's in front of the you by now, you won't be able to see how a continued morphing of listener's options has the potential to damage the broadcast radio industry.

It's not that there hasn't been enough warning. It's ignoring the warnings that eventually will reduce, but not eliminate, broadcast radio.

Just pointing to "we're local" isn't going to save the day anymore. Anything "local" that radio can deliver is also found online.

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