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Friday, August 24, 2012
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Radio Industry Foxhole Isn't Pretty

Anyone who writes will tell you it's the first sentence that's hardest to hit. You strive to make an opening line which sums up your position, laying down reasons why the reader should continue.

I went looking for an opening line for this commentary after reading (at Radio Ink): "A 'significant representation' of the radio industry using ad-insertion for their online streams is seriously considering abandoning the technology and replacing it with their over-the-air signals."

"Appalling" was the first word in my head, so I went looking into the word's use at Once there, I no longer needed to think of an opening line; this appeared as an example: "It is completely appalling how stupid and short-sighted some people are."

"Time compression (as in automatically adjusting time-lag) is simply not a problem anymore." Does anyone in radio industry management have backbone? How about some creativity, or an ability to see problems as solutions which haven't been found?

If you haven't heard, Apple has just been issued a patent for - as the Chicago Tribune reports " that would allow users to switch seamlessly to their own audio or video files once ads started playing on their TV or radio."

I have great respect for Radio Ink's Eric Rhoads and Ed Ryan. This radio industry magazine is really all that's left for general, long-form reporting on radio. (Jim Carnegie's RBR and Joel Denver's All Access each cover their radio industry niche, and should be equally commended.)

Besides these trades, what do radio employees turn to for unbiased reasoning? Clear Channel-owned Inside Radio? If you can't see the conflict there then you deserve news served the way a major group owner wants you to see it.

But this is about the story at Radio Ink, which started yesterday in an email from Eric Rhoads: "Will Apple Remove Your Ads?" Within it are a few words I disagree with, but there are more that I embrace - such as Eric's last line, "A proactive response is what will help us remain strong."

This morning, as is my routine, I visited to see as its main headline: "Ad Insertion Technology Disappoints Broadcasters." In near opposite positioning to Eric's thoughts, the opening words to Ed Ryan's article are: "A 'significant representation' of the radio industry using ad-insertion for their online streams is seriously considering abandoning the technology and replacing it with their over-the-air signals." This is immediately followed by "The announcement that Apple has a patent that may eventually be able to remove ads from a stream may push these groups to decide to make the switch sooner rather than later...."


Ladies and gentlemen, let me paint a metaphor for this occasion. A general and his lieutenant are sitting in a foxhole totally surrounded by the enemy. The junior officer asks, "General, I can't help but notice you're smiling. Why?" With command (like I wish to find in someone within the radio industry), the general shoots back, "Because we can finally attack in any direction!"

I worked for the company credited with refining the ad insertion process. Our geo-targeting and analytics abilities were unmatched in audio software. Spacial Audio was then bought by Triton Digital.

I worked with the Google team to build its online radio ad insertion system. I've designed accountability spreadsheets that, based on data secured through ad insertion, give the radio industry a much deeper understanding of what's happening with its ad campaigns.

For some of the largest aggregate radio sites, I've built ways to measure and adjust campaigns on-the-fly.

While all this was going down I watched the radio industry ignore technology, except that which allowed a stream-only commercial break to be laid over a broadcast signal's commercial cluster. (For now, the success of social networking and mobile applications are moot.)

Analytics is still ignored. And please don't point to the Triton Digital Webcast Metrics reports, which are a use of numbers with no meaning. Why the radio industry buzzes over them with each release is unknown. They represent nothing but the numbers of Triton clients. Dozens of highly rated networks and stations are absent from these reports.

Yet, now that Apple comes up with a patented way to make inserted ads seamlessly disappear, the radio industry panics and gives signs of retreat.

Is there no one within radio that has backbone and the wisdom to say "Let's create something that people don't want to leave."

For once, couldn't we hear about facing the enemy with new ideas, not backing away? Does radio not have a Dirty Harry, Jason Bourne, or James Bond anywhere?

I just posted an opinion titled "Radio's Place Online Not a Stream." The essence of that is a warning to not rebroadcast your over-the-air signal online - which is exactly what that Radio Ink article suggests a "significant representation" of the radio industry may do. That's crazy!

For the radio industry to run away from presenting - in a stream - audio entertainment to attract the online masses is lunacy of the highest degree. Does anyone in radio seriously believe that internet listeners are going to sit through six-minute commercial breaks while listening to over-the-air programs rebroadcast online?

Radio has creative types. We've just seen stories of two: 1) Kelly Doherty is moving to New York to head up Clear Channel production. 2) Robin Marshall was charged with leading Cumulus Media's "Creative Center." There are dozens of more un-named programmers.

Where the radio industry fails is in asking too much from too few. To think either of these women, or any single programmer, will be able to produce quality creative for the numbers of stations they are now responsible for is naivety of the creative process. Number crunchers and "suits" often suffer from this.

Ad insertion technology is so finely tuned today that if your station is suffering from degradation of programming because a spot slammed into your program, it's the fault of your staff engineer or techie. Time compression software (as in automatically adjusting time-lag) is simply not a problem anymore.

A "degrading" of station sound (as Radio Ink states in its article) is not a consideration for those who listen to online radio, either.

If radio industry executives would put more effort into preventing a degrading of program and commercial quality, you'd have one part of the answer. Another would be to educate sales teams on what can be done with technology-based campaigns - and then start implementing this into what is being delivered.

But all that we hear is talk of what radio is "going to do." (Listen again, following the upcoming NAB/RAB Dallas show. See if any "new" initiative is put in place after attendees go back home. As in past years it will be back to SOP, nothing more.)

Radio Ink's Eric Rhoads is correct: "These things [technology] should not frighten us, but they should not be ignored." For 15 years you've been reading that same line of thought at Audio Graphics.

If this Apple patent results in the radio industry running away instead of towards the problem, with a more solid internet commitment, radio has lost. You should all start packing it in, today! When the digital dashboard hits, you'll be chopped liver.

Making this especially sad is that when faced with a battle, we see the first word uttered by radio leaders to be "retreat," not "charge."

Thinking that you have a chance of surviving by doing what you've always done is irresponsible. It makes radio continue to come off as not knowing what to do with new technology.

The "general" in this foxhole isn't dreaming of which direction they'll attack.

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