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Thursday, December 15, 2011
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Massive Confusion Coming in 2012

It's taken over a decade for the radio industry to put effort into its online initiatives. Ignoring an oncoming train has left nearly all of radio in an uncomfortable position of defending its turf instead of dominating the online audio landscape.

However, within the past 12 months, there have been more headlines at trade publications about everything from social networking to realizing there's a growing threat from the digital dashboard. (Just the act of Clear Channel-owned "Inside Radio" taking a more active role in reporting how the internet affects radio shows that someone from above - in that company - is pushing things in a direction that the publication ignored for so long.)

"Where I see the radio industry through the next 12 months is embracing more of what is being requested of it, not by choice but by necessity." Though nothing is going to overshadow what we'll experience in 2012 as budget belts tighten even more, today let's try and point to a few items on the horizon. It may give you a shot at making sense of chaos - possibly even benefitting from it.

The main thought to get across is that companies like CBS Radio, Clear Channel, and Hubbard Broadcasting are going to make it through next year in better shape. Each has progressed in melding broadcast and the internet - none better than Hubbard and its WTOP.

Other groups continue to look. But, so far, there's nothing being discussed that indicates we'll see major movement in better using the internet for connecting to clients and audience. Social media, couponing, local advertisers, mobile, and the invasion of national online radio/music services on the local level will all be in the spotlight next year. The latter two will have the most profound effect on the radio industry.

I read, on one radio trade, that podcasting is being given a push. If there's ever been a dead horse to ride, podcasting for radio is it. To report that this is something new, which the radio industry can make money from, is a poor piece of research. There's little to no evidence that an audience is waiting to download a radio program for listening later, in numbers that mean anything to advertisers; and that DAR.FM initiative, to offer a similar service of recording for listening-to-later, will continue to struggle. Proof on this is in your own head; simply ask yourself what radio content is being produced that's worthy of saving. Then ask yourself whether you are using more than one hand to count them.

We're getting to the end of 2011, which means you'll now be reading from many experts that they have the answers on how to be successful in 2012. Only (again using one hand), how many of them have actually been in the trenches testing their theories? If success were theirs, it would have already been copied by a radio group.

I, for one, have reached the end of listening to panelists at NAB/RAB conventions. As stated here on September 13, prior to this year's get-together: "I've asked this question for a number of years now (not really expecting an answer) and want to put it on the table again. What is it that you expect to see AFTER this radio industry convention?" We're looking for change, yet a recent radio get-together was comprised of older white males, with an exception of a very few females in the crowd. This is not the makeup of the US population, or being reflected in the executive suites of other industries. Yet in radio this concept won't die.

Here's another item to keep tabs on in 2012. Besides iHeartRadio (Clear Channel) and LastFM (CBS), what groups are challenging audio newcomers in mobile?

What radio group is forging inroads into email marketing? How about advertiser education? New ideas need to come from radio, not be picked up by it, from the technology sector, and reformatted for radio.

We are, fortunately, beginning to see some radio companies hire internet-savvy people from outside the industry. That will prove to be the smartest approach employed.

The grand experiment of using people within radio to guide it into the online world has, time and again, proven frustrating and futile. But, I still do not see enough outsiders being brought in to make a difference and end the confusion. And, Radio industry executives are not listening to those who are here. We'd see new media items like accountability or the use of analytics to offer advertisers and audience improved content if they were.

2012 will produce forward movement for media, all media. It will just come in different degrees of success. Where I see the radio industry through the next 12 months is embracing more of what is being requested of it, not by choice but by necessity. Social media will continue to be a major focus, without regard to whether it provides a positive ROI.

Radio cannot continue to operate as if it's maintaining the masses' loyalty without offering itself in ways that are perceived to be "new." Perhaps that's the single most important point to clarify, lest the confusion continues. If digital improvement is delayed, more time will be spent on what everyone believes is tomorrow's form of audio programming. (Hint: It's not HD Radio.)

The digital landscape has forever changed the way radio operates - and that is, to many radio industry executives, the most confusing item to be understood.

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