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Wednesday, December 28, 2011
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Demands on Radio Industry to Increase in 2012


It was 1989. Respected (and now departed) Emmis GM Tom Severino, (former Clear Channel GM) John Blassingame, and I stood at our 20th high school reunion discussing how, as Tom put it, "running a radio station is like having a license to print money." Times were easy then. 22 years later, for the radio industry, times have changed.

"Interns and young air talent should be given free rein to create what goes on a station's stream. "Different" is what the audience is looking for online." What changed? Back then content was limited, as were avails. "Local" meant a media that resided within geographic borders. It was always "X" number of radio stations, "Y" number of TV stations, and "Z" number of newspapers per town (with "X," "Y," and "Z" being from the "competition" perspective, manageable numbers).

Welcome to the end of 2011 and a noticeably shifting radio industry.

Let's start the New Year understanding that radio and the internet are best used jointly, by advertisers and audience. We also must be aware that new media companies are waiting to dent radio's title of "audio entertainment leader." Knowing both, here are items to keep your eyes on in 2012.

Consumer response to digital in the dashboard will be most jarring for radio traditionalists. If digital fever continues, adaption rates will surpass the AM-to-FM transition. (Highlighting access to Pandora in automobile commercials today is a clue on what to expect.)

The radio industry must educate employees on how aural media fits within a multi-platform world. Radio is not dead. It won't die. But maintaining its stature to audience and advertiser will increasingly become more difficult.

This phrase should be repeated at every station meeting in 2012 - "Sell the power of radio to sell." Kudos to Clear Channel CEO, Robert Pittman, for vocalizing this like no other radio industry leader in a decade. Then get to work making the essence of this message happen, again.

We all know radio is powerful, and that new media is growing in power. Now that the latter has gotten its mechanical house in order, its leaders are concentrating on: 1) building audience loyalty; and 2) capturing "local" advertising. The radio industry can rebuff the attack with a few actions, but it must delay no longer.

Don't view radio and new media separately because that puts the two in a competitive position. They are not. I believe that what happens in 2012 will be the result of the radio industry "using" new media, instead of fighting it.

The use of smart phones, tablets, and PCs for listening to audio will increase. To counter this, radio should expand how it uses what digital offers - be it social media, email, data-capture, or analysis.

Because of its accountability, new media is also a great testing ground for new program concepts. Interns and young air talent should be given free rein to create what goes on a station's stream. "Different" is what the audience is looking for online.

The one item new media cannot yet bring to a client is a long-term relationship; radio, however, has that. Now radio needs to build on client relationships with an objective of extending their business to online.

Advertisers are seeing peers using new media's accountability, with success. The number of people that are reached is now taking a backseat to how many people reach back to the advertiser, and how many can be documented to have taken this action through an ad campaign/platform.

With mobile beginning to affect youth's use of broadcast media, radio stations targeting this group will need a mobile presence equitable to what the major mobile players spend dollars to achieve. (Here's what I don't get. The radio industry makes its money from selling advertising, yet spends practically nothing advertising itself. Does this follow any track of logic in your mind?) Mobile competitors will ratchet up ad spending next year. Radio had better start answering that action by advertising, too.

Also in 2012, look for more internet stations run by enthusiastic amateurs to be aimed at local talk and sports. The consumer learning curve to listen online is not so steep anymore.

Comcast Corp.-owned Strata reports that digital has overtaken radio as a "seasonal medium" in 2011. Both follow the leader, television spot buys. The only way to fight back is for the radio industry to produce better education programs on using radio in marketing, with a clear sense of how new media and radio work together.

For broadcast radio, the future means working harder and smarter, using the internet as its new backbone. Lose the notion that new media is "the competition," and believe that it is a stepping stone to higher profits when properly used.

A multi-platform approach to both audience and advertiser is required in 2012 because this isn't 1989 anymore, and the radio industry no longer has a "license to print money."















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