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AG News: 12/29/2008

2008's Final Words to Radio Industry: Upgrade

As we exit a disastrous 2008 radio industry, executives might take offense to the observation that they don't seem to have much direction going into 2009. The heavy-hitter CEOs aren't coming up with grand plans to improve radio's much-complained-about content, they continue public argument over ratings systems, and there's little progress in how radio uses the internet.

We've recently seen RAB begin a campaign headlined on its web site as "Experience Radio's Story in a Whole New Light." Unfortunately, it's just another example of RAB not comprehending how people use the internet. This Flash-driven online brochure features what radio can offer, but in a boring list of numbers and stats. The presentation doesn't "sell" radio; it makes users work to comprehend what radio is selling.

In a march towards non-spot revenue, we're not seeing much in the way of "new" from any single person or radio company. CBS may be attempting the most, but it's not doing as well as it should be given that the internet is not a "new" media anymore. The internet is just another media with the label "new" and heavy accountability.

Texting, buy buttons, and banners counted as impressions on a radio station web site are part of non-spot revenues. But they won't catch a major media buyer's attention, nor do they appear as a carrot for the audience.

Radio stations are still trying to present radio on the internet in the same way they present radio over-the-air, and it's not working for the audience or advertisers.

Not until we see the radio industry view "online" as an extension of its complete business model will we see non-spot revenues grow to a meaningful percentage. Maybe even to a percentage exceeding over-the-air advertising revenue.

What's missing as we leave this year are suggestions for improvement, from anyone. We're not seeing anything in radio industry trade magazines about how to improve. We are not hearing anything new at radio industry conferences, where much is promised but little is delivered in realistic, easy-to-implement concepts. We are not hearing a sufficient enough difference between what was and what is to get headlines at any web site except

As we go out of this year and into the next, there are some suggestions radio can use for catching up online. (Note: It will take revamping what has been created, but that is inevitable. Stay on the old course and you'll see next year's radio revenue drop to levels which make 2008's plunge seem like a ride down a schoolyard slide.)

  • Move programs away from today's commercial-pod style presentation. At the least, an online commercial break should be no more than :30 in length. I can change channels online far easier than reaching out to my dashboard-mounted car radio tuner and pushing a button.

  • Establish immediate sound at your radio station web site. Sound is expected. I have asked this question before: Why do I need to click a "listen" button? Shouldn't the program start playing as the page opens? If I don't want to listen, I'll kill my speakers with a click.

  • Open up the page design at your radio station web site to clear space. I'm not sure what radio web designer thought it efficient to squeeze radio station web site content into the middle section of a browser's window, but we see it too often. A full third of the page is wasted on both sides, and we have all this information squeezed into the center of the screen - complete with multiple flashing banner ads. Give the user's eyeballs some breathing room. Use the whole page, and cut down on the clutter.

  • Stop operating as if visitors to your web site are mostly local. To do so severely limits your circle of potential advertisers.

  • Remember that visitors do not all come to your web site through the home page. If they do, your web site is not properly optimized for search engines. Depending on over-the-air calls to action for driving visitors to your web site will keep monthly audience counts in the low thousands, and that's not enough to sell. At least 60% of your traffic NEEDS to come from search engines.

  • Improve sound quality. There were probably far more sets of computer speakers under Christmas trees this year than there were HD radios. The move for improving online audio quality is beginning. 128 kb/s sounds fine. But, an enhanced 128 kb/s stream is what will help set your station apart. (As SVP for Spacial Audio Solutions, I am fully behind its affiliation with Waves audio processing.)

  • Quantify everything! This won't be easy, but you must learn how to gather all the data points that are available to you and do something with them. Isolating web traffic from its streaming audience, ads served from those responded to, and items sold via "buy buttons" are parts of an art form in this online science. Understanding all the data points is a start. Knowing how to assemble them in a report is valuable. The economy dictates that media prove to advertisers its audience is worth the price. Fewer advertisers will spend their ad budget without some form of response verification in 2009.

  • Get youth involved in managing online initiatives, and stop tying their hands with a disagreeing nod. To make radio work online the radio industry's chiefs need to step aside. No exceptions come to mind. Hogan, Dickey, Smulyan, Smyth, Suleman, Neil, Field, Hughes, Christian, Davis, and the rest of those who have taken part in dismantling a great media need to give up control before they finish the job.

2008 wasn't just a bad year that ended with an economic downturn. It was the end of an era of excess within radio industry corporate headquarters. Industry leaders' decisions came into question by many who defended them before - Wall Street analysts. That radio leaders are all still there, however, shows the direction radio continues to drift.

With radio's broadcast side keeping their band of brothers in the CEO slots, there's little chance non-spot revenues will increase enough to keep them all floating. These folks simply don't understand online.

So the new year boils down to this: Without a broadcaster upgrade, and with just a little kick from new cell phone technology and WiFi, 2009 will be a year for internet-only radio stations to begin raiding terrestrial's turf, even in the car.

And those are my final words for 2008.

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President, Audio Graphics
Ken Dardis
Online Since January 1997

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