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Monday, January 29, 2007

Keeping Up with Gen-Y

I can't tell you how long the alarm has been sounding for terrestrial radio to get its act together to save its future by developing new programming and content that will be compelling enough for today's under-25 year olds, but I do know that Bridge Ratings has been publishing studies about this for at least four years. And I know several other highly-respected researchers who have been doing it longer.

Yet have we seen any creativity on this front? I can't say I have. There are some youth-oriented attempts on HD radio, but these kids don't care about HD. Even satellite radio hasn't developed any programming that will attract this hard-to-reach generation. Is everyone just giving up? Knowing how important it is to develop future audiences, one would think both traditional broadcasters and the satellite radio companies would dig in their heels and get with it.

I was invited to present some findings at three corporate retreats last year. Bridge Ratings was commissioned to find out what terrestrial radio could do to make its business relateable to Generation-Y. Everyone nodded their heads, slapped me on the back to thank me for opening their eyes, yet nothing's been done!

Frankly, perhaps the reason nothing has surfaced that is compelling is because technology and Gen-Y tastes are a moving target and they are moving too fast for radio to keep up. First there was P2P music file sharing; MP3 players, iPods, iTunes, then Myspace, Facebook, YouTube - it can be exhausting for some. This I get. Now comes something new that will blow your mind: Mobile Social Networking Software or MoSoSo which is essentially the sophisticated reach of cyber-social networks like MySpace combined with the military precision of GPS.

New cell phones equipped with this software were marketed to the college-aged life-group by Rave Wireless last year. It's mobile GPS technology that enables students to find like-minded buddies (Bored? Love Indian food? Meet me under the clock!), it also offers a cyberescort service linked to campus police. If the student doesn't turn off a timer in the phone, indicating safe arrival at a destination, police are dispatched to a GPS location. Your friends can find where you are at any given moment and can keep tabs on your whereabouts all day long if they want. Fortunately, the locator function is strictly "opt-in", meaning users can turn it on and off at will.

The point here is that the more time that goes by, the more convinced I am that terrestrial radio - even satellite radio - are being left in the dust as today's youth clamor for more customized, on-demand, "what I want - when I want it" media which includes the high-speed train known as mobile phones. Cell phones are becoming, if they haven't already become, the new 'radio'. Cell phones serve the same function today as portable radios did two generations ago; they are just more sophisticated social technologies that are empowering groups of our youngest consumers.

Technology will not slow down. Shelf-life for any of these things grows shorter and shorter. The first wave of MySpace users long ago abandoned it and have moved on. Fodder for technology companies to stay ahead of the game. In fact, most highly-focused consumer-oriented tech companies have divisions of brainiacs whose only job is to work on what's next.

Has radio invested in anything similar for its future? Or has it given up on keep up with Gen-Y only to be satisfied with an aging listener base? This is what keeps me up at night.

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