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Monday, January 8, 2007

Predictions of Demise? Not!

After years of managing radio stations at both the programming and general management levels, and more recently having my thumb on the pulse of what media consumers truly think about all their options - especially traditional radio - I am dumbfounded by the hard-line predictions being made by some of my contemporaries and/or dear friends in the business.

My thoughts on what I'm hearing and what you may be reading:
  • The big one: The death of traditional radio
This concept is so far-fetched that one must wonder if those who are shouting it from rooftops have some ulterior motive - or those that speak of it with such certainty are just clearly ignorant. If I've learned one thing in this business of consumer behavioral research it's that trends in consumer behavior take longer than most realize, that technological advancement is usually slower in coming than expected, but once technological advancement reaches critical mass changes occur more quickly than previously thought.

Yes, terrestrial radio has competition for listeners' time and interest, but everything we see at Bridge Ratings indicates that industry 'experts' are not looking at the whole picture. Yes, the younger generation is listening less than they used to, but over 85% of them are still tuning in terrestrial radio and 2007 may very well be the year that this attrition trend actually stabilizes or improves slightly. This, of course, depends on whether the traditional radio industry programs better for the young generation and changes its thinking on not developing new formats and programming because 12-24 year olds is not a sellable demographic. Bah!

Adults are still listening. The attrition in 25+ adults is a trickle but still visible. There's more going on in people's lives that media - a fact that most prognosticators simply forget. In most cases, media options - including traditional radio - are like utilities to the masses, like the electric light switch on the wall of every room in the house. Not much thought is given to how the power gets to the house and how it lights up the room when you flick the switch. Media is the same way unless it's more engaging, foreground media like television. But generally, most media is treated as a utility. So, the masses do not think much about it, how much they use it, what they are viewing or listening to and how much they care about it. And the more choices we have, the more the apathy about media choices increases. So, traditional radio is not dead - far from it. There are certainly indications audience attrition could lead to some bad fate, but this is not a given.
  • MySpace is over - See above. MySpace is evolving and their claims of 100 million users is deceptive if not incorrect. More than 50% of those who visit the URL don't visit again after a month. The number is closer to 40 million actual core users who visit daily or weekly. These are the people who make up this virtual community and previous estimates as to user counts were wrong to begin with. And MySpace's demography is changing, too. With more parents and adults aware of what it is, they are setting up accounts for any number of reasons. If anything, MySpace is becoming more mass appeal and early adopters visit less often but still have accounts.
  • Email is over - Spam certainly has ruined the enjoyment of this wonderful communication too, but 2007 should be another banner year for Email. Again, IM'ing and texting are the tools of communication for the under 21's who find email to be a non-immediate way to stay in touch. They like the idea of real-time communication and email doesn't deliver. Adults find email to work just fine. From marketers to business communication to personal contact, there's nothing better these days. Those who are predicting the downtrend in email use are once again not considering all the facts.
Consider this when reading about consumer trends. The masses move slowly. Their changing ways are certainly impacted by early adopters and innovators who don't always set mass trends. Most consumer behavioral trends move slowly...slow enough for some of them to be reversed.

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