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Friday, July 4, 2008

Indiana Jones & Terrestrial Radio

Interesting title for a blog, eh?

If you're an Indiana Jones fan - or at least have seen one or two of the franchise movies - you know there is always a moment when Indie is faced with being left alone behind a sliding door with spiders or snakes. But, at the last second, he manages to pull out that trusty whip of his and snag it on a branch on the other side of the closing door and he is able to swing himself through to be alive for another day! Hurray!

This happens in the latest Indiana Jones movie as well and it enabled me to visualize what is happening terrestrial radio. The industry is at a significant crossroad and is in severe danger of being left behind a impenetrable door.

I've been researching the radio industry in earnest with my company Bridge Ratings since 2002 and have watched trends from a vantage point few have. Our projects cover everything component of radio listener usage. Over the last six years there were actually moments when radio's pulse increased as if its efforts to postpone or stop listening attrition were beginning to find traction, only to learn in a project 3 or six months later, that what I witnessed was a false revival or it was still-born.

Now with six years 'visibility', and with multiple signposts struggling to show improvement, the industry's efforts may now be too little too late.

What signposts do I pay attention to?

  • Young listeners' time spent with the medium
  • The multiple alternate media listeners of all ages are using over time
  • Strategies used by media companies and how they play out
  • Stock price of terrestrial radio companies and how that price has been affected by corporate decisions
  • Media coverage of terrestrial radio
  • Changes in consumer interest in Internet, Satellite and HD Radio
Of late, the most revealing signpost has been that of corporate radio's decision-making. In the period of 2002 to 2008, we tracked a greater number of missteps or no-decisions that hastened a company's inability to compete.

Poor programming decisions, lack of marketing resources, reduction of key management personnel and slowness to adapt to changing technologies; these are all key contributors to terrestrial radio's current malaise and more of these contributors have had as their source the poor decisions and lack of focus at radio's corporate headquarters (a generalization). There remain a handful of broadcast executives who 'get it', but not enough. It's like an V-8engine running on one cylander.

An objective observer to these trends would perceive (almost) that in many cases the industry had given up the fight or is simply resting on its aging laurels. And that wouldn't be far from the facts.

Terrestrial radio can learn at least one thing from Indiana Jones and that is courage. Our fictional hero never seems to give up even in the face of some of the ugliest circumstances placed before him. And while terrestrial radio as a whole has a tougher time reacting to change than our celluloid hero, the industry cannot afford to be left behind that slowly closing door without a whip.

Certainly the radio industry is hobbled by new technologies it simply cannot compete with, but it is being forced to change with the times which is a good thing. It can offer young and old a new blend of media that is better than its version before there were MP3 players, the Internet or satellite radio.

It only requires the old Indie courage. Where will our heroes come from?