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Friday, October 23, 2009

Radio's New Music Fantasy

The recent headline "Google and MySpace will challenge radio’s music-discovery position," got me asking the question "What music-discovery position?"

In the years I have been analyzing consumer use of media, including broadcast radio, Internet and more recently smart phone behavior, radio has had the potential to capture the new music discovery crown.

Unfortunately, it never has lived up to this potential.

In 2007, Bridge Ratings conducted a series of deep studies of music consumers of all ages and, as you might suspect, found that 18-30 year olds were most interested in discovering new music though any means possible. In the category of where most of this discovery was occurring, broadcast radio followed peers and the Internet as the place to go to find great new music.

However, in focus groups to dig deeper, radio had the greatest potential of all three for new music discovery due to its primary benefits: ease of use, accessibility and the fact that radio is free.

Yet radio never took the initiative.

In the last two years I have discussed this notion of new music discovery with at least 100 radio programmers in the formats of Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR), Adult Alternative and Alternative.

Would it surprise you to know that none of them saw the wisdom of claiming the "new music" position in their markets by proactively promoting and playing new music by either established performers or undiscovered talent.

Radio's belief that it is the new music discovery destination is pure fantasy.

There's a fabulous on-line worldwide talent competition called "Fame Games" which boasts two million worldwide listeners; 70% listen in the U.S. alone. I have had an interest in this five-shows-a-week talent competition and thought it would suit American radio just fine.

"Fame Games" features unsigned artists of any cross-over genre competing for best track of the week and ultimately a major record contract.

This is a well-produced, fun feature that pits two songs against each other vying for the votes of listeners and the program's judges. So, I took it to U.S. radio.

American programmers won't go there.

Aggressively marketing one's radio station as the "place for new music discovery" would greatly bulk up a station's image if done properly and perhaps even draw young listeners back to a medium that is having its problems holding on to this important demographic.

So, when I read that Google or MySpace will challenge radio's music discovery position, or when I read the RAB's Jeff Haley's concern about how radio has to protect this turf, I have to shrug my shoulders.

As far as radio's listeners are concerned, there is no new music turf to protect.

Radio had the opportunity to claim this territory for itself at least two years ago when audiences told us that radio's convenience would make it the most likely place to go to discover new music.

It never took the opportunity and very well may find itself pushed out by new media which seems to take every opportunity to infringe on radio's weaknesses.

This all points to radio's biggest challenge: getting back to creating and presenting engrossing and compelling programming....for all ages.

The radio industry must build upon its rich history of being listener-focused.

In its confusion in recent years, radio has simply forgotten how to compete.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What's Really Next?

What's really next for media companies?

Smaller - leaner - more outsourcing.

The chart to the right reflects a related growth curve between staffing and corporate efficiency, or productivity.

The way this applies to radio is at the core of its frustration with attracting more loyal listeners.

There just has not been any investment in the product in over a year at a time when radio is competing with media that understand the importance of creative content.

Radio has its own set of rules and at this point, generally, most radio companies can ill afford to invest in the one thing that will help their business grow: personnel and content creation.

Economies such as the one we're experiencing in late 2009 no longer lend themselves to the operations models which allowed companies to staff more robustly.

The benefit to that kind of structure is that if companies staff responsibly, employees reach their maximum potential to deliver for the company by reaching their own competency levels.

What has led to this redesign of culture is the reduction in staffing and a reduction in quality output. Once highly-competent employees have found themselves delegated more and more work often outside their area of specialty or comfort.

This tends to result in staff that are not competent at the new tasks and somewhat less competent at their old tasks. This amounts to a severe reduction in efficiencies and production which further drives down business cash flow.

This cannot be sustained.

Something's got to change. And this is what we're experiencing.

Change can be uncomfortable.

Ultimately, change is for the best.

Therefore, the best option is to reduce workload to a more comfortable level where talented employees can do their jobs at levels that will again produce positively for companies. Operating in this culture will allow companies to regain traction and begin to rebuild.

This means a shrinking of the business as a whole in every aspect.

It may be "circle-the-wagons" time for the media industry - certainly it is for terrestrial radio - and concentrate on core competencies until things return to a less volitile marketplace.

Yet, despite this reduction in services, companies must also understand they cannot grow by cutting. Business development can continue to be a part of the mix.

For radio, an industry that still experiences respectable profit margins, this will mean figuring out a way to reinvest some of that profit margin back into their businesses.

I'll reveal how to do that, in my next blog.