I did a ‘fireside’ chat at a conference called Convergence 09 yesterday which was a gathering of technology threatened radio businesses. My reader, who knows me well, is aware that my knowledge of radio is primarily as a listener!
Anyway it set me thinking about what that industry might do next. Radio like television owes its structure and its audience (to a point) to scarcity. Specifically scarcity of spectrum which meant that many years ago a small group of buisnesses acquired the rights to a thin slice of frequency that enabled them to transmit a signal with the knowledge that competition would be restricted. In television of course the first challenge to the status quo was the arrival of cable which (as we all know) began the slow but decisive erosion of network audiences. This occcured because almost the entire population embraced cable service. The same did not happen to radio until the arrival of satellite radio (please turn to Chapter 11) which the consumer simply did not embrace.
Radio’s problem is of course the internet and its combination of low barriers to entry, infinite choice and irritating developments like the I POD and music playing cell phones. Radio’s reaction by and large has been to stream their own product online (and why not) but to the industry’s chagrin this has not turned into revenue. So what to do?
From my naive perspective radio needs to look at what makes it special. I think three things stand out:
- radio creates communities with personalities at their center
- radio belongs to a specific geography or interest group
- radio (locally) can provide a call to action for advertisers with great specificity of time and place
This is starting to sound like social media, meets mobile media meets community activation making radio (potentially) a high fashion medium. Right now advertisers crave engagement, retailers and car dealers desperately need footfall and reasons for their customers to connect with them; towns and cities desperately need ways of bringing people to together for common cause. Well, radio is exceptionally well placed to do that.
Radio stations in many cases are excellent local impressarios and have enormous experience in live engagement with their communities. If they, as an industry, can develop experiential programs that scale (many stations at once) then marketers and their agencies will listen. Technology will play its part but not as a distribution platform for the old product but as the activation platform for the new.