Wednesday, October 29, 2008

BROADcasting--now a dead concept?

In a day and age when we can have web sites personally designed to give us the information we want immediately upon log-in, when we can subscribe to RSS feeds on any subject imaginable (and some unimaginable!), when we have a choice of 200 channels on our TV, streaming audio/video on our cell phones, and hundreds of radio stations cascading down from space and into our radios...then I have to take a breath after that long opening sentence before asking the question: Is there any longer such a thing as "broadcasting?" Emphasis, by the way, on the word "broad."

Many media have had as their primary reason for existence the goal of delivering the largest possible audience or readership. LIFE, LOOK, THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, READERS DIGEST...all were successful because they gave advertisers access to millions of readers each week. Network TV--ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox--presented a "mass" audience...millions of TV households tuned to their prime-time offerings. Radio stations all tried to be "number one!"

That is all fading away, replaced by one of my favorite made-up words: demassification. Most advertisers no longer want to reach (or pay for) a mass audience. They want to target, to efficiently reach targeted potential customers. What better target for a carpet cleaning service than a search engine where people are searching for carpet cleaning services? Why spend what it costs to reach thousands of people on TV, radio or in the newspaper when practically none of them are in the market to have their carpets cleaned? Those guys are on the Internet anyway, looking for a carpet cleaner!

Advertisers can target with cable/satellite TV, based on programming. The audiences are much smaller per channel, but ad guys know where to go to reach potential customers...not paying for vast masses of people who have no interest in what they are peddling, simply to hit those who are.

That is why those big national magazines no longer exist. And that is why I can boldly predict the following:

-- Network nightly newscasts will be gone in fewer than ten years. I can't wait to see which network blinks first and gives up on the entire concept. Fox now looks especially brilliant for never starting it, happy instead to go the 24-hour-a-day cable channel route in the first place.

-- Networks will move more and more toward narrowly-targeted programming...maybe a night aimed at non-ethnic teens, a night geared to high-income 35+ viewers, or the like, and will be happy to settle for third or fourth place because they charge higher rates and make more money than the number one network...because they efficiently deliver the right sets of eyeballs.

-- By 2013, many mid-size cities will no longer have a newsprint-on-paper daily newspaper. When car dealers and grocery chains finally give up the fight and stop using newspapers, their doom is sealed.

-- Many radio stations--especially AM stations--will go away, returning their licenses to the FCC, and no one will file for them. Still, someone will figure a new way to price radio audiences to advertisers and will invest in the programming that it takes to attract a marketable block of listeners. And how to incorporate other means of distributing their compelling content, too, and make money on each of those means.

--Narrowly-focused cable/satellite TV channels that use Internet content to enhance the viewers' experience will thrive. Examples: Golf Channel, Big 10 Network, HGTV.

Doubt it? A recent Friday night, the number one prime time TV show reached fewer than 10 million households. That was the first time that happened since the 1960s...when there were far, far fewer TV households. The number one radio station in my home market used to have a 12 rating...12% of the entire population of the city listened to that station for at least fifteen minutes in a week. Now the top station has a 5 rating.

I've been saying this for the last dozen years or so and it is rapidly coming true: any medium has an audience/readership that has some value to some advertiser at some price. The goal is to have enough of an audience for which you can charge enough of a price that you can make a profit.

Nowadays, that means you better attract an audience that advertisers want and are willing to pay for. Size does not necessarily matter that much. Quality does. Targeting does.

Are the people with the keys to radio and TV stations and print media ready to invest in the research and creativity it will take to remain in business in this new climate?

Stay tuned.

Don Keith N4KC


Anonymous said...

Don, long time no see! I found your comments on "broad"casting to the point. For instance, Monday is NBC's sci-fi/geek night with Chuck, Heros, and that "Enemy" show (guess which I'm not crazy about). Fox has Tuesday/Wednesday House, Bones, & Fringe locked up for us. Friday is sci-fi channel for Mary, while I go "ethnic" with Everybody Hates Chris and NOW. Thursday is club night, so I Tivo NBC comedy hours... etc. So I am already receiving "singlecasting" from the networks. 73 & CUL -- the Very Crazy Alabastonian

Don Keith N4KC said...

Exactly! DVRs are so easy to use that anyone can program his or her own night of viewing, simply by recording the shows. And you can skip the commercials!

That's the next thing the advertisers and networks have to figure out--how to get away from the :15 or :30 commercial spot announcement and integrate advertising into the content.

Thanks for the post...