Tuesday, November 25, 2008

It Just Keeps Coming!

I don't make this stuff up. Really, I don't. Sometimes I have to question if there is any sanity left in the media world. Look, I know things are changing rapidly, and many who hold the keys to media outlets are just not equipped with the vision or forethought to handle that change. But considering the dollars and careers that are at stake, doesn't it seem that somebody would stand up, draw a line in the sand, and say, "Let's get creative! Let's do something so daring and...well...good that we can find a business model without selling our souls."
Here are a couple of items that have me grinding my teeth this morning:

Item #1: In a radio trade newsletter: (Talking about when stations belonging to America's #1 radio company, Clear Channel, were allowed by corporate to begin playing all-Christmas-music formats this year...some before Halloween!) Where does the Christmas music come from? Not the North Pole, but (if you’re a Clear Channel station) Cincinnati. That’s where the main server is located and most CC stations that are going all-Christmas get a Selector (music scheduling software) database with pre-programmed logs. I’m told that if the local PD (program director) wants to salt in some regional favorites, he or she needs to check with the Regional VP of programming.
Don's comments: Lord help us all. If you can't trust your local-market programming person to slide in a few local-interest Christmas songs in the most tepid, rigid, non-original musical format ever created, then why even give somebody the title? "Please, please, please, Mr. Regional Programming VP, can I play 'Christmas in Dixie' by Alabama since I'm in Alabama, which is in Dixie, and it's freakin' Christmas? I know it doesn't test well in LA, but..."
Wait. Is that Brenda Lee and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree?" Wow! I haven't heard that in, oh, twenty minutes. Turn it up! Sorry. I was overcome with sarcasm and mistook it as the spirit of Christmas.

Item #2: (From another media trade newsletter) Consultant: Make radio like Wal-Mart: Media consultant Jack Myers says that for the next 24-36 months, radio needs to run its business for advertisers. He suggests stations dramatically cut prices for :30s and strike multi-year, low-rate ad deals. "Radio needs to become the Wal-Mart of the media industry."
Don's take: Let me get this straight:

1. “Run your station for advertisers,” not listeners? Remember them? Listeners? Some of you in the radio biz used to have them! Does this loon not understand that if somebody would just run a station for LISTENERS for a change then advertisers would flock to them like job-seekers to Obama's transition team?

2. Could he have used a more inappropriate metaphor than Wal-Mart? Yes, everybody goes there, but nobody is proud of it.

3. But the biggest tragedy of all is this nut case is saying, “Cheapen your product!” “Present yourself as the cheapest!” “Establish the value of what audience you have left to sell as somewhere between a 1984 Yugo and a can of store-brand pork ‘n’ beans.” So how are you going to come back next year when you need to show 10% or 12% greater revenue to impress some analyst on Wall Street and say, “You know last year when we told you we were Wal-Mart. Well, now, with even less audience and a more fuzzy target, we are Saks, so pay up or you don’t get any of our air.”
Finally, this one doesn't make me mad but scares me when I think about how radio--my old medium and one I think could still be the most personal, the most effective in reaching people--will ignore the implications. It is a simple factoid: Just one year ago, under one-third of online households had watched online video. Today, that number has risen to more than six out of ten.
Don's thoughts: OK, "watching video online" covers a lot of territory, from a full-blown, first-run Hollywood movie to a funny :10-second blip on YouTube. I'm shocked the number is not vastly higher. The implication is, though, that people want stuff to move online. If they are watching some guy get hit in the crotch with a Roman candle on YouTube, they are not watching "Grey's Anatomy." The big networks are getting it, putting entire episodes of their shows online for people to watch at will and developing other compelling content that will bring viewers to their websites. Some still don't know how to make a buck on that but something tells me they will figure it out.
But radio? Video is the Devil. They are afraid of it. They play music off a hard drive and voice-track the "personality." How do they get that to move and dance and shine all glittery-like?
I don't know, but somebody better figure it out. And fast.
(Corollary: WGN-TV is now telecasting each night an hour of "The Bob and Tom Show," a syndicated morning radio program that is heard on quite a few radio stations around the country. These guys have been around forever and have had good ratings. I've never understood their popularity but I'm not in their target. Like so many shows, though, it's all about "the show" and not the listener or what's going on in his or her life. Let's give OUR take on wacky stuff in the news. What goofy thing can we get the intern to do? What did Bob and Tom or the other cast members do over the weekend that was semi-funny? Who can we get to call in and make a fool of themselves to qualify for a couple of concert tickets?
I invite you to watch their "show" weeknights at 11 PM CST and tell me if this is the way to get radio on video. Two old guys, an old sports guy, and a news gal, each hugging their microphones, talking in deep voices (even the news gal), reading off-the-wall wire copy if it contains anything salacious or has to do with body parts or toilet functions, and telling penis jokes. I swear nothing moves but their mouths!)
OK, I'm going to go lie down for a while.

Don Keith N4KC

Monday, November 24, 2008

XM/Sirius Down to Two Years Left?

I continue to hear complaints from subscribers who lost their favorite channels in the recent Sirius/XM merger. Inevitable, but that is not the reason the new entity is not long for this world...er...space surrounding this world.

Mike Elgan, a columnist for Datamation, a respected IT pub, recently wrote: “I hate to say it, but somebody has to: Satellite radio will come crashing down to Earth within the next two years.” He concedes that satellite radio has gotten better, with smaller receivers and new features. His reason for such a dire prediction is simply that the world is moving too fast for satellite radio to keep up.

“The ugly truth is that satellite is simply an obsolete way to deliver sound,” he says. "Satellite radio is already living on borrowed time – and borrowed money – and simply will not and cannot survive.”

He maintains that such technology as MP3-compatible cars and in-dash mobile broadband will eliminate the need for satellite radio. The big reason, though, is purely financial. He questions whether Sirius XM will be able to refinance its staggering $1 billion debt in 2009, considering what is going on in the economy.

Some broadcasters are already popping open the champagne. They may want to consider that they face the same hurdles before they celebrate so long and hardy that they wake up with a hangover...and no business.

Don Keith N4KC

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Juxtaposition shows obvious truth

I pulled up one of my email newsletters today and read the top two stories, related to the radio broadcasting biz. Here they are, exactly as written:

Public radio hits all-time high.
CPB-supported stations are reaching more listeners than ever. Following a 3% increase last year, the stations climbed another 3% in the Spring 2008 survey to 28,744,600 listeners (12+) in an average week. RRC president Joanne Church says excitement over the election helped drive the increase.

Reach steady, but TSL slips.
Despite a growing number of media choices, 92.5% of Americans 12+ listen to the radio in an average week. The bad news is time spent listening by this cume, on average, was just under 18 hours per week, roughly 45 minutes less than a year ago. More in today's Inside Radio.

If you are not in the broadcasting industry, you may not appreciate the irony of those two back-to-back stories. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has always been noted for their well done content and programming that attracts habitual listeners. Many people make sure to turn on the radio to hear "A Prarie Home Companion," "All Things Considered," and "Click and Clack." They have also been praised for their use of sound. Sound is a major part of anything you hear on their air. Hmmm. Clever use of sound on an aural medium? What a concept! So it should come as no surprise that their listenership is growing.

Commercial radio is losing listenership, as noted in the second story. TSL means "time spent listening." Radio continues to honk its horn about 93% of Americans listening to radio in a week but the real measure of listenership is how LONG they listen. (That 93% is based on people who only have to listen for at least five minutes in a week to get their usage counted.) And obviously it is dropping like George Bush's approval ratings.

45 minutes less TSL in a year is monumental! And the NPR spokesperson is being modest. The interest in the election should have impacted commercial radio as well.

Sea change, folks. Sea change.

Don Keith N4KC

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Wi-Fi About to Be More "Wi" Than Ever

I received a breathless message yesterday from the state broadcasters' association, clearly apoplectic about an action of the Federal Communications Commission earlier this week. That action opened up a huge swath of radio-frequency spectrum to the next generation of Wi-Fi...the no-wire method many use to reach the Internet from their computers. The broadcasters are concerned that the new technology, operating virtually without license, will cause interference to their signals. I maintain that should be the least of their worries.

Wireless Internet has been around for a long time. Who among us has not stood on a hotel balcony, holding the laptop at an odd angle, to try to glom off somebody's wireless network instead of paying the hotel ten or twelve bucks to hook up to their wired connection? Or consumed too many cups of $3.95 coffee so you could linger at Starbucks long enough to download your email?

Stand by for the day--now closer because of the FCC action this week--when you can reach the web from just about anywhere, using your laptop, your Blackberry, some kind of device not even invented yet, or a computer modem that resides in the dash of your car, right next to the radio and just below the GPS. The FCC move was simply the next shoe dropping. As Larry Page, co-founder of Google, wrote, "These spectrum signals have much longer range than today's Wi-Fi technology and broadband access can be spread using fewer base stations resulting in better coverage at lower cost."

The way we get and use information, entertainment, communication and more is about to change so dramatically that it will leave many dazed, wondering what happened to telephones with wires, newspapers, Yellow Pages, over-the-air TV and radio stations, movie theaters, and more. When you can ride down the freeway, listening to a streaming "radio station" from the other side of the country, getting driving directions and maps from Google on a high-res screen embedded in your steering wheel to help you locate a certain restaurant you searched for, the kids watching a first-run, streaming movie that you rented from Netflix on the HD monitor in the back seat (that they can pause when you get to the restaurant and finish watching when you return home), and your spouse is talking with a friend in Sweden and exchanging vacation photos on the VOIP phone, then we will have gotten much closer to realizing the full capabilities of "the web."

But nowhere near the full capability. Ready or not, here it comes!

Don Keith N4KC