Friday, July 31, 2009

What do people want?

OK, back from the beach and ready to pontificate and pronounce! I've done some reading lately, especially on a couple of blogs I follow, and there is still much thought devoted to what people really want from media. Yes, I'm an old radio guy. And yes, it pains me to see the attitude of those with keys to radio stations who say, "Hey, I got a license from the FCC and I got a 100,000-watt blowtorch with a tower on a hill and everybody...EVERYBODY...has a radio in his or her car, so how can I possibly lose the battle for those ears?"

They are partally correct. Terrestrial broadcast radio is still likely the most ubiquitous medium. But when everybody...and I mean EVERYBODY...has a smart-phone on his or her hip, and that will plug into the dashboard of their car and their TV set at home and the computer at work, that will no longer be even remotely true. That development alone means audio and video anytime the user wants it. With true wi-fi available across vast reaches of the fruited plain, from your car, your phone, myriad devices, then none of us will be more than a button push away from all the audio and video and messaging we might want, spewed out by a dizzying number of devices and media.

What does that mean when we consider what people want from all this wonderful connectivity? When news, talk and music is always available, whether in the car, at the work desk, hiking Mt. Wayupthere, on the beach...ummmmm....allow me to remember last week for a moment. OK, back to the rant...wherever? It means broadcasters (to use an anachronistic term! I prefer the rather bland but more accurate "content providers") have to give people more than the same old music and news and talk.

What's that we have to give them, you ask?

Companionship. Humanity. A feeling of belonging to something. A source of stuff where the content provider is not streaming over-researched and way-too-familiar-but-"safe" music, or bland "personalities" talking TO the audience. A source where the user is a part of what is going on, is interacting with it. They become a member of the coolest club around, a special "tribe" where they feel comfortable and welcomed. And all they have to do to join this wonderful tribe is access it on the radio dial, on the cell phone, on a podcast download, on a website...through a vast array of ways. That's ubiquity!

But it is risky. It costs money. It is currently impossible for Arbitron or Nielsen to accurately measure it. Ads have to be sold based on results, and probably priced based on performance. It takes creative, thinking people, not only to come up with content but to sell it to advertisers. The club has to be big enough and active enough that it has value to enough advertisers to make money. It has to be broad enough to do that yet exclusive and targeted enough to be different from anything else available through any medium. You would compete with content from all over the world, but have the unique ability to localize it, if that is where your target exists. It has to be compelling and sellable.
Now do you see why owners don't even want to think about such a thing when they can play songs on a jukebox relatively cheaply, have no personnel worries, and still bring in a few coins?

I'd love to take one of these stations pulling a 1.0 share and do a little research and provide content that would attract a sizeable enough "tribe" so it is a viable block of ears for advertisers to have interest in reaching them. Reach that "tribe" not just with RF from a mountaintop but through any other means available. Empower the "tribe" to be a part of what we are doing through feedback, public meetings, events just for them, communication in the truest sense of the word, not just one-way "broadcasting." Leverage all this emerging technology in new ways none of us have even thought of yet...but could.

Truth is, nobody wants to take the plunge, so that 1.0 share station will just sit there, streaming music to a silent, non-responsive few. The owners would rather rock along breaking even or losing money, hoping another signal or two in the "cluster" covers the loss. (A friend of mine says there is only one other word goes with "cluster" and it starts with an "f.") Be safe rather than risk going to a lot of trouble and possibly losing more than the other couple of signals can cover. Even if there is a chance of doing much, much better with the 1.0. Why try to anticipate further change?
Heck, things have changed in media since breakfast! Don't try to anticipate it. Let it happen and trail behind, picking up the crumbs. That's the safe thing to do.

I may be self-delusional, but I know it can work. I've done it before when the only way of reaching people was with an FM signal. I know what it is like to put a music-and-personality mix on the air and have people respond to it. And the station does not have to be top-3 in Arbitron to have a sellable "tribe" with true value to advertisers.

Oh, if I were only 35 again!

Why give people what they want--companionship, membership in a cool club--when it is easier and safer to do the same things the mega-station owners were doing five years ago?

Because it is not really safer. Putting all your money under the mattress appears to be the safest investment option these days. But is it really, when you lose 3% a year in value to inflaction?

Not changing, not adapting, are almost certainly the most risky actions of them all.

Don Keith


Anonymous said...

I thought you were 35!

My opinion is that this is radio's "interregnum," the time between leaders. And, the next leader will be the mob. Here's something I wrote on the subject:

Don Keith N4KC said...

Steve, I like that comparison! I've been saying all along that someone would come along in the next round and do it closer to the way it should be done. There are already a lot of cheap radio stations out there. Heck! If there's a tax advantage to them, Clear Channel will GIVE you one!

The mob, huh? "Buy a nice schedule or Vinnie and The Hammer might drop by and show you the real meaning of 'reach and frequency.'

Good to hear from you, Steve, and hope all is well.

Don Keith