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

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