Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How the world's largest broadcasting company thinks

By Don Keith N4KC

All Access ran the second part of their interview with Clear Channel Communication’s Chairman and CEO, Bob Pittman, today.  (If the name is familiar, he is the same Bob Pittman who once programmed some darn good radio stations, started MTV, and was CEO at AOL, Six Flags, and Century 21 Real Estate.)  

In the first part, he talked a lot about technology and little about programming content.  He also talked about how CC has top-notch talent on the air, even in their smallest markets.  They do that by having big-market talent voice-track shows on other stations.  I think regular followers here know how I feel about that.  If they were truly doing more than just "That was Fleetwood Mac and this is Journey on Rock 107" then I might agree that was a good thing to do.  

They aren't.  And it ain't.

There was nothing too pithy or incendiary in the second installment, either, but his final answer sort of made me see red.

JD: And finally Bob, what are your biggest goals for the next five years?
BP: First of all, our goals are to bring money to the radio sector. We have to do that. Then we have to continue to embrace technology and make it work for us. And, we have to continue to develop new products and services that help our advertisers make better use of radio and help us deliver more for them than we have in the past.

Did I miss something or was there nary a word about improving the over-the-air product…unless that vague third goal includes putting something on the air that nobody else has and that people would be excited enough about to seek it out on whatever technological platform on which they could find it?

I would hope that the man who controls more radio stations than anybody else on the planet would realize that trying to compete with Pandora, iRadio, Spotify and other pure music streaming services by streaming music over the air is a dead end.

I applaud Bob's comments about showing advertisers that their commercials worked, and to work harder to develop a plan that helps advertisers sell widgets.  But I would also hope that someone who has been so visionary in the past would have a plan to do something revolutionary that assures that the brand equity that many traditional broadcasters still have can be leveraged in new and exciting ways.

"Broadcast-speak" warning!  Pittman and others in the biz MUST start thinking beyond smart-phone apps for FM, 30-and-60-second commercials, time sold based on average-quarter-hour share-of-listening estimates from Arbitron, and playing "the most and best hits of the 80s, 90s, and today!"

There is talent and music and other content out there that can bring people to the FM band (maybe even the AM band, but I now believe that is a lost cause) as well as a plethora of other ways of distributing it.  Listeners want more than a constant stream of music.  They also want companionship, empathy, two-way communication, and to be part of a tribe of other folks just like them.  Radio still has the power to provide all that.

I just hope Bob Pittman and his peers know that and are willing to take the chances necessary to provide it.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Is "traditional" book publishing going the way of buggy-whip makers?

By Don Keith N4KC

I came across an interesting blog post talking about whether traditional book publishers were doomed or not..

Well, it is the age-old question, isn't it? Yes, traditional publishing--as is ALL media--is changing rapidly, mostly based on evolving technology.  However, the needs and wants of readers (read: book buyers) are evolving as well.  Those who regularly follow this blog know that I don't limit the rapid technological change and its effect to only a few media or industries.  It is everywhere!  And it ain't gonna stop!  Those who cannot accept rapid change are almost certainly miserable right about now.

Evolution is inevitable.  Sometimes it is not pretty (See; platypus.)  But is always interesting and, to some of us, damned exciting!

Consumers today want media delivered on a variety of platforms.  And they want it when they want it...e-book, audio, and, yes, old-fashioned sheets of paper bound at the spine.  Can you visually read a book--whether it be paper or e-book--while driving in rush hour traffic?  Ever tried to read a book on an iPad or other tablet screen on the beach?  Can you really store a few thousand paper books on a shelf the size of a smart phone, or locate the book on that shelf you want in a few seconds searching by keyword?  Can you hold an e-book or audio book in your hands before purchasing it, thumb through it, read any segment you want, feel the heft of it or get that visceral reaction to the full package?

The traditional publishers that truly understand what their customers want and need will thrive.  That implies that the publisher learns to employ creativity in all aspects of marketing: formats, pricing, distribution, and more.

That also includes offering the creators of all that content that traditional publishers hope to sell...authors...a compensation package that makes sense.  Make it more attractive for creators of content, like me, to allow publishers to purchase rights from us than it would be for us to go do-it-yourself.  That, too, is part of good marketing: the purchase of raw materials that makes growers, miners, or, in our case, the creators a successful part of the whole operation.  Too many traditional publishers try to skimp on or still don't understand this part of marketing, based on all the centuries when they controlled the channels of distribution exclusively. For the first time in history, creators of content may finally be gaining the upper hand because we do have options for selling our raw material, so long as it is not too "raw."

Other media are going through the same paroxysms.  The music industry was slow to evolve and look what happened to them.  (How many record stores do you see in your local mall?)  Daily newspapers hardly have a pulse.  Big magazines are barely avoiding flat-lining.  (See Newsweek, Life, Look, The Saturday Evening Post.)  Network TV and over-the-air radio are facing the same fate if they don't react more quickly and intelligently. (A prime-time number one network show recently reached fewer than a million homes, and that was the first time this has happened since the '50s.) Pick up any movie trade pub and look at all the angst that medium is experiencing.

It is an exciting time.  It is a frightening time.  But as with any rapid societal change, smart, innovative people will prosper.  Those with their heads in the sand, opting for denial and stone-walling, will fall to the wayside.  Evolution is an inevitable and brutal thing.

The answer to the question in the headline will only come when--and if--traditional publishing is no longer referred to as "traditional."  Or when "traditional" is universally accepted as referring to those publishers that produce content for users across all platforms, including those that have not even been thought of yet.