Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Next verse - same as the first

by Don Keith

(Blogger Note: I apologize for not having posted in a while. And give credit to COVID-19 that I'm finally socially isolated enough that I have time to do so now. My excuse is a good one: I've been busy as a supermarket hand soap re-stocker! We've completed post-production on the documentary "Colors of Character," trying to meet with various folks about distribution opportunities for the film (no thanks to CoronaVirus!), finishing up with George Wallace our next book in The Hunter Killer Series of military thrillers, and working on some other exciting movie projects. Plus the grandkids are out of school during the pandemic and we grandparents are official fallback for daycare. Still, media and technology rapidly change - and has done so since I started this long blogger note - so here's my latest observation. Your thoughts?)

My friends at InsideRadio (and I do have some good friends who work there) are out with an article about a recent research study that even this outlet sees as troubling for the over-the-air broadcast news source. See, InsideRadio typically looks for positive spin on anything pertaining to radio. But it's difficult to put any such lipstick on this pig.

The study by Edison Research reports that, of the people surveyed, 68% report having at least one radio in their homes. Not bad, huh? Well, consider that quite recently, that number approached 100% of all households.  As the article says, "That’s down from 79% in 2016, 90% in 2012 and 96% in 2008. The average home now has 1.5 radios, down from double that number in 2008." 

Again, I must state that I am pro-broadcast-radio. I spent many years of my life in the medium and still believe it can be one of the most powerful there is when it comes to offering entertainment, information, companionship, and advertising that reaches consumers closest to point-of-sale. But this trend is not only surprising but downright me, to broadcasters, to listeners, to advertisers. Especially when almost one-third of respondents report having NO radios in their homes.

I don't think I need to rehash why I think people are less and less likely to have radios (or to listen to the ones they do have). It's a natural effect of having multiple sources of streaming music and info available from myriad types of technology. And clearly those sources are offering folks what they want, when they want it, and by the means that they want to consume it. Even if traditional radio is still ubiquitous and relatively easy to access, all those other free or cheap sources of what people want to listen to have simply overwhelmed the medium. And for that, I blame two things: technology and broadcasters.

At a time when listeners have so many options, over-the-air broadcasters abdicated. They panicked. They chopped the very things that made them unique...entertaining personalities, local news, geographically curated music, community involvement, and more. Instead, they now do exactly what online music streamers do - offer "long sets of today's top songs" - but with many more commercials interrupting them and without the ability to program those music streams precisely to the listeners' taste.

News and information? We used to brag, "Read yesterday's news in today's newspaper. See today's news on TV tonight. Or hear the news now on WXXX!" Most news/talk stations now are better known for nationally-syndicated talk shows and not for covering local news stories. Even those news stations that employ a news staff of some kind still lag TV for instantaneous coverage of local events...with pictures. And TV stations that now offer many hours of local newscasts, each day, not just at 7 and 11. (There is an economic reason for that, too, you know. Local newscasts offer much more opportunity for insertion of all those commercials than "Ellen" or "The Price is Right" do. So putting on news makes more money than running syndicated or network shows. As with radio, with viewership/listenership down, and with commercials priced by how many people see or hear them, broadcasters can't add more minutes to the hour so they add more commercials.)

Is it too late for radio? If the trend continues - and I see no reason why it won't - soon less than half the households in the USA will even have a radio in their casa. And with almost every new car model about to come internet-ready and 5G compatible, why would we expect to have in-car listening to the radio go any way but south?  If I am streaming Spotify as I shave in the morning, and if, once I start my commute, my in-car choice is either continuing to hear MY songs or listen to some lame morning show or a stream of music that plays a very limited list of formatted music that may or may not fit what I really want to hear, which will I choose? And if Google tells me the weather and top news and Siri lets me know if there is a wreck on the freeway (I have to wait to hear that on my local radio station, and then it may be old and inaccurate info), what's my incentive to suffer through ten commercials and a trying-too-hard-to-make-me-laugh morning radio team (most of whom are voice-tracking a half dozen other shows on stations around the country when they leave the air locally, so they can make a living)?

And how long will it be before mega-station broadcasters like iHeart decide they really no longer need that tower on the hill or big transmitter and can rely on their online mechanism to reach people and sell advertising? It's happening already. Look at how many AM licenses are being surrendered voluntarily because they can't or won't pay the power bill to keep the stations on the air, or the property where the tower(s) is/are located is more valuable than their airtime is.

Please give me a reason to listen to that old-fashioned device on the shelf in the kitchen or in the middle of my car dash!  Please don't try to outstream the streamers! Please give me the companionship and entertainment value that only live, local radio can offer! That no mouse click or "Hey, Alexa.." can offer.

Please don't continue to try to cut your way to prosperity!