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Headline in today's INSIDE RADIO – "VSS Sees Major Shifts in Media"

2009 August 5

It’s not that “the sky is falling” on traditional media, it’s that traditional media is just getting the message that’s of most interest to me.  This story in today’s Inside Radio may be news to the broadcast industry, but it certainly isn’t news to those of us who have been studying the rapid growth of Web 2.0 now known as Social Media.  The study, done by Veronis Suhler Stevenson (a private equity firm that invests buyout and mezzanine funds in the information, education and media industries in North America and Europe) states:

“While we have seen consumer media usage remain generally flat over the past year, the way in which consumers are spending their time continues to evolve. No longer are newspaper and magazine subscription purchases and network prime-time viewing the norm. Instead, they are declining and consumers are spending more time with media which they support and pay for as opposed to ad-supported media,“ said Suhler. “This development is a culmination of two decades of this secular shift towards consumer-controlled media, and shows no signs of slowing.”

There are several important messages delivered in that short quote.

  1. There’s confirmation from an investment firm that consumer behavior toward media has changed
  2. Consumers don’t watch as much TV, or consume magazines and newspapers as they used to
  3. There’s no sign that these consumer shifts are slowing

In fact,these trends are accelerating at a pace never seen before in the history of the world.  Now, I’m not sure why VSS sees this trend going back 20 years, but my guess is that’s about the time the cable networks (HBO/Showtime/CNN, TNT) began to poach audience share from the “BIG 3” in prime time.

I’ve written previously about the challenges facing network and local TV broadcasters, (How does TV Compete in the Social Media Universe), so today I’m going to focus on radio.

I was a radio DJ and Production Director in the mid to late 1970’s.  Want to hear me puke? Here’s a link to an early KING Radio air-check, and news report.  Now, I’ll be the first to admit I was never a Howard Stern, or a Ryan Seacrest, or a Rush Limbaugh, but back at that time, on that city, on that station I and the station commanded pretty damned good ratings. I was a college junior and senior when those recordings were made.

My point in having you listen to my air-check wasn’t to blow my own horn.  Listening to them is actually pretty painful for me. Not only because I was a Top 40 “Puker”, but because most radio isn’t a lot different today than it was 30 years ago.  This parody, done by Mad TV illustrates my point:


HMM, I guess that clip also well illustrates the “state” of  Television today.

The world has changed, and truthfully, TV has done a much better job adapting than has radio though each medium faces similar challenges; audience fragmentation, shrinking ad budgets, AND competition coming out of nowhere and everywhere, pelting their bottom lines.

TV has moved away from expensive dramas and into less expensive reality shows and new styles of game shows.  I think of shows like American Idol, and America’s Got Talent etc. as game shows, don’t you?  Survivor, The Bachelor and shows of that ilk certainly register to me as “reality”.  A phony reality, but reality none the less.

What has radio done?  On the music formats it’s “Much More Music” and “Less is More”.  You know what?  Back in 1975 at KING Radio here in Seattle we played more music than any station does today.  Other than in morning drive time we played 50 minutes of music an hour.  We would have played the same amount  of music in the morning, but research showed that news was important to our listeners in the morning.

Our “format clock” included five commercial breaks which NEVER exceeded two minutes.  NEVER!  Listeners who left us during those commercial breaks, came back quickly because they knew that within two minutes we may have started playing their favorite song.

Today’s music stations often boast 45 minutes of uninterrupted music, which is great for listeners. But listeners also know that following that 45 minutes of music they will be deluged with 15 straight minutes of commercials.  Oh yeah, and I pity the advertiser whose commercial is placed anywhere after the 2nd or 3rd position in that break.  They are either talking to no one, or to a great number of people at Teriyaki restaurants who aren’t really listening.

The personalities haven’t really changed much.  Rush Limbaugh is just a less funny, more opinionated Don Imus – a guy who actually used to be funny!  Today’s marching orders for those on air to lure those few straggling liseners is, “listeners are stupid stupid so just piss em off; get them worked up”, and the pitch to advertisers is:

People LOVE (insert name of personality here).  We’ll have (insert name of personality here) read your commercial as though it was live, and her/him call you his/her “good friend”.  Because (insert name of personality here) is your “good friend”, listeners will know that you are a quality business, one they can trust.

The problem is, people DON’T love the personalities, and they don’t really trust anything they see or hear in any advertisement. They are bombarded with messages.  Everywhere they look there is somebody sponsoring something.

It’s just too much!!!

Many people are already in control of what they see and hear and more and more are making the switch away from traditional media every second of every day.  New cars come with jacks for ipods and other MP3 players.  Mobile handheld devices (remember when we used to call them cell phones?) offer abundant choices of entertainment, news AND connectivity with REAL friends.  Not just the ones trying to sell them a helmet for their gutters, or a really expensive bed.

If you are trying to reach consumers, it’s not about what you have to say, or what a radio personality has to say, it’s about what consumer’s friends say.  It’s about what other people they know, admire and trust say.  And it’s about you providing your customer the type of information they need, when they ask for it at each step of the buying cycle.

How can radio adapt?  In our busy, crazy lives most consumers don’t time time to research everything that’s going on.  From new restaurants, to movies, politics, cars, the economy, music – you name it.  Radio can become our guide.  Radio can keep us informed about important information going on around us.  They can highlight the best music in each genre.  How about a radio station that doesn’t play “whole” songs, just snippets; and then discusses those snippets with listeners on air.  Revenue model?  Sell the “whole” song on your website.  How about a radio station that aims at “stuff that outdoors people like to do”.  Talk camping, fishing, tail-gating; whatever.  And “show” what you are talking about on your website with links for people to actually buy the stuff you are talking about.

Consumer behavior is changing.  I’m glad to see that media pubs like “Inside Radio” are finally beginning to report the truth.

Below is a chart from VSS  with their 2009-2013 predictions


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