12/05

Here’s what IHeartRadio and TuneIn are Missing

Lots of blood, sweat, tears, and treasure have gone into making radio’s alternatives to Pandora et. al., yet I think both IHeartRadio and TuneIn are missing perhaps their greatest opportunity.

And it’s staring them in the face.

To be sure, these are terrific apps – as good as anything out there. So what are they missing and why does it matter?

Let’s step back.

If you’re going to provide an experience rooted in the radio stations listeners already know and love, then you should add value to that experience that corresponds to the problems listeners have with radio and how they would like those problems solved. Otherwise you’re either adding features without solving problems, or you’re solving problems better solved by somebody else’s app.

For example, TuneIn’s ability to record what you listen to is nice, but how often have you heard a radio listener say “I wish I could record the next hour of programming as I listen to it”?

Likewise, it’s great that IHeartRadio can simulate Pandora if a user so desires. But I already have Pandora for that problem, and I don’t need another app for that (which probably explains why that particular feature of IHeartRadio is likely to be little used).

So what problem do radio listeners have that an app featuring radio stations can solve?

Well, one obvious problem is to lighten up on or eliminate commercials, since that’s a big pain point with listeners. But that’s not new, and we can only go down that path so far before we gut our business model.

It turns out there’s another problem, and it’s almost as obvious.

It’s the problem of skipping songs.

What the makers of IHeartRadio and TuneIn may not understand is that when a radio listener is in her car punching buttons, the only reason she is switching to another station is because our limited radio technology gives her no choice. A radio fan listening to her favorite station doesn’t want to listen to a lesser station when a “bad song” comes on, she just wants to skip that particular song.

Ask your audience if they’d rather skip a song on their favorite station or switch to a different station that isn’t their favorite and the response will knock your socks off: Unless they want a different music mix altogether, what your fans want to do is skip, not switch.

Indeed, the act of punching a button on a radio is behaviorally identical to the act of skipping a song on Pandora. But when you do it on your favorite Pandora channel you’re still on that channel after the punch. Not so with radio.

How delighted would your audience be to be able to have their favorite stations with their favorite DJ’s PLUS the ability to skip songs they don’t like or are tired of?! That, my friends, is a better radio experience.

What IHeartRadio, for example, provides is the ability to hear your stations as they air live or to hear your own custom-made ones. What about the ability to hear the songs I love on the stations I love? That’s less work for me, the listener, and a brighter brand halo for you, the station.

“But that means the content isn’t live,” you might say.

So what!

What is “live,” anyway? Technology is about getting what I want when I want it, not getting what you want when you want me to have it. Unless the nature of that content requires that it be live (e.g., sports play-by-play, breaking news, etc.), then “live” is less a benefit and more an artifact of dated analog technology and dim imagination.

So drop the features that don’t relate to radio’s fundamental use and consumer problems and focus on the ones that do.

Let me skip the songs I hate on the stations I love.

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  • http://twitter.com/jens_sorensen Jens Sørensen

    Haha Mark, you just described what we were trying to do with Tuubio last year. It’s a hard, yet not an unimaginable proposition, that’s solely down to getting top DJ content into this new “tech age” format that we were trying to build. Put enough weight and top-tier content behind the new format that might not be “live” but could be “quasi-live” (or live one part of the day and not live if you listen later, or that if you skip a song it starts another one that then ends when the DJ comes back on from the song you skipped). Whatever the format, you can always invent it yourself, instead of sticking to the rules of yesterday of what’s “live” and what isn’t.

    I agree that there’s plenty of music apps out there, and Pandora is one of them. Radio is not radio until I get the bad jokes and lame commentary from the DJs in between, since the more you listen to radio the more you realize that the social aspects of a great station are fully determined by the DJ, not the music they play (since everyone on any station can play any song, but a DJ can only be had by one station. Ipso facto – DJ is the competitive advantage, not the song)

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    It’s inevitable, Jens.

    And it’s why radio is so much more than “radio” – unless we limit our thinking to what’s in the past.

  • none

    somebody doesnt understand music licensing restrictions. also, commercials offset the app being free. perhaps a premium paid version could be released without ads. but for a free app and free content, expect ads.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    I certainly understand music licensing restrictions – and those indicate that costs would be higher if people can skip songs. Yes, there’s a cost to giving people what they want. It’s expensive to buy a house, too, but it’s nice to have a place to live. “It’s too expensive” is a reason to drop your stream, not to compromise on it.
    Further, I’m not suggesting that we do without spots. Quite the contrary. I’m saying that fewer spots are better than more – and when those fewer are better targeted to my interests they’re MUCH better than more.

  • Anonymous

    Hold on. Can we get the “radio” part right before proceeding with these enhancements? By that I mean make the feed mirror the broadcast of the station. First, stop cutting out syndicated programming, such as Rush Limbaugh. (Silence is not a winning format.) Second, keep the local adds — not don’t substitute mistimed PSAs.

    Rights? Contracts? Intellectual property? Fix it.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    The “radio” part IS right according to those who create the technology and provide the best practices that stations may or may not follow. That’s what I’m told and there are stations that are using the technology trouble-free to prove it.
    But aside from that, why limit ourselves to what’s on the air when technology makes it possible for us to provide consumers with what they want right now?

  • Anonymous

    I don’t disagree, but stations not following best practices is not my problem. It’s the industry’s problem. I’m just a listener. IHeartRadio runs ads saying I can get a duplicate of my radio station on a smartphone. I can’t. I can get certain local programming, and some syndicated programming when they screw up and forget to switch it off. How can I record an hour ahead of time when the local station feed is a crapshoot?

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Professional execution is something I shouldn’t have to preach.

  • Brett

    Another element these platforms are missing is on the producer side. A forward-looking internet radio platform should provide producers with the tools to make their own radio streams…not just aggregate others’ streams. That’s why I listen to / produce on radionomy…strong listening community, strong producing community of real, independent producers, not algorithms.

  • http://twitter.com/c0rre Thomas Cordie

    As far as music skipping and customized playlists are concerned, I think the Dutch @skyradio101fm might be on to something with their MyRadio app (http://myradio.nl/), don’t you? Perhaps more of a jukebox than a radio though…

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Hard to tell – I’d need a translation.

    But if it includes the jocks and the spots and the production and the other stuff that makes radio great, then maybe.

  • Broski 3000

    I just wish iheart radio let me hear every radio show live, like from 1-3am is the blackout hour on 103jamz (wowi) norfolk va and i cant hear it. They play a vary of songs i could care less about

  • KatrinaAnon

    One of the big problems is how it handles podcasts. The latest problem is it locks in a day at random and wont allow you to change it. Before that you had to backwards through all the days as there was no foorward button. All I can figure is someone liked 8 track tapes and wanted to give you the same experience.