Do Consumers REALLY want FM chips on Mobile Phones?

All other things equal, the best way to assess future behavior is to look to past behavior.  That is, rather than ask consumers what they might do tomorrow, ask them what they actually did yesterday.  This gives you behavioral data rather than simply attitudinal data, and it allows people to tell you what they actually do rather than what they think you might want to hear.

For example, much discussion has swirled around the presumed appetite in the US for FM chips on mobile phones.  Note that I am not talking about the appetite for radio content via downloadable apps on mobile phones, but FM built right into the proverbial box.

More than one industry survey claims that consumers would use FM radio if it were to be built into their mobile phones.

What these surveys ignore, however, is that there are many phones on the market already which feature FM radio built in.  So it makes sense to ask not “will you use FM if it’s built in” but “have you ever used FM radio as a decision factor in the mobile phones you have purchased?”  In other words, if FM radio built into phones matters, then we would expect consumers to use this as a decision variable in their choice of phones.

After all, FM radios can literally be built into anything.  If you built it into a toaster, consumers might well say they’d “use” it.  That’s not the issue.  The issue – from the standpoint of manufacturers who must safeguard the feature set and user experiences and unique selling propositions of their devices – is what will motivate consumers to purchase their device over any other.

Now you might argue “well, sure some mobile phones contain FM radios, but not that many.”  Exactly how many is “enough” to prove or disprove your point?  Isn’t this the same supply-based logic that confounded the radio industry at the time HD radio was introduced?  The notion that “if we build it they will come” was wrong then and it’s wrong now.  And when it comes to devices and electronics, it’s wrong – period.

So, in conjunction with VIP Research, I asked a national sample of more than a thousand radio listeners ages 10-54 whether they had ever specifically looked for a mobile phone that contains FM radio (full report here):

As you can see, the vast majority of radio listeners did NOT seek out a phone that contains FM radio.  FM radio is simply not a feature that motivates decision-making about which mobile phone to buy.  Could it be because FM radio is freely available already in every home, work, and car?

If consumers are not looking for a phone that contains FM radio, why not?

The vast majority said that the presence or absence of built-in FM radio was simply not a decision factor in which phone to choose.  They wanted what they wanted for other reasons.

And the rest generally said that it wasn’t about the phone they preferred, it was simply that the presence or absence of FM built-in didn’t matter.

In fact, both of these responses are functionally the same.  In neither case does built-in FM sway decision-making to or from one device or another.

What about that small fraction of respondents who DID look for a phone containing FM radio.  Did they end up buying one?

The majority of this small group did indeed purchase a mobile phone containing FM radio.

In other words, few consumers are looking for mobile phones that contain FM radio, and those who are can evidently find one.

Here’s a video where I dive into these numbers in greater detail:

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So what’s the takeaway?

Is it that radio as a medium is irrelevant to consumers on mobile devices?  Of course not.

The takeaway is that mobile phones are not vehicle dashboards, they are not home stereos, they are not boomboxes,  They are barely even phones.  They are mobile computing and connection devices custom-designed by each consumer to reflect their own personal identities and accomplish tasks that they themselves deem worthy.  They are the perfect illustration of control in the hands of consumers.

Broadcasters have a terrific opportunity to create experiences on those devices which are different from “the FM band” and more station-specific and content-specific.  Experiences which extend beyond the brand rather than limit to its over-the-air execution.  Experiences which invite interaction and customization and engagement.  This is what these devices are about. They are not simply a “new distribution vehicle” for the same old same old.

So go boldly onto mobile devices.  But go on consumers’ terms, not yours.

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  • Jockhead

    Another confirmation of how corporate radio has completely misunderstood listeners…and what they really want and care about.

  • Robert Hughes KPRI

    Mark – this is ridiculous. Do you shop at Staples for men’s clothing? Of course not. You know they don’t have any. Most phones don’t have FM, people know that – and therefore don’t look for FM on phones. Hard to understand? Really? Do most people waste their time trying to buy what doesn’t exist?

    Two years ago – would you be looking for a phone that could do live streaming video? No. Because none of them offered it. But today, is it a reason to buy a phone that offers that? Of course. If it’s something you want. What changed? Obviously – the technical capability changed – and it now fuels behavior.

    On the consumers terms? That I agree with. As you have pointed out repeatedly – people want what they want when, where and how they want it. If phones had FM radios built in – it’s likely they would get used. And once it becomes a standard feature – it is likely it will become an important decision criteria for those who care. Your follow up is a good idea. I hope you do it.

  • Again, again, again, radio just doesn't understand. Whether from an FM chip or the internet people will prefer their own brand of entertainment.
    In 1960 you had AM and FM, today with smart phones or really mini computers radio's competitors are unlimited! E-bay is a competitor, so is Amazon or Hotmail we're competing for time. Smart phones with internet are ubiquitous so
    FM, AM and HD radio listeners can listen anywhere. The idea of an FM chip built into a mobile device is obsolete.

  • The interesting follow-up would be to ask those who DO have mobile devices which contain FM radios how often they use that capability, if at all.

    I would expect that they WOULD use this to some meaningful degree. That's because radio is a familiar utility – why not use it if it's there?

    My problem with the industry's push on this is that they argue that consumers WANT FM chips in mobile devices – that's different from whether or not they would USE FM if it just happened to be available.

    Because folks don't seek it out doesn't mean they wouldn't use it. It just means they don't seek it out and won't choose mobile devices based on its presence or absence.

    The bottom line to me is this: “Tuner” technology is not built for mobile devices.

  • Nonya

    Why not have FM capability? In case of an emergency, one of the first services to fail is cellular service. It becomes flooded with calls, especially by people who are away from home or other means of communication. FM radio routinely disseminates vital information in emergency situations. It also reaches many areas where cell service doesn't reach. I, for one, would LOVE to have that capability available.

  • As you saw in the study, some people do indeed want this. And for them, some phones come with radio built in.

    So you can predict my next question: Does your phone have radio built in?

  • No, I don't shop at Staples for men's clothing. But nor is the men's clothing industry lobbying Staples to stock their wares because their research suggests that folks would buy it if it's there. Get my point?

    The fact that most phones don't have FM acknowledges that some phones do. These are not the most popular phones because consumers have voted accordingly.

    Two years ago I bought an iPhone. In part because it streamed live video. And in part because it broke a number of other barriers which have since migrated far and wide – all of which are new utilities to enable new power to control media – not old utilities to enable new devices to do old things.

    Bob, I think you're arguing that people don't buy phones with FM because most phones don't have them. But if all phones had FM then all people would buy them because doing otherwise would be impossible. So your argument becomes tautological.

    Meanwhile I'm arguing that people don't go looking for phones with FM even though some phones do indeed carry FM. That can be proved – proved by research and by sales figures.

    The idea that getting FM in all mobile phones means people will use FM in these devices is obvious. Sure, some will. But that's not giving people what they want. It's giving people what WE want in the hopes that they will use it once it's there.

    We could do the same by legislating FM in toasters and razors and lamps and piggy banks and Chia pets – if only the industry would lobby the makers of these items to preinstall FM in them.

    You say “once it becomes a standard feature….” Why should FM be standard in mobile phones? Consumers are not embracing this feature in the phones which offer it, meaning that more phones will not offer it. The marketplace has spoken.

    I do appreciate your thoughtful comments – really. It's a great interaction.

  • Al Ross

    First thanks for your info. I enjoy your stuff all the time.
    Here's my thought . I don't ask for a radio when I buy a car either. Sure, I ask about it… maybe. However, it isn't why I buy the car. A cu-do to all car companies that do put it in the car. When driving I suddenly realize, I want to hear the radio.
    My experience when buying cell phones, the cell phone I did buy with a radio was a Trio… I loved it! While not a cell phone, I also love the Zune for the same reason. Now, I have an Iphone… only way to get radio is app…
    You said, “Broadcasters have a terrific opportunity to create experiences on those devices which are different from “the FM band” and more station-specific and content-specific.”
    As a broadcaster, we do all that you suggest here… Since we are looking at the past… Every family in America have several radios… for a reason.
    Last, what is the reason for not having a chip in the phone?

  • Hi Al,

    Thanks for the comments.

    No, you don't ask for a radio when you buy a car. But you don't buy a car to listen to the radio, either. And your car includes a radio because people would raise Holy Hell if their car came without one. That is, it's all about what the consumer expects and demands.

    I'm not arguing that nobody would use a radio if an iPhone (for example) came with one. I'm saying radio obviously doesn't lead large numbers of consumers to choose one phone or another. As a marketer you will understand that all products are about developing a feature set which is both desirable and differentiated – one that moves consumers to buy. The evidence indicated quite clearly that “FM radio” is not one of those features.

    I don't think you're quite following my reference to the “station-specific and content-specific” suggestions I have in mind, but this post is not the place for those.

    What is the reason for not having a chip in the phone, you ask?

    What is the reason TO have one there?

    That people would use it if it were there? They would use it to shave if it included blades, too. That doesn't mean it should come with blades built in.

    Do you have a radio built into your land line?

    The question isn't “why not.” From the perspective of the manufacturer and the consumer deciding on a purchase, the question is “why.”

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  • Erik Hoopes

    I am a radio engineer, and I don't look for FM on a phone. Mostly because I don't want to use headphones to hear the radio in good fidelity, but also 'cause because the only phones with FM radio in the past were hard to use, and I would get crummy reception in this rural area with the tiny antenna. the hard to use factor is very important, I am 31 years old and I am used to radio devices having discrete knobs to control the features.. typing onto a phone keyboard (especially a non- querty or virtual) is completely dissatisfying to me as a device user wanting to hear the radio.So far FM in the phone has been a flop. Need better speakers and better controls before I will use it.

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  • roysand

    AM radio is better, built-in antenna works better.

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