The End of the “Radio Industry”

It has been sneaking up on us for some time, but now the trajectory of the trend is crystal clear:  The end of the “radio industry” is near.

Not the end of radio, mind you.  Not by a long shot.

I’m talking about the industry of equals who congregate annually at NAB Radio Shows and read the same trade publications and talk to the same peers and, for the most part, have worked in the same business for years.

That industry is vanishing before our eyes.

Not so long ago, broadcasters shared and borrowed and copied and stole from each other.  A format that worked in one market might very well work in another, even if it needed a tweak or two.  One peek at the trades or at easily available online tools could lay the mystery of a station’s playlist bare for all to see – and all did.  Secrets ceased to exist.

We had agencies who bought ratings from Arbitron the same way everywhere. We had local sellers with local relationships that were longstanding.  The same tactics worked pretty much nationwide.

We had syndicated programming that, by its nature, was built to excel in all environments.  We saved money by plugging in this content, even though somebody else owned it.

We played songs that everybody else played, sure.  But maybe not everybody else in our market.  The notion that we could be matched by an online or satellite resource – a Pandora or Sirius XM – was preposterous.  We owned the highway and only our vehicles could drive on it.

Digital is changing all that.

Suddenly, competition comes from all over – from everywhere.

Suddenly, auto dashboards have radio-like content that doesn’t come from your local stations.

Suddenly, the local newspaper and TV stations have new ways to compete for our dollars (and we for theirs).

Suddenly, our audiences are creating their own content and sharing it with each other – around us.

Suddenly, accountability means over-the-air buys are not enough – especially for native digital clients and their digital agencies.

Suddenly, broadcasters are going to the Consumer Electronics Show and other digital confabs instead of the NAB (try and count the heads at NAB and you will not be impressed.  Try and count the NEW heads and you will be downright alarmed).

Suddenly, broadcasters are developing their own proprietary digital solutions to get an edge over their competitors, and sharing their tactics and their successes is the last thing they want to do.  Secrecy is back, big time.

Suddenly, radio competes against Sirius XM, Pandora, local media companies, Google, Facebook, and others – outfits that are not “broadcasters” and not part of the “radio industry” yet are very much their competitors.

Suddenly, a major broadcaster – Clear Channel – is going its own way to place IHeartRadio on auto dashboards independent of any other players in the “radio industry.”  Let’s face it, what is IHeartRadio but a play to replace your radio content with Clear Channel’s.  And it’s exactly what I’d do if I were them.

Can you see what’s going on here?  Clear Channel (for example) is viewing itself as less a part of the “radio industry” and more an independent media company with its fate in its own hands and the considerable sway of content and distribution to create its own future irrespective of what happens in “radio.”

When it comes to digital dollars, broadcasters are not Clear Channel’s competition.  Anyone who competes at a large scale for digital dollars is.

That, my friends, means there is no more “radio industry.”

That means we need to be paying less attention to each other and more attention to everyone who is not radio.

Radio is now a component part of the larger tapestry of media, competing head-to-head for dollars with other media companies.

Welcome to the Media Industry, Clear Channel.

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  • ellyn ambrose

    This is great! And true. But the answer really lies in effective one to one, PERSONAL communication – and it’s the “personal relationship” that made Radio big, and will save it.

  • Bingo!!!
    The challenge is getting by the transition in one’s gut that the current assets won’t ever get back to 2000 levels without a major mental shift. That’s a tall order and involves making a significant investment at a time when margins are most challenging. It also requires strategic planning and employee involvement at a level most raditional operators have never had to do before.

  • Sometimes there’s no “just” about it 🙂

  • All true.

    I wonder if “Broadcaster of the Year” will be the one with the most innovation or the one with the most stations?

  • Thanks Ellyn!

  • Kelly

    Having been a dj for 6 years, then 10 years in radio sales, followed 20 years as a small business owner, like most businesses and industries, the answer is simple. Just listen to your customer, and pay attention. It's the same advice I struggle to follow every day.

  • I think this has been evident for sometime now. The Radio Industry just became caught up with HD. Am i really going to change the radio in my car anytime soon? Why, when you can get so much more over the net or some other mobile device, for probably a lot less too. I think a lot of radio folk are just stuck on “this is what has worked, it must it will, just hold on”. Okay, sounds like a rant, and i'm in radio management. We can either keep our heads buried in the sand, or ignore the marketing companies and find the talents we need to go create the services people want and educate our clients. I'll stop here.

  • Steve Hoffman

    Well said as usual, Mark. Just one quibble: my dashboard doesn't have radio-like content that doesn’t come from my local stations coming out of it.

    I have to spend seconds docking my cell phone to get that.

  • Those seconds are more of an obstacle than we'd like to imagine.

    But as value of the outcome rises, “pain” of the task diminishes.

  • It's that kind of thinking which should give us all hope for the future, Gairy.

  • Mark, for years it's just been easier to pick fruit from low hanging branches. Today that strategy is less viable.

  • Commercial Radio stinks! I run my own online station and have for over 4 years. I talk with Independent bands from all over the world and we also have ourselves setup for mobile devices; the industry needs to wake up and stop with the nonsense of prerecording talk breaks and playing the same garbage that has been on the air since 72. Internet radio is by far the best. Media moguls like Pandora have decimated any need to listen to my local crappy stations, even in my car.

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  • Angie

    Auto makers are looking at implementing wifi in your car with an “infotainment system” complete with Pandora and their own brand of apps. Mercedes Benz and a few select luxury makers are coming out with it next model year.  And if you also notice most electronic manufacturers (Sony & Samsung) are no longer offering AM tuners in their home theater systems and select mobile audio. So now the question arises…the death of AM radio?

  • You’re just reminding me about some data I was gathering on that very point. Stay tuned! And thanks for the note.

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