Worry Less about Technology – More about Content

The title of the piece in USA Today says it all:  “YouTube spends $100 million to redefine TV.”

Beginning this month, YouTube is gambling $100 million that by seeding professional production firms such as Young Hollywood — whose slate of YouTube-only programming premieres Monday — it will draw more eyeballs for longer viewing sessions.

YouTube is a massive distribution channel, but not a creator of content.  So what to do?  How about invest in content creation!  And so they are.  And name brand content-creators are falling all over themselves to get a shot at the YouTube distribution platform because they understand what some of us in radio too often take for granted:  Broad distribution is scarce, precious, and essential.  YouTube has it.  So does radio.  And if maintaining relevance in the wake of the fast-multiplying choices for advertisers is the goal, you had better invest in content.

USA Today goes on:

Put simply, the word “television” is being redefined. What once was something produced by a network or cable channel for a screen in the living room is fast becoming anything cobbled together by nearly anyone for a range of devices. This is the culturally revolutionary, highly interactive future YouTube is banking on.

No longer the decision of network gatekeepers, “television” is now “video” and it’s as close as the nearest screen.  YouTube has made its living to date aggregating content’s long tail.  Now it wants a piece of the “short head.”  Because that’s where the dollars are.

This same redefinition is transforming “radio.”  Hence all the angst over what “is” and “isn’t” radio, whether or not it lives in an Arbitron ranker.  You can fight this redefinition, or you can exploit it.

Your choice.

YouTube’s move is to build channels rather than shows per se.  In the New Yorker, Shishir Mehrotra, YouTube’s head product manager, explained the rationale:

Advertising will be done at the level of the audience rather than at the level of the show. Content is no longer proxy for an audience—we know who the audience is. We know what your preferences are, the types of shows you like to watch.

YouTube, and its parent Google, know a lot about what you’re looking at online.  Content may no longer be a proxy for an audience but it is obviously the central attraction to building that audience once the distribution channel provides the “tracks” for the train to run on.  YouTube knows that branded content attracts more advertisers than random amateur videos of kittens on surfboards, hence their hefty investment in content creation and professional channels, like Young Hollywood.

This should serve as a reminder to all in radio about the central primacy of content, where “content” means not only the favorite music of an audience where that music could live in an infinite number of advertising-supported forms elsewhere.  It also means “content” with a capital “C.”  The kind that’s unique and compelling, whether local or not. More often than not this will mean non-music programming.

The opportunities to create such programming are boundless.  But it begins with the recognition that this is the spot where radio’s future lives.

As Ford’s Jim Buczkowski has said:

Customers have so many choices. Radio should worry less about technology, as streaming becomes ubiquitous, it’s about content. Consumers will be able to get the same content through an internet connection they are now getting via the antennas in local areas. Content is most important.

Worry less about technology.  Worry more about content.

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  • Ron

    1. When has the industry moved towards focusing on “content” since deregulation?  It hasn’t; and signing Seacrest and putting him on dozens of stations across the country isn’t investing in “content.”  That’s about “saving money.”  If that were a recipe for success, Casey Kasem would have been our midday or PM drive DJ growing up, and Rick Dees would have been waking us all up.  

    2. Sorry, but technology DOES need to be of focus.  How come a club DJ can do what an entire radio station cannot?  They’re spinning and transitioning to and from video mp4s and we’re still playing wav and mp3 audio files – which means no video streaming and no cable channel to be simulcasting on (you know – additional revenue streams).  The club DJ can do this – why hasn’t radio?  Notice all the clubs have evolved to this, slapping up flat screens all over the place? 

  • Ron, I think there have been content initiatives since deregulation. And my point is that there should (must) be a whole lot more. So it sounds like we agree on that.

    On the technology point, since when has radio been a technology industry? Never. We have always been a content industry since the first towers went up. Google is a tech company and they are smart enough to know they need to invest in content by investing in the people who create that content. They have the distribution channel, they need the content.

    Radio is supposed to be in the content business, so radio had better sharpen its content-making skills big-time.

  • Ron

    Mark, thanks for the reply. 

    My point is this: radio isn’t just losing steam and interest because content’s gotten so diluted and homogenized (though that’s a big part of it).  Technological advances HAVE taken their attention away, as well.  From CDs (and burning them) to downloads (legal and illegal) to the iPod, Pandora, Sirius/XM), I think it’s safe to say that radio may not have been addressing technological advances, but those tech advances have had their impact ON radio.

    We’d spent way too much time fighting to get FM transmitters on cellphones instead of just embracing apps and streaming enhancements/experiences.

    If listeners knew there was TRULY only ONE place to tune and hear (insert show, personality), not just in their market, but PERIOD, there’s your content enhancement.  Heck, artists don’t even bother as much as they used to with station-specific artist liners (it’s farmed out through Radio Tag or just a handful of simple “Kiss,” “Mix,” “Hot,” monikers spurted out and passed around) to help the station brand itself with the artists it helps to expose.  Outside of the top 30-50 markets, how many phoners have the core artists done with radio?  They don’t have to, because they can go on Seacrest, Kraddick (in CHR circles) and cover more ground that way. 

    I’d love to work on a fully-staffed station where folks weren’t required to wear 3-4 hats and had time to grind up new ideas for on-air and inline/streaming content that burned our brand into our market’s collective consciousness; but with dwindling rates/revenues and the perception (it’s out there) that radio’s a medium dying on the vine, who’s going to step up and inve$t in better-staffed stations and the bells and whistles necessary to interest the audience that’s got enough gadgetry on their smart phone to entertain themselves?

  • Anonymous

    Mark – It sounds to me like Mel Karmazin wrote this article. Content is King.

  • Well he’s right!

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