Is Radio Losing the “War for Attention”?

Put these pieces together:

First, Arbitron/Edison’s Infinite Dial study shows 30% year-over–year growth in the online radio audience (a large number, but not at all surprising to anyone paying close attention).  Attention spreading.

Second, a small study reported in Ad Age indicated that young consumers switch media 27 times in an hour.  “What they are looking for is engaging content, and they dismiss so much stuff,” said Dan Albert, senior VP-media director at Chicago’s MARC USA agency.  Innerscope Research CEO Carl Marci: “The target has become faster, and the window of opportunity for capturing them has become smaller.”  Attention spreading.

Meanwhile, broadcasters are introducing HD radio-equipped smartphones at NAB in an announcement garnering far more attention within than outside the radio industry, and for good reason.  While it’s an attempt to leverage radio’s traditional platform on a gadget now owned and used by nearly half of American adults, consumers don’t care about legacy platforms per se. Consumers care about what consumers care about, and that’s the content and the experience – the solutions to their day-to-day problems and the sparks for their day-to-day delights. If that happens to come from a legacy platform, great.  But understand this:  They don’t care whether it does or not.

In other words, if you have a great consumer experience and need distribution, then more distribution brings you many more consumers.  This is why Internet radio usage has risen so markedly.  More distribution on more devices to more people.

Radio, however, has no distribution problem.  So distribution will not provide new value to consumers or new audiences to broadcasters.  No matter what chips are plugged into what smartphones.  Radio’s problem isn’t distribution, it’s that we have gone from a world of almost no choice to one of almost unlimited choice, so the attention for radio’s legacy product will invariably be splintered in dozens of directions, maybe even 27 times in an hour.

The key for radio isn’t to imagine a world that needs more radio, it’s to imagine a world that needs more compelling content and more ways to play with that content across each consumer’s social graph.

See this in action on HBO.  HBO’s VP of Social Media, Sabrina Caluori, lays out the social media strategy for HBO’s Game of Thrones in Lost Remote:

Inspire fans to share their passion for Game of Thrones via their social graph by providing compelling content, intriguing calls to action and a full suite of tools on a wide variety of platforms.  Reward the most active fans with special recognition from official RT’s, Likes and Reblogs to special “swag” giveaways and even inclusion in promo spots on the network.

See this in action also with CBS’s Audio Roadshow app that I have written about before.

Radio’s challenge is not to adapt its legacy technology for new devices, since this requires consumers to demand those devices because of that technology (look how well that worked for those HD table radios).  Its challenge is to create content that demands attention and nurture that attention across platforms and devices where consumers already spend their time.

So begin by asking these questions:

  1. How can we divide our content into chunks – mini-brands, where each chunk is its own attention magnet (if this sounds like it favors morning shows, public radio, talk radio, and sports, that’s no accident)?
  2. How can we make each chunk as compelling and attractive to an audience as possible?
  3. How can we inspire fans to share their passion for that content across all available platforms – the ones where consumers already live and the ones consumers already want to use?
  4. How can we extend each chunk – each mini-brand – in an organic way that maximizes both consumer involvement and revenue, no matter what that extension looks like and whether or not it is “radio”?
  5. What is the monetization strategy which links all these pieces together?

Stop playing defense, radio.

Start playing offense.

* = required field
  • Or, we can just keep chasing aging boomers into the grave!  

  • Ideally, I would do both.

    With the accent on “both”

  • Greg Smith

    iBiquity only cares about the number of HD Radio chipsets sold. Given the poor performance of the overall system, HD Radio would never work reliably in a cell phone, and think of the battery drainage, too. There is very little consumer demand for FM in cell phones, as Apple would certainly have activated an analog FM chipset by now, but there are some other models available. I really do miss the passion of 60’s AM radio.

  • Jacob

    Want to fix radio? Quit relying on “sure things” and ultra-narrow playlists. Take a few more chances. Find unknown local musicians and champion them, cheer them on and give your local listeners something actually local to be proud of. Because local is the only thing you can offer that makes you unique now.

    Radio is dull and predictable. Wait, it’s always been that way… it’s just become significantly more so in the last decade.

  • Frank

    In the pre internet days, Radio had a mystique working for it. Listeners had to imagine what their favorite announcers looked like. The style of broadcasting was different too. Most programmers and consultants say announcer / personalities should be less “Announcer” sounding and more conversational in their delivery. We’re also advised that local content wins. Sorry but local info only relates to a small portion of anyone’s audience. People want to be entertained!! I say bring back the larger than life “Character style” announcers who were not only informative but engaging but highly entertaining. Think about it, all the best radio personalities of yesteryear got paid the most and or advanced to syndication or sat rad. We can still bring the glory days of radio back by delivering better, more compelling content but it needs to be deliver in that classic 60s, 70s or 80s style.

  • But keep in mind that nothing that comes back ever comes back the same way. I think it’s less about radio’s vintage style per se and more about how today’s consumers see compelling content and how ours can match with those expectations.

    Without question, though, “people” and “humanity” are at the heart of the opportunity.

    Thanks for the note, Frank!

  • Greg Smith

    @Frank: You are absolutely correct! I have always lived in the D.C. area and in the 60’s 70’s used to listen to WPGC, WEAM, WINX, etc. I listened to them as much for the music as for the DJs. They were always entertaining and showed passion for the music they played. At night, I used to DX to WABC mostly for the DJs, and still do to listen to Mark Simone. Very sad that the glory-days of Classic Rock are long-gone. Even though the music these days will never compare to Classic Rock, at least the DJs could act interested in what they are doing. Enjoyed your comment!

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