Is NextRadio’s Consumer Enthusiasm a Mirage?

I am stridently pro-consumer.

I believe that if we focus on what consumers show us they want, then we will have more consumers, happier consumers, and a healthier business overall. This is the thinking that has driven all my successful audience research efforts for years.

So it was with much disappointment that I reviewed the recent research project produced by Coleman Research for NextRadio, financed by the NAB. Coleman has a well-deserved strong reputation, but this deeply flawed research project will add no luster to it.

There are two kinds of research: The kind that aims to reveal truth and the kind that aims to prove a point that can serve as a news release. This is the latter.

Let’s back up.

NextRadio is the slick platform that is built into Sprint phones and enables FM radio reception without streaming. The NextRadio folks are anxious that only Sprint is carrying the platform (and even Sprint is being paid to do so by our friends in the radio industry). So they are obsessed with spreading the enthusiasm consumers feel about NextRadio so as to compel more support from broadcasters and the makers of mobile devices.

And that creates the incentive to manufacture a research project which creates the impression of enthusiasm – research makes myths rather than illuminates truths.

You can read the glowing summary for yourself. But consider what was done in this project:

Consumers were exposed to what amounts to a video advertisement for NextRadio and then asked how they felt about it. It’s an ad, folks, not neutral research stimuli. Respondents were, essentially, primed for positive feedback by the nature of the stimulus itself. Indeed, if you present a dozen ads for a dozen apps to respondents you are likely to get favorable responses to all of them – in part because the respondent is telling you what they think you want to hear; they are being “good respondents.”

Further, respondents were asked a vast number of “intended behavior” questions – the type of question which is notoriously unreliable in a world where we can’t predict what we’re having for breakfast tomorrow, let alone what we will download and how often we will use it.

Respondents were thrilled at the notion that NextRadio would save on data usage, and why not? Everything on a mobile device eats either power or data or both, but isn’t the solution to that a better battery or a better data plan (even one you’re happy to pay more for)? And isn’t that the direction technology is likely to take? How’s that 640K in your computer holding up – that’s the amount that Bill Gates famously and supposedly once said “ought to be enough for anybody.”

Respondents were never asked to trade-off NextRadio against the plethora of alternative entertainment options available to them. The real world is full of choices and time is scarce, hence every entertainment decision is not on/off – it’s a choice between alternatives, but there were no choices to be had here.

They were not asked if they had previously sought out FM radio functionality in their mobile devices or if this was a reason they chose a smartphone or not (a key issue to smartphone-makers). My research has previously shown that most consumers had not, and the feature is not a decision-maker or -breaker for smartphone purchase. Indeed, when consumers have FM radio built in, more than half say they “almost never” use it.

Nowhere in the Coleman research did they isolate Sprint handset users who actually have NextRadio and ask them about their usage of the platform. Nowhere did they ask those users about that usage: Why are you or aren’t you listening? Why aren’t you listening more?

In fact, my most significant criticism of this research is that it ignores the real-life usage of NextRadio which can serve as its own test of the future success of the platform. Trials and testing can predict success much better than hypothetical questions which invite an easy “yes.” That’s why Google and Apple and your local chain restaurant all do so much testing. And testing for them doesn’t mean fielding hypothetical research questions to fuel publicity campaigns. It means actually trying something out on a small scale and measuring the results.

NextRadio has already done this as a result of their association with Sprint. I have previously written about the extraordinarily disappointing early results, but are the results any better now?

What’s the truth about NextRadio performance among those folks who actually have and can use the platform?

It ain’t pretty.

I gathered all the published data for NextRadio usage from its launch. You can see the actual data here.

So how many people are listening to NextRadio right now, on average (if you want to understand my math, look back to this post)?


Right now, there are 101 Average Active Sessions.

Roughly speaking, that’s you and 100 of your friends.

Yes, that’s all.

Consider this: Your own radio station’s web stream is likely serving more listeners right now than the entire NextRadio platform at the same time.

Gosh, there might be more people reading this post right now than are listening now to NextRadio!

The best that can be said is that usage is growing (almost) every month. Modestly.

What is the value of attitudinal research when the real-life tests are so disappointing?

Confusing public relations for results has been a problem that has haunted the radio industry for years. It’s what explains the failures of everything from AM Stereo to HD Radio.

In a world where online radio is becoming ever-more ubiquitous and ever-easier to use, a world where the sizzle on the dashboard is what drives the purchase of new cars, a world where mobile devices are packed with features which solve problems for today’s consumers primarily via Internet access, what does this say for the future of our radio brands?

It says we had better focus more on the potentiality of our content and less on the extension of legacy distribution channels.

So don’t place much stock in these silly publicity stunts. Ignore junk science. Question authority. Place your faith in results.

Interestingly, there is an exception to all this. A place where a platform like NextRadio would be a near-perfect solution to a consumer need. I’ll write about that more later this week.

Hint: It’s not in the U.S.

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