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And the Future of Radio is…


I love “future of radio” discussions, even though the premise of the phrase is completely wrong.

Radio people care about “the future of radio” – listeners don’t.

Indifference to what listeners really care about is why Clear Channel didn’t acquire Pandora when it was bargain-priced. It’s why there are many podcasts that sound like radio shows and enjoy radio-sized audiences but have never played on a radio station.

The issue isn’t about the “future of radio” per se, but rather about the “future of how people want to consume audio”, “the future of what people want to consume,” and – separately, perhaps – “the future of business models for broadcasters.” If radio folks would only ask better questions, they would arrive at better answers.

Tom Taylor quoted WXPN Philadelphia GM Roger LaMay at a recent “Future of Public Radio” confab in New Jersey, and here’s what Roger reported:

Across NPR member stations, the average age of over-the-air listeners is 58 – the “sweet spot” for almost every show. On tablets, it’s 53. On smartphones via the NPR News app, it’s 49. On Facebook, it’s 42. For NPR Music and NPR Twitter, it’s 39. On NPR’s website, it’s 38. For NPR podcasts, it’s 33. And for NPR on social media, it’s below 30.

Previously, Anya Grundman, NPR’s Vice President for Programming and Audience Development told an audience at my hivio conference that across its multiple platforms, NPR has the same size audience over-50 as it does under-35.

So what does all this mean?

Does it simply mean that the place you drop your content needs to match the places listeners want to consume that content? Sure, it does. But it means so much more than that.

For example, it’s fair to ask: Does the fact that the over-the-air radio audience is the oldest group mean it will always be that way? In other words, are today’s secondary platforms likely to be tomorrow’s primary ones? Or will consumers awaken to radio content on the radio the way their parents and grandparents did – eventually?

I think the answer is clearly “no.” Today’s secondary platforms will absolutely be tomorrow’s primary ones. In some sense they already are. Technology and the way consumers adapt to technology are a progression in one direction only. Recently, I had an attorney indicate that I could send him information by fax – I thought he was kidding.

Since the form of content is shaped by the platform carrying that content, this trend also means that “radio” will not in every case be “radio” or even “audio.” What in the world does your brand look like when it’s on platforms not driven by audio?

Recently I was with a group of “digital natives” – also known as teenagers. One girl was walking me through her Snapchat. She showed me how she will check the iHeartRadio stories. We asked her if she knew that this company, iHeartRadio, owned radio stations too.

She looked befuddled.

“No,” she said.

On Snapchat, “iHeartRadio” doesn’t mean “radio.”

Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

So it’s not just different generations on different platforms consuming the same things – it’s different generations on different platforms consuming different things, all under a common brand umbrella.

If you don’t get that your brand is going to have to mean more diverse things to future consumers, then you don’t get what technology is really doing to radio.Your #radio brand is going to have to mean more diverse things to future consumers Click To Tweet

Now you may be thinking: Commercial radio is different. We have formats targeting audiences of every age group, gender, and ethnicity. That’s true. But every one of these groups is being provided a menu of new choices that meet current and emerging needs, and technology is transforming every place and way they listen. And when cars drive themselves, people will listen a lot less and watch a lot more.

You need to view your brand as a solution to a consumer problem, an answer to a consumer desire. Then you should ask yourself what other solutions and answers are you competing against for those problems and desires?

Meanwhile you need to consider how you can extend your brand to provide more value to your existing consumers across more platforms – including the one called “the real world.”

This is why so-called “non-traditional revenue” is really the future of revenue.

This is why direct business is really the future of business.

This is why attention and consumption is really the future of listening.

This is why stuff beyond radio is really the future of radio.

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