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Can Digital Revenue “Make Up” Lost Traditional Radio Revenue?


Are you wasting your time nursing digital pennies and dimes when the “big money” is in the dollars that flow to your coffers from traditional agencies buying traditional radio in traditional ways?


At least, that’s the opinion of one radio industry analyst, whose solution is to double-down on traditional revenue and the ratings methodology which feeds its ecosystem. Better content, sold better – that’s his answer.

While I agree and routinely argue that radio professionals spend way too much time trying to sell what they have and way too little time trying to have what’s worth selling, the notion that digital is a monumental distraction is myopic at best and dangerous at worst.


Because you can’t roll back the clock to an era when buying advertising was simple and entertainment choices and their distribution platforms could be counted on one hand.

Because the fact that you have a huge margin on traditional radio buys and a smaller margin on all things digital is of no interest to your consumers, your fans, your transmedia competitors, or your clients. They don’t care about your nostalgic musings. And they sure don’t care about your margins.

The biggest problem broadcasters have with digital media is that it doesn’t fit snugly within a generations-old business model that, until recently, wasn’t broken. But now it is. Sorry. C’est la vie. Time to cook up some new ones!

Would the music industry love it if iTunes and Napster before it could be stuffed back into the genie’s bottle, never to return? You bet they would. Shipping boxes to Tower Records was so much more profitable for them.

Would the movie industry love it accessing their latest films required you to visit a Best Buy and drop $30 on a DVD instead of a few almost-free clicks on Netflix or Amazon? Absolutely!

Would the newspaper industry love it if all their customers would spend money on nice big print ads and all their readers would forget about Craigslist in favor of overpriced classifieds? Yes, no doubt.

What the cursory radio industry margin analysis of over-the-air radio vs. digital too often ignores is that budgets are not simply growing for digital, they are steadily being siphoned from traditional radio where the accountability is sketchy, the results are too often rhetorical, the targeting is vague, the metrics are almost random, and the commoditization is increasing.

Does this mean “radio doesn’t work?” Of course not. Radio works. But it’s not the only thing that works and it may not be the best way for a dollar of advertising to be put to work in a garden bursting with options at scale.

Just the other day I witnessed a radio client proudly proclaiming the success of some of their digital efforts as measured by Facebook metrics. That is, they were spending money on Facebook to market aspects of their radio brands and evaluating the effectiveness of that spend based on verifiable Facebook metrics. Think about this for a second. Is this smart marketing for any brand in the digital age? Or is it emblematic of the same dilemma faced by that brand’s customers in the real world of audiences and options?

You see, the answer is “both.”

And that’s why the radio industry should amp up experiments in the digital space, not shrink from them.

And it’s why presumed analysts with perfect rear-view-mirror vision should give innovating broadcasters the room they need to learn and grow and succeed and fail.

Because the future doesn’t care who the winners are.

But you can bet there will be winners there.

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