Decency’s Danger

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip March 10, 2004

“My time has passed,” says Howard Stern. Thanks to election year politics, fundamentalist button-pushing, knee-jerk PR mongering, and an unwelcome nipple shield, some of Radio’s most provocative and popular on-air talents are being shut out of many markets, popular demand (as measured by double-digit Arbitron shares) notwithstanding. Is this drive to decency a good thing? Or does it have an evil dark side?

No Fertile Ground for Talent

Revolutions always come from the fringes, not the safe and comfortable center. “Survivor” showed us what Reality TV could do. “The Passion of the Christ” showed us what a religious-themed movie with English subtitles could do. Comedian Lenny Bruce is now a legend, but in his day he was derided for his use of “dirty words” in his act.

The current regulatory environment and, more importantly, our reaction to it, is making Radio unsafe for the fringes and unsafe for this and future generations of talent. If you thought it was hard attracting talent before, just wait until every station and every format is “safe for the whole family.” Without welcoming the edge, without cultivating what’s risky – and to some, offensive – we are trying to re-write the rules of entertainment. If Radio listeners want to leave us for more exciting, riskier new media, why should we usher them out our own doors?

Great News for Satellite Radio

I believe one of the big factors which has kept Satellite Radio from exploding in popularity is its lack of star-power. They have no “Sopranos.” They have no “Sex and the City.” They lack edgy, popular, unique, water-cooler content like this; the kind some have described as “indecent.” They lack the one or two essential “hits” which alone would justify $10 bucks a month every month, just as HBO easily justifies it for 33 million homes nationwide.

If Howard Stern, for example, moved to Satellite Radio he would likely introduce millions of new subscribers to the service almost overnight. These subscribers would gladly pay for access, and every one of them would take their quarter-hours with them. Is it in Radio’s interest to hand over “The Sopranos” on a silver platter? Is it in Radio’s interest to introduce millions of new subscribers to Satellite? Is it in Radio’s interest to be the farm team for Satellite Radio’s stars in an era when we’re no longer able to cultivate or protect our own? Do we want to give birth to audio HBO?

The Truth Hurts

I research music artists to measure BUZZ in conjunction with Promosquad.com. In that research we measured the buzz for Janet Jackson both before and after the Superbowl fiasco. The result: Buzz was in overdrive after her surprise exposure. But NEGATIVE buzz was almost nonexistent. In other words, folks were talking about it, but not with the kind of shock and dismay shown in the media (which is in the business of leveraging shock into ratings), the Congress, and the FCC.

Of course, we have to be responsive and responsible. We have to respect Wall Street, the FCC, and Congress. But what about our audience, the people who vote with their diaries? Where’s the respect for them? What do you do when what’s right for an election year is what’s dead wrong for the future of our industry?

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