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Goodbye under-25’s

Nothing inspires radio industry self-flagellation like the topic of abandoning under-25’s.

Check out this conversation at Arbitron’s recent consultant fly-in where at least two panel members chided radio for forsaking the tastes of at least one and maybe two generations.

Said the extremely smart Fred Jacobs:

We got away with ignoring them because there was no money there. Since we were the only game in town, they wound up eventually finding us. But today, ere are all kinds of places for them to go. If they don’t grow up with us, why would they come to us?…We are kind of screwed. We stand to lose a couple of generations.

Fred’s right.

In reality, as Fred suggests, the advertising community has never rewarded radio stations for being “bottom-heavy” with under-25’s. Not ever.

What’s different now is that tight advertising markets, intense competitive pressure, and demographic realities (both the aging of the baby boom and the splintering of under-25’s into ethnic and lifestyle fragments who agree more and more on less and less) have conspired to make under-25’s less attractive to broadcasters than ever. And this is happening just as under-25’s have more substitutes to radio than before.

But I’m not sure how we can point the finger of blame at ourselves. Because what can we really do?

Do we take a financial bullet for under-25’s?

Do we deliberately look the other way as our competitors rack up bigger numbers targeting bigger – and older – audiences?

Do we fancy that this “participation generation” – this cohort that values user-generated content and user-generated music choice above all else – can even be effectively targeted by one or more radio stations? What exactly is this format that we’re giving up so as to worship the aging demographic gods?

No, this change in the nature of things – and in our future – was inevitable.

Our challenge now is to create and target audiences in whatever media they want to be created and targeted in. Our challenge is to build audiences, young and old, and link them to advertisers. That challenge will never change.

But nobody ever said we’d be meeting that challenge by using a radio tower.

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