“Hey, it’s Radio on my Cell Phone”

From today’s news:

“Motorola iRadio lets us deliver top-rated talk content and custom music channels to listeners wherever they are throughout their day,” explains Jeff Littlejohn, executive vice president at Clear Channel Radio. “Whether they’re underground in a subway tunnel or traveling outside their local radio market, they can still take along their favorite Clear Channel Radio content. We believe iRadio is an important addition to the choices now available to consumers and the service has our unqualified support.” “Motorola has really raised the bar for consumer choice and portability,” said David Del Beccaro, president and CEO of Music Choice. “We’re thrilled to be a part of this radio revolution.”

A few observations as radio takes the inevitable (and advisable) plunge into cellmobile phones:

1. Radio’s real target for cell phone radio is Satellite radio. Here’s why: They’re both available by subscription. Thus they will target the folks who value portability – at a price. Because if they value portability for free they’ll use that most archaic of all gadgets, the portable radio.

2. Isn’t it interesting to note that while mobile music has long been popular, mobile radio (as in, the kind on your hip) has been in the shadow of Walkman cassette players (used primarily for cassettes, not radio), Walkman CD players (used primarily for CD’s, not radio), and now iPods. That is, portability and control tend to go hand in hand. Radio is about comparatively passive entertainment, not control. Can radio plant a flag on this barren world?

2. This path will be a very slow-grow one. That’s because it will happen one phone manufacturer and/or one Verizon at a time. Each deal will be different. Each deal will be complicated. Each deal will involve sharing revenue with lots of other companies, all of whom have their hands in the consumer’s pocket.

3. Radio has no inherent competitive advantage in this area. That’s because virtually anybody can string together a series of music channels – assuming these channels are primarily music (which, in the long run, is doubtful). Hence “Music Choice” listed in the same release as Clear Channel.

4. Invariably we will discover that some people value content for a price – just as some cable subscribers buy HBO but more than two-thirds don’t. Some poeple will value control for a price – just as some cable subscribers buy TiVo, but (by the end of this decade) more than two-thirds don’t. The rest will be left to enjoy that which is advertiser-supported, no matter what gadet that content appears on. Can radio do deals with mobile phones that provide that content gratis with advertiser support?

5. If you’re going to charge a premium price then you had better offer premium content if you expect people to buy that content. The very same drive to premium content is what makes major league sports and Howard Stern so valuable on Satellite. Who is striking those deals in the mobile phone space? Radio?

6. “Premium” doesn’t just apply to the caliber of the content, but also to its kind. For a ring tone, for example, experiencing that content means sharing it with others. The content itself become the consumer’s distinctive calling card. By sharing a tone you are sharing yourself. THAT is a premium feature, and its one that mobile radio will not soon possess. Mobile phones are about connection. Will mobile phone radio be the same?

So marvel as Clear Channel pursues the mobile phone space, and CBS Radio too. Watch as XM and Sirius strike similar deals. These are essential steps in the right direction, but they are the beginning of the story, not its end.

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