iPod Killed the Radio Star

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip January 27, 2004

iPod. It’s just another evolution in the Walkman, right? Just another portable music device like the ones that have been around for years, right? Nothing to compare with the threat of Satellite Radio, right? Wrong. Apple’s ingenius and artful iPod is a far greater challenge to Radio than you’ve ever considered – stronger even than Satellite Radio. And here’s why.

iPod Facts and Figures

As of January, Apple has sold more than 2 million iPods. Almost two were sold every minute during 2003. The newest models are capable of holding up to 10,000 songs. Apple’s downloadable music service, iTunes, has sold more than 30 million songs.

But in order to appreciate the significance of iPod, you have to understand how listeners relate to digital media vs. the tangible CD’s and vinyl of days gone by. As media futurist Douglas Rushkoff has argued, users in a digital environment do not feel the need to own that media the way their parents did. You and I might have a record or a CD collection. When we move, the collection moves with us. Digital kids, however, are different. Ask an iPod owner how many songs she swaps in and out of her iPod every week. Are there any songs that stay in there forever? Doubtful.

And that means…?

When you view a listening device as a repository for music you own, you’re thinking of it as a CD or cassette player. When you view a device rather as a player for music that rolls in and out, songs that are “hits” for you today but you’re “burned on” tomorrow, you’re thinking of it as a Radio. And it’s a better music radio than the one on the FM band because it’s not KISS FM, it’s ME FM.

Satellite Radio can’t say that. Granted they’ve got a lot more channels than your local market, but they’re still not MY channel. iPod is MY channel with up to 10,000 ever-changing “hits.” And when I’m burned on one, I don’t need to wait for your Callout Research to click “delete.” My hottest hits, not yours, are always on my hip.

So What do we Do?

Don’t think you can win this war by never giving away an iPod. With or without your support, the revolution has begun. And the consequences are already being felt in formats like Alternative, where improved ratings come by retrenching to the Grunge era, the comfort food time for folks whose favorite songs went out of fashion with plaid.

Your choice is, in some ways, what it always was: Differentiate and be unique. Do what nobody else can do and do it best. That means local content. That means entertainment. That means morning show – and ultimately midday, afternoon, and evening show. That means talent. Remember that when the budget gets cut. The more your station sounds like somebody else’s iPod, not ME FM, the more that tiny digital player is going to kick your ass.

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