Many readers know that one of my regular themes is the relationship between radio as content creator vs. radio as distribution channel.
While radio retains massive reach there’s no question that the attention enabled by that reach is fraying and dispersing. I’ll share some statistics on this point in some later post, but for now suffice it to say that in a world of many meaningful alternatives to radio, attention is following choice – and ultimately advertising dollars will follow attention.
So what are the consequences of this?
When choice proliferates and consumers embrace those choices, what’s the best move for radio? To focus on its role as a channel of distribution or its role as creator of compelling content?
If you say “both,” then I will ask you the question a very smart marketing observer asked me recently:
“What do you think radio wants to be,” he asked, “a content creator or a distribution channel?”
“A distribution channel,” I quickly answered.
“Exactly,” he replied.
And just a few days later came word that several large groups were “trimming headcount” in markets across America in an effort to centralize programming and distribution of content.
It is, in other words, a steady progression towards “distribution channel” and away from “content creator.”
This is a great short-term strategy, of course, since it reduces expense without reducing revenue.
For the medium- to long-run, however, cheaper distribution does not create content worthy of attention any more than cheaper auto parts create a more compelling car.
In an era when shiny objects attract consumers to follow their interests and their “tribes” to whatever destination appeals to them, making the most broadly appealing object – radio – more vanilla and redundant is hardly a strategy for success.
I’m not arguing that national-caliber talent isn’t better than local talent – maybe it is (although that’s for the audience to say, isn’t it?). I’m arguing that stretching the same old content over a broader set of radio assets is not the same as creating more compelling content across more channels of distribution in the first place.
Once I spoke to the Public Radio Program Directors’ Conference, and my key message to these product creators was this: You guys are really good at creating compelling content – so do that. Create more of it. And not just content of the newsy kind. Not just more stuff aimed at the same slice of the market which drools over Morning Edition. You Public Radio radio producers are this medium’s equivalent of Jerry Bruckheimer. And if you’re Jerry Bruckheimer, go create content – all kinds!
So while Jerry Bruckheimer shuttles between Pirates and CSI and National Treasure and the Lone Ranger, what does radio create?
Lower cost content and a firmer-than-ever commitment to becoming a distribution channel.
When more compelling content is available in more places within easy reach, what’s the value of cheap distribution to the industry which depends on it for survival?