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Is Radio Losing the “War for Attention”?

Put these pieces together:

First, Arbitron/Edison’s Infinite Dial study shows 30% year-over–year growth in the online radio audience (a large number, but not at all surprising to anyone paying close attention).  Attention spreading.

Second, a small study reported in Ad Age indicated that young consumers switch media 27 times in an hour.  “What they are looking for is engaging content, and they dismiss so much stuff,” said Dan Albert, senior VP-media director at Chicago’s MARC USA agency.  Innerscope Research CEO Carl Marci: “The target has become faster, and the window of opportunity for capturing them has become smaller.”  Attention spreading.

Meanwhile, broadcasters are introducing HD radio-equipped smartphones at NAB in an announcement garnering far more attention within than outside the radio industry, and for good reason.  While it’s an attempt to leverage radio’s traditional platform on a gadget now owned and used by nearly half of American adults, consumers don’t care about legacy platforms per se. Consumers care about what consumers care about, and that’s the content and the experience – the solutions to their day-to-day problems and the sparks for their day-to-day delights. If that happens to come from a legacy platform, great.  But understand this:  They don’t care whether it does or not.

In other words, if you have a great consumer experience and need distribution, then more distribution brings you many more consumers.  This is why Internet radio usage has risen so markedly.  More distribution on more devices to more people.

Radio, however, has no distribution problem.  So distribution will not provide new value to consumers or new audiences to broadcasters.  No matter what chips are plugged into what smartphones.  Radio’s problem isn’t distribution, it’s that we have gone from a world of almost no choice to one of almost unlimited choice, so the attention for radio’s legacy product will invariably be splintered in dozens of directions, maybe even 27 times in an hour.

The key for radio isn’t to imagine a world that needs more radio, it’s to imagine a world that needs more compelling content and more ways to play with that content across each consumer’s social graph.

See this in action on HBO.  HBO’s VP of Social Media, Sabrina Caluori, lays out the social media strategy for HBO’s Game of Thrones in Lost Remote:

Inspire fans to share their passion for Game of Thrones via their social graph by providing compelling content, intriguing calls to action and a full suite of tools on a wide variety of platforms.  Reward the most active fans with special recognition from official RT’s, Likes and Reblogs to special “swag” giveaways and even inclusion in promo spots on the network.

Radio’s challenge is not to adapt its legacy technology for new devices, since this requires consumers to demand those devices because of that technology (look how well that worked for those HD table radios).  Its challenge is to create content that demands attention and nurture that attention across platforms and devices where consumers already spend their time.

So begin by asking these questions:

  1. How can we divide our content into chunks – mini-brands, where each chunk is its own attention magnet (if this sounds like it favors morning shows, public radio, talk radio, and sports, that’s no accident)?

  2. How can we make each chunk as compelling and attractive to an audience as possible?

  3. How can we inspire fans to share their passion for that content across all available platforms – the ones where consumers already live and the ones consumers already want to use?

  4. How can we extend each chunk – each mini-brand – in an organic way that maximizes both consumer involvement and revenue, no matter what that extension looks like and whether or not it is “radio”?

  5. What is the monetization strategy which links all these pieces together?

Stop playing defense, radio.

Start playing offense.

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