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Radio has only Two Paths – and “Local” isn’t One

Says Seth:

Local media was an essential business for a century, largely for three reasons: 1. Broadcast signals and newspaper trucks could only travel so far, so ‘local’ was the natural category. 2. Commerce (and thus advertising) was local. 3. Interests tended to align locally as well. Today, of course, the signal travels around the world, so newspapers, radio stations and TV have no incentive to limit themselves. And finally, we’re discovering that when given the chance, people are a lot more interested in what they’re interested in, as opposed to what their physical neighbors are doing.Going forward, then, the real kings of media will be local in a totally different sense. They will be the narrators and arbiters of interest for groups that actually have aligned interests. The daily newspaper for families wrestling with juvenile diabetes, or bi-weekly email op ed for the pop music industry. If one of those categories happens to be, “lives in zip code 10706,” that’s just fine, but it’s an exception, not the default.

I have previously argued that there’s “no such thing as local per se,” with the important exception of local sports.

There’s what matters to you personally, to your family, to your neighborhood (i.e., the context for “not in my backyard” revolts and every discussion of schools), to your country, and to your world – pretty much in declining order of interest and concern.

The value of being in a local market is that you have a more richly developed sense of what the folks in that local market need, one person and one email at a time. And isn’t that what’s really lacking for broadcasters?

We have a ratings methodology that argues not only does each individual not count, NO individual counts – only the meters that are drifting from one radio exposure to the next count.  Even if they might be tied to a ceiling fan.  This is as off-trend as one can imagine.

Compare that to the personalized metrics of digital media – online radio, even – old media deficiencies are ever clearer.

You can’t narrate and be an arbiter of interest for groups you don’t know by name.

You can’t be interesting to people whose interests you don’t bother to determine.

Unless, of course, you are built to bring interests together.  Unless you are so entertaining that folks of different minds gravitate to you because you are so entertaining.  Unless you are so informative that folks of different minds can find no better way to be informed.  Unless you talk sports the way guys I know like to talk sports.

Radio and all the media it inspires have two paths:  The granular one that knows me better and the “unique to the world” entertainment or information one that brings us all together better than anything else can.

Both require the kind of strategic effort and investment that few are willing to make.

Better start now.

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