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Radio’s Problem isn’t Listeners, it’s Advertisers

Today Inside Radio reports "Technology fatigue may be pushing listeners to return to radio."  It turns out that people aren't turning off the radio en masse. They are simply turning off the radio more often for more alternatives (that headline is a gross overstatement of the research results, but I'll let it pass).

A flurry of recent studies have suggested – shock of shocks – that even young people still listen to the radio and our cumes are, in many cases, as large as ever.

All of this is puzzling to me primarily because nobody – myself included – ever predicted radio would vanish from the consumer's choice-set.  But to argue that "the sky is not falling" is to miss the larger point altogether.

First, even Arbitron's own numbers show a downward trend in time spent listening over the years – especially among younger listeners.  This is the natural result of more choice among radio alternatives. While it may be comfortable to recognize that there are very few folks who "don't even listen to radio," there are a great many who listen to less radio than they used to.

Second – and this is the big point – radio's attrition problem is not primarily a problem of losing audience, it's a problem of losing advertising dollars.

It's the advertisers who are being heavily wooed by alternatives to radio, many of which are accountable and engaging and fresh and integrated and and demonstrably effective and have nothing to do with "broadcasting" per se.

While we crow about how large our audiences are the advertisers shrug and say "But look at all the new alternatives I have to creatively reach and connect to and engage with consumers – the right consumers!"

I once met with a broadcaster who was proud that his station's Facebook ads had delivered a certain number of impressions to a very precise demographic range – and only that demographic range – in his market.  He had zero waste, and he knew it.  I couldn't break the news to him that this achievement in itself was beyond what he was capable of delivering to his own advertisers with his own station (over the air, anyways).  He had just done the same exercise many of his clients had done, and he liked what he saw.

So let's get clear on three things:

1.  The audience is not leaving the building in droves

2.  However, the audience is listening less to radio and more to radio alternatives

3.  And, most importantly, the advertisers are transitioning much of their resources to digital.

We must recognize, as I wrote in my book, that the "100 share universe" consists of a shrinking revenue pie.  It is our obligation to our clients to follow the money and not try to convince them that radio is as vital as ever because everyone still listens to it.

Just follow the money.

The more and better solutions we offer to power-up broadcast with our digital efforts, the better we will be staged for the future of advertising.

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