Broadcasters still seem to feel their biggest competitive threat is each other.
Instead, it's the ever-growing category called "other."
"Other" is where the advertising dollars are headed (to the degree that they're heading anywhere but back in the pockets of our clients).
"Other" is not and never will be recorded by Arbitron ratings, which is why the importance of ratings in general and Arbitron in particular will decline over time.
In Radio, we tend to believe we control our own destiny. But that belief has been based on virtually exclusive ownership of ears in workplaces and cars in particular. As that stranglehold loosens, we will need to start asking ourselves how we can work together – with each other – to increase the relevance of our offerings – our industry – and to transform ourselves in a time of change every bit as traumatic as the one that ushered in television.
This means, for example, that radio broadcasters must be less concerned with protecting their secrets from their radio competitors and more concerned with creating advantages across the radio industry. We must be less obsessed with our own secrets and more determined to share them with our peers. We must get out of our group-specific silos and work together with each other for common solutions, common ideas, common platforms, common extensions to an industry sorely in need of them.
Can your town gather a room full of managers from every radio station, or are their some managers who refuse to show up?
Does your group have keep its digital strategy under lock and key, trying to sign one exclusive deal after another and favoring what's "invented here" over anything that's not?
Just as every radio station benefits from sharing space on a common band – AM or FM – so will every radio station benefit from sharing the best digital strategies and platforms with each other.
We have a strong incentive to fall in line with the leaders and not "go our own way."
In Philadelphia, there's a block called "Jeweler's row." One jewelry store after another. These stores are working together even as they compete. They know that the existence of their block will attract many more jewelry shoppers to any individual store there than if they were to locate far away from their "format competitor." They are effectively sharing a common platform because the greater good serves their individual good, too.
This is what you do when you use YouTube. It's what you do when you shop at a mall.
Compare the logic of an iPhone app which carries a ton of station streams aimed at a ton of listener tastes with one which carries only the streams from your group. Yes, I know Clear Channel does this, but they have a thousand stations, and their app is about choice, not about Clear Channel. But what if your group has only twenty or thirty or forty stations? Why do I want a one-radio-group iPhone app? Would I buy a one-radio-group radio? This is station-centric thinking, not listener-centric thinking. This is inside-out. This is not about the common platform, it's about the "silo," the bunker.
In radio's competition with its alternatives and substitutes, scaling up our best ideas across all stations – even our competitors – will give radio an unfair advantage. Bunkering down and imagining that you can sign better deals than the broadcaster across the street – imagining that your digital strategy is smarter strictly because it's yours – is wrong.
That means you should seek common platforms, common solutions, share ideas, demolish silos, spread control, and favor what's "not invented here" over building it yourself.
It's scale that will draw in more advertisers and more listeners over time.