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Radio’s Time-Spent-Listening Fix (Hint: Don’t Hold your Breath)

Radio time-spent-listening (TSL) is declining.

This is something I’ve been writing about for a long time, yet many broadcasters stubbornly refuse to face up to the consequences of this fact, preferring instead to take refuge in stable audience cumes over time.

Even if audience usage was not eroding, we would still be facing an erosion of advertising support as marketers move dollars to digital options – some in the radiosphere, many not.

The time to stick one’s head in the sand is over.

From Inside Radio:

Radio’s cume is fine, but average quarter hour listening is on the decline. Radio still reaches 239 million Americans each week, but a more crowded media landscape is increasingly leading to lower Time Spent Listening. According to a new Veronis Suhler Stevenson (VSS) analysis of Arbitron listening data, the medium will see a sixth consecutive average quarter hour drop in 2010. An average 23.4 million people listened to radio during any given quarter hour in 2009, a drop of more than two million from one year earlier and down from the 2004 peak of 27.6 million. Even with population growth working as a counterweight, VSS projects the negative trend will continue…. “New and younger listeners will not be drawn in until radio groups begin spending more on substantially differentiated programming,” the firm’s 24th annual Communications Industry Forecast says. VSS credits efforts like Clear Channel’s Less Is More inventory- reduction strategy for helping make radio more appealing to listeners. But it concludes, “The initiative failed to halt the migration of listeners — particularly younger audiences — to other media, such as portable music players, video games and social networking platforms.”

The solution is not to cut back on spots, folks.  This is putting a band-aid on a breaking dam.

It turns out that “less is not more.”

More is more.

The fix begins as follows:

Recognize that there is no fix.

That is, recognize that there’s no way to uniformly and comprehensively keep consumers tuned to your stations to the same degree they were glued to those stations when there was no other game in town.

Recognize that the challenge is not, as some might argue, “sustaining TSL.” The problem is not too many spots or bland content or the need for “substantially differentiated programming” or not enough risks or media consolidation.  All of these are convenient excuses for the reality, which is simply this:

There are a lot more ways for folks to entertain themselves today than ever before.

And you cannot prevent consumers from embracing solutions to their entertainment problems.

You can, however, put solutions of your own in their path.  And drive their success through the powerful megaphones licensed to you by the FCC. Assuming, of course, those solutions really are powerful and compelling and worth consuming in the first place.

Radio is no longer in the TSL business.  Indeed, it’s no longer in the “radio business.”  Radio today is in the business of connecting consumers to advertisers via content that joins both across all platforms.

“Your brand” is not your radio station.  It’s really the relationships you have with consumers and advertisers and the degree to which you can add value to those relationships in an always-on, on-demand world.

Show me the NAB session on that topic.

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