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Radio Thinking is not Platform Thinking

Recently CNN’s Fareed Zakaria spoke with Sony Chairman Howard Stringer about Japan’s post-crisis economic recovery.

In the context of that discussion, Stringer talked about the evolution of his own company, Sony, in the wake of a different kind of Tsunami – the kind Apple let loose on the world of mobile devices and entertainment beginning with its iPod and continuing to this day.

Sony, Stringer explained, was once building vertical devices for vertical markets.  The company was blindsided by Apple’s moves because Apple’s solutions were developed horizontally – across applications and media and devices.

In other words, Sony’s solutions were structured according to its existing channels of distribution – DVD players or game machines or mp3 players. Apple’s solutions were structured to solve the problems of consumers no matter what application or media or device or channel boundaries needed to be crossed.  Put simply, Sony was all about the gadget, while Apple was about the solution that embraced the gadget.

Ten years ago, an mp3 player was an interesting curiosity – and certainly useful if your intention was to steal music if you knew how to do it and cared to bother.  But it took Apple to develop the platform – the ecosystem – which brought music not only legally but easily to a handy, convenient, aesthetically pleasing device.

They weren’t just selling an iPod, they were selling a horizontal platform that powered that iPod and solved the problem consumers had relative to music:  Inconvenient to buy, complicated to steal, bulky and clunky to transport, and on CD’s choked with songs you don’t want in order to get the ones you do.

So what does this have to do with radio?

Broadcasters have to stop looking at radio as a distribution vehicle for their sponsors’ ads.  They have to stop seeing their digital platforms as simple extensions of their over-the-air brands purely in support of those brands.

Are you structured to create great radio stations with a full slate of ads? Or are you structured to solve the problems of your consumers and clients across platforms?

If your digital team works for the sales or programming department, then you’re not structured for the platform.

If your digital team is too busy posting display ads and site takeovers to execute a broader strategy, then you’re not structured for the platform.

If your program director is also in charge of the website but has no motivation to be a good custodian of it, then you’re not structured for the platform.

If the most popular thing on your website is your stream and your contests, then you’re not structured for the platform.

If most of the content on your website is there because the sales department sells it, you’re putting the cart before the horse, and you are not structured for the platform.

If your website looks like the brochure version of your radio station, then you’re not structured for the platform.

If the local team feels that Corporate is pushing down stuff to your market that isn’t right or good or interesting or profitable for you, then you’re not structured for the platform.

If you don’t even know how consumers are interacting with your website, then you’re running a billboard – not a platform.

If you’re asking “what do people want from our website?” instead of asking “how can we engage, entertain, and facilitate social interaction for our consumers across platforms?” then you are not structured for the platform.

Being great at radio doesn’t help you when someone comes along who’s great at solving the problems people come to radio for and targeting the clients who want to reach them effectively.  Radio thinking is not Platform thinking.

You are not running a radio station with a website.  You’re running a media platform that provides content to consumers and connection to advertisers. You’re running a media experience different from the one that is Federally licensed to your company and powered by a stick in the ground.

Or at least, you should be.

Homework assignment:  Ask the person in charge of your digital strategy to define that strategy in one or two sentences.  Compare that to the definition of the General Manager, the Sales Manager, and the Program Director.

And if you don’t know who’s in charge of your digital strategy, there’s always “the dog ate my homework” excuse.

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