Satellite radio is not the enemy

Radio Business Report critiqued Washington’s slate of HD Radio offerings with general comments that contain assumptions so common, I feel compelled to comment on them:

Assumption: HD-2 formats need to compete with the format variety of satellite. They should be perceived and promoted as the free, viable alternative to satellite in each market, even if some formats don’t “test” well yet.

But…Is the purpose of HD to face-down Satellite Radio? Is this the opportunity? And if so, then why do so many terrestrial stations program their HD offshoots as “flanker” formats aimed more at “protecting” (or, I would argue, cannibalizing) the analog mothership?

Who, in other words, do you think will be first to sample your new HD channels? Satellite radio subscribers or your very own audience?

Assumption: Each market’s HD-2 channels need to be absolutely refreshing and unique to get (especially) the younger listeners’ attention.

But…There are only so many format flavors under the sun and, for the most part, they’re represented on Satellite Radio. The FACTS, not the assumptions, show that a shockingly small number of format varieties please most of the populace most of the time. All these other splinters provide fractional value, generate fractional interest, and will deliver fractional listenership at best.

Assumption: These should be treated as brand new stations in the market to drive demand – – do a co-op’ed local TV campaign. When demand is driven, receivers will be bought. You want more share of the ad dollar pie? Give the listeners the variety they’ve been getting elsewhere and often paying for.

But…how much of the ad dollar pie is Satellite radio consuming now? Is this radio’s primary problem? Where is the evidence to suggest that erosion in radio listening is due to Satellite? The largest fraction of Satellite’s audience is NOT the younger demo and yet THIS demo is the one that has most diminished their radio listening. This is not Satellite’s fault.

Further, how do you “drive demand”? You do it by solving a listener problem and doing so better than any other option, i.e., with greater value. It is a vast assumption to conclude that new splinter format options will, in and of themselves, solve a problem. The folks who complain most about radio are the same folks who control their own playlists on their iPods. Between the “best mix” and “your own personal mix” there is no middle ground.

The vast majority of the audience is far more satisfied with our medium than most of you know. And I have the evidence to prove it. This doesn’t mean the radio industry doesn’t have problems. It only means you shouldn’t assume “variety” is the solution.

Nor should you assume satellite is the enemy.

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