"Small is the new big," wrote Seth Godin some time ago.
And now it's becoming ever-clearer: Small is also the new REALLY big.
A dead-on piece in The Atlantic illustrates just how far the giants have fallen. Although the topic is TV, not Radio, there are lessons relevant for us, too:
On the “buy side,” the problem is what I’d call cultural attention-deficit disorder, which afflicts the consumer bombarded with choices: more TV networks…, more video games, more Web sites, and more ways to consume shows than ever before (VOD, DVD, PPV, etc., etc.). And all of this is compounded by the loss of the social effect: the fewer people who consume any given piece of media, the fewer people there are to tell you how awesome The Life & Times of Tim is and how you simply have to watch it. Amid the chaos, it’s difficult for a media consumer to care enough about any one thing to stick with it—and for a network trying to build allegiance to a brand, convincing anyone that what you’re showing matters becomes almost impossible. The only thing network television can uniquely offer us non-digitally-optimized saps and dipshits is the promise of immediacy. Leno’s content—like that of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, the breakout stars of the past few years—is news-driven, hypertimely, and ultimately disposable, insofar as it loses almost all its value within 24 hours. American Idol and Dancing With the Stars, consistently the most popular television series over the past two seasons, can capture and hold a brief cultural moment because they’re broadcast, judged, and voted on live. Heroes, on the other hand, is an inferior experience when consumed in real time, with commercials, Mondays at 9 p.m. [It] requires many hours of commitment to understand and fully enjoy, and it’s much, much easier to watch the whole thing in a marathon on a rainy Saturday morning—most likely on DVD, via your remarkably cheap Netflix subscription. As network television takes up a lower-brow position in the cultural pecking order, the higher-quality, more expensive shows will become increasingly independent of the networks that broadcast them. Eventually, networks will stop being brands and start becoming, at least in part, mere “distribution platforms,” a first stop for cultural products on their long journey through other digital media, subscription services, and mobile devices—more like movie-theater chains, in other words, than like movie studios of yore. Just as a premiere in a movie house now largely serves as a way to market the DVD, or sell products, so too is the TV “premiere” just a billboard for the show’s future life. In the short term, this will probably mean fewer traditional (and expensive) television shows in the mold of Heroes. The digital revolution has been a great leveler. Blogs work better than newspapers. Small bands with passionate audiences do better relative to their predecessors than does mass-market pap. Cult movies find and sustain audiences. Niche rules over mainstream. Those who don’t [subscribe to Pay TV] will get what they don’t pay for: not a cultural wasteland, exactly, but the television equivalent of AM talk radio, which survived the emergence of higher-quality FM radio in the 1970s by reverting to its core strength—cheap, live talk. And the world will tune in, because cheese has its own rewards.
So if broadcast TV will become more like AM talk radio (Cable TV is already fast moving in that direction, and shows like TODAY now stretch to cover four hours), then what will radio become more like?
On Monday, I'll offer 10 Predictions for Radio's Next 5 Years.
Set your timer. See if I'm right.