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Stop the “Local” Insanity

How do you restrict a station’s streaming availability, geographically?  Can you make it available just where its over-the-air signal goes? An experiment to watch is going in the TV world, funded by the NAB’s Fastroad technology program, and written about by TVNewsCheck. Jack Perry’s Syncbak company is developing the technology that would keep local TV local – but accessible online and via mobile devices. Syncbak has the support of the Consumer Electronics Association, which understands that TV stations need to move online – but in a way that’s economically viable. CEA says Perry’s idea is “a promising technology that allows for the seamless migration of broadcast content to the Internet.” That’s going to happen to radio, too. Stations that (for instance) carry a syndicated show like Rush Limbaugh might in the future be required to keep their stream away from another market, to preserve exclusivity.

Hold your horses, buster.

All of this is based on a premise that media online should and will be monetized in the same fashion as media over the air.

In fact, media over the air is monetized locally for three primary reasons:

1.  The content, advertisers, and consumers are predominantly local

2.  The signal is only local

3.  That’s the way it has always been done.

Once we transform local media into digitally-mediated Internet-based media “local” becomes a state of mind unless it is strictly a state of content.

Handicapping the power of the Internet to fit into a hundred-year-old media model is like bringing back Hawaii Five-O with the surviving members of the original cast rather than remaking it for the new era in which it is reborn.  It is, in other words, just plain dumb.

At least in the TV world, one can argue that local TV news is of little or no interest to consumers outside the local service area (although, as any TV station will tell you, those local consumers are of plenty of interest to non-local advertisers).

But you can’t possibly argue this consistently in the radio world, where much of our content is the same as much of everybody else’s content. Good luck trying to argue that the local market is the only place where Lady Gaga has any appeal.  And it’s very much the same story with the kind of syndicated content that Tom is describing.  What part of “syndicated” don’t we understand? The very act of syndication is to simulate the effect that the Internet creates just by its very existence. “Preserving exclusivity” is a fool’s game in a digital world – unless, of course, what you’re doing actually is exclusive and not the kind of “faux exclusivity” created by signal limitations and licensing deals.

A non-trivial fraction of your audience consumes your content from outside your market area, and doesn’t that make sense?  After all, if I want to listen to you from within your market area, isn’t the old-fashioned radio easier and more convenient?

It makes no sense whatsoever to cut off our digital content from markets outside our own unless that content is tailored so specifically for our market that it is irrelevant to consumers in any other.

Further, it makes a lot more sense to create the ability for consumers to personalize our content so it matches their needs no matter where they are. This is the strategy used by a little company called Pandora and another one called Groupon, for example.

Finally, it makes great sense to recognize that we are ultimately not monetizing content, we are monetizing the consumers who consume that content. The more we know about these consumer the more we can match their profile, their interests, and their behaviors to the ones sought by our advertisers, regardless of where these consumers hang their hats.  This is what happens every time you log on to a site using your Facebook profile, for example.  And it is a technology which is coming quite soon to a radio platform near you.

So please, stop the nonsense about cutting off your digital stream to those outside your market area. Not only will this cap your digital potential, but it will also invite more enlightened digital competitors who view their opportunity horizon according to the strength of their ideas rather than the view from their figurative porch.

The Internet is not a broadcast tower and is not constrained by something as “20th Century” as geography.

Stop building moats around your castle walls.

History proves moats don’t halt the advance of passionate invaders, anyway.

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