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Surprise! Radio Disney Doesn’t Need Radio!


So Disney sells of all of its Radio Disney station assets – 23 AM and 1 FM –  save for its LA flagship, which is evidently a content creation hub and not simply a means of distribution.

…and the radio industry goes wild!

What does this mean? What is Disney signaling? Does this even matter? These are the questions that were on everyone’s lips last week.

But to me, the larger question is this: How come this took so long?

Does anyone think Disney chief Bob Iger awakened one bright day in the summer of 2014 to discover that his army of primarily AM radio distribution points was not particularly relevant to an audience of kids, tweens, and their parents, all of whom enjoy more choices for more ways to receive Disney content than ever before?

Let’s face it, the last time an AM radio station was particularly relevant to a juvenile audience it was the summer of 1975.

Yeah, but Disney’s not a radio company, you might say (forgetting that elephant in the room called ESPN). No, it’s much more than that actually, and you should be, too.

Disney is all about consumers and their interests and connecting the dots between them. Disney is about producing and distributing content to audiences who salivate for it via the most effective and efficient means possible.

Indeed this is the problem. Radio companies think they’re in the “radio business” rather than the same business Disney is in, producing and distributing content to audiences who salivate for it via the most effective and efficient means possible.

This was fine when distribution was scarce and expensive. But what about now that distribution is abundant and relatively cheap? Now the real value in legacy distribution channels is your ability to be a gatekeeper for the content that sparks the passions of your audience, and the real obligation of the custodians of those channels is to build, grow, or buy new and rising distribution links to your consumers before your competitors do.

See, Disney is not wed to any distribution channel. Disney is wed to its audience, and so should you be.

Some radio analysts have called for a massive PR campaign to tell the story of radio to advertisers and audiences alike.


Do you really think this is simply a problem of bad public relations?

If so, you’re sunk. Sorry.

I think this misguided notion derives from the old school belief that anything we pimp relentlessly enough will invariably sell. Sadly, that only works when what we’re pimping is a good idea that consumers and advertisers actually resonate with. And that explains the funeral procession of bad radio industry ideas that litter our publicity history and have caused not so much as a blip in the consciousness of the consumer public: “Radio Heard Here,” anyone? Sure!

Unless you’re a fan of Radio Disney, of course, then the phrase is actually “Online Radio Heard Here.”

HD Radio? NextRadio? Ho hum, say consumers to these and other ideas that generate excitement only among the readers of radio trade publications – ideas built to perpetuate a distribution channel, not to delight an audience.

What Disney’s sale of radio assets really signals is that distribution is bigger than any one channel and the importance of those channels evolves over time. Some channels become more important, others become less so.

But if that’s true, then what’s steady, unchanging, enduring over time?

Could it be the content?

I don’t know. Let’s ask ESPN and Star Wars and Marvel and Mickey Mouse.

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