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The Audio of Things


Recent research indicated the surprising (to some) result that a relatively small fraction of consumers have a radio by their bedside, meaning it’s functionally impossible to “wake up to radio.”

The solution: Get more radios in the bedroom, right?

Actually, no, that’s not the solution.

All technology is transitional, you see. And that includes that staple that used to be aptly called the “clock radio.”

And so it goes, too, for the car dashboard. Other research recently reported by NTSMediaOnline indicated that:

AM/FM radio remains the overwhelmingly preferred audio entertainment option in the car. While consumers use new streaming services, virtually all consumers (99%) are comfortable with the current AM/FM in-car radio operation. And 91% of consumers say they prefer physical AM/FM radio buttons and controls built into the car dashboard, rather than AM/FM being an app that appears in the car’s electronic interface, with only 9% saying they would want it changed into a dashboard app.

Well of course! This would be surprising only to someone who has never met a consumer!

Of course AM/FM radio wins the car, as it has for decades.

Of course consumers are comfortable with AM/FM as it currently is (it was Henry Ford who famously observed that consumers didn’t ask for an automobile, what they really wanted was a faster horse).

Of course they prefer physical buttons (a.k.a. the way AM/FM radio has worked forever) over AM/FM as an app.

Nobody ever wants you to take something away as you add new choices. Nobody ever wants to learn new ways of doing things they’ve done another way for decades. But from a user experience standpoint, segregating AM/FM from the rest of the audio entertainment platform is slapdash, inelegant design-wise, and ultimately a compromise for folks who grew up with one platform and are simply adjusting to a new one.

Try the same conversation with millennials and they will look at you like you’ve lost your mind. They want power and ease and they are not constrained by legacy solutions built for a different entertainment era. If the only reason for a separate AM/FM is because that’s how it’s always been, that will not be good enough for millennials.

So we have more content spread across more devices and device categories.

As there are more devices in consumers’ lives, and as more device categories (e.g., wearables) sprout up, the importance of any of these devices decreases (unless you’re the company manufacturing the devices). Each new device and new category crowds out and diminishes (but doesn’t necessarily kill) the old one, even as the total number of devices and categories grow.

That is, while audio content will remain vital, the device called a “radio” will only become less important over time. Every new gadget in every new category makes this more certain.

What some broadcasters are missing is that “the Internet of things” will yield “the audio of things.” More gadgets that function in part like radios – with or without AM/FM content – but aren’t.

So is the problem to re-introduce people to more traditional radios in more places?

How come you never hear TV broadcasters conclude that the solution to less “TV set” watching is to get more “TV sets” in front of consumers? No, they focus on screens. Screens are part of many devices. And that naturally leads TV broadcasters to focus on both content and distribution, since screens need to be fed. So consumers watch more and more “TV,” but not on the device on the living room wall.

Anyone in the audio space needs to recognize that while listeners are not necessarily straying from their favorite content, the 24-hour day is definitely squeezing out their legacy devices. And this behavior will only accelerate as wearables take off and with them, “the audio of things.”

No wonder then that at Borrell’s recent Local Online Advertising conference, CBS Local Digital Media’s Ezra Kucharz said this:

We think by 2020 it will be about screens and storytelling, not about radio and television and digital. It’s about delivering the right content to people where and when they want it.

And Sinclair VP of Digital Interactive Solutions Rob Weisbord added:

If you’re single dimensional and want to remain single dimensional, you may as well put up an out of business sign. If you don’t embrace multichannel distribution, you’re dead.

Screens and storytelling. Multichannel distribution.

It’s not the end for radio content. Far from it. But the future of AM/FM radios is not nearly so rosy.

It’s time for the radio industry to embrace “the audio of things.”

the audio future festival
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