The “Extreme Personalization” Trend

Recently, Apple’s Steve Jobs announced that he would allow personalization of the iPhone and the iPod Touch. That is, third party creators can create applications by the truckload for the new devices so as to build an ecosystem of functionality around them. Jobs was pressured into this by a very vocal user community.

An open platform for apps, of course, facilitates a level of personalization heretofore unknown and, says my friend Pip Coburn, head of trend-forward investment firm Coburn Ventures, it’s symbolic of a much broader trend:

The Apple “to open or not open” apps situation reflects the incredible pace toward EXTREME PERSONALIZATION and how the manifestations of EXTREME PERSONALIZATION are shifting quickly in the context of the Digital Demographic Revolution. In 1995 folks were just using the Internet and building the web and then 10 years later Apple and others say we will give THAT to you in an EXTREME MOBILITY sense and the reaction is THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH! And literally people are suing Apple because they think they have the RIGHT not just to almost everything that is on the Internet (which is a whole whole lot but which is apparently NOT enough). Folks are saying we have the RIGHT to create applications of any kind we wish and to pull into these devices any applications we wish. WIDE WIDE implications for serving the world correctly in its radically altering version of EXTREME PERSONALIZATION.

If everyone wants their own private Idaho (as it were), what is the role for media systems which have traditionally been based on a common user experience? That is, if Radio is all about giving most folks what they want most of the time, what do we do when listeners demand exactly what they want right now and all the time? More choice is no shortcut to this goal, since more choice isn’t the same as “exactly what they want right now and all the time.” Choice just makes choosing harder, and harder choices force many not to choose at all. Hence at least some of the difficulties of satellite radio and HD. Hence the sales momentum for mp3 players.

The answer is this: Radio will have to get into the personalization business.

This is exactly the plan over at CBS Radio which will soon be integrating its recently acquired last.fm into its radio station websites (that’s right, you heard it here first. Don’t tell anybody). That will allow the creation of custom “versions” of the mothership station (none of which count in the Arbitron ratings, by the way).

There are many more facets to this problem than simply whether or not stations can provide a custom listening experience. When it comes to personalization, that means everything: Information, traffic, weather, talk, as well as music.

…and, perhaps most important of all: Advertising.

Working against the “extreme personalization” trend is the “that’s too much effort” factor. Simplicity is, of course, key to radio’s success and will continue to be so.

But understand this: One generation’s simplicity is another’s complexity. The younger fraction of our audience is growing into a world where they can have anything they want exactly when they want it. All they have to do is ask. And they will.

Radio must grapple with this balancing act or stand by as younger audiences leave radio’s shores for more responsive waters.

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