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The primary lesson of CES for Radio

The Consumer Electronics Show has evolved into an event which seemingly rivals the Oscars and the Superbowl.

And for good reason.

Because it’s not about the gadgetry. It’s about the future of entertainment. What it is and how we consume it.

Will there be announcements about HD radio? Sure there will. But – and this is important – don’t mistake good news for HD radio with good news for the radio industry.

The larger message from CES is that media and entertainment are knee-deep in a mash-up phase where nothing is what it used to be and everything is what it can be.

Broadcast TV is no longer “Broadcast TV.” In fact the pundits say you no longer need a TV to get most of its content because so much of it is online in one form or another.

Sirius and XM are no longer “radio” and now are a conduit between content and vehicles, regardless of what form that content takes: audio, video, interactive, you name it.

The crisis in our industry, radio, is that we are so ridiculously narrow about our potentialities. For example: Satellite radio has more audio channels, the thinking goes, thus we need to compete with more audio channels. Hence, HD radio.

But were we looking the other way when every other form of media exploded into every conceivable distribution channel and dimension (including satellite radio)? Were we looking the other way when we dragged our feet on streaming? Were we looking the other way when we nixed any Internet investments unless they could be liquidated on day one? Were we looking the other way as we celebrated radio’s new status as a “reach medium” at exactly the time advertisers are moving away from reach and towards accountability? Were we looking the other way as we chose to consolidate our way out of trouble and fire our way out of red ink?

Why do we keep looking the other way?

Even if HD radio were to become wildly successful it will only mean we lose faster. Faster because in addition to handing our audience over to our alternatives we will also be handing it over to a multitude of splinters of ourselves. Who will win in the battle between our HD-2 channels and zillions of alternatives, many crafted with much more tender loving care than the average HD-2?

So here it is for emphasis:

The future of HD radio is not the future of radio.

So if HD’s not the answer, what is?

The fundamental problem in our industry is, frankly, that we have so little content unique to us and so little content bigger than us.

If you’re all about the music then you’re about nothing unique at all. And it has taken the obliteration of radio’s monopoly over listeners’ ears for this to be made apparent.

Get this straight: It doesn’t matter that you have a tower. It doesn’t matter how many HD sub-channels you have. We have been borrowing the attention of millions of listeners all this time and now we must earn it.

We have the lion’s share of the audio pie today and new competitors are popping up all over to cleave off a slice. None of them owns towers. None of them owns HD sub-channels. All of them understand that media is a mash-up.

All of them understand that radio isn’t radio at all. Radio is content that lives on the radio in one, but not all, of its forms.

The future belongs to those who see a busy canvas with a million colors of media and have the content worthy of blending into each.

We have little of this content in radio today.

What are you going to do to change that?

Because it will not be announced at CES.

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