There are two critical and opposing forces shaping radio’s future. I call them:
“All for one” and “one for all.”
The traditional radio model is neither “all for one” nor “one for all.” It’s really “all for all,” the idea that, however we define “all,” it’s the same “all” for everyone in the same linear sequence. It has to be that way because the traditional model is a slave to “reach,” and being enslaved to reach in a linear platform like radio means you must make most of the people happy most of the time, assuming their options for greater satisfaction are severely constrained.
Unfortunately, we are entering an era when nobody’s options for anything are severely constrained.
Enter “all for one.”
“All for one” represents the virtually unlimited choices any given consumer has today to compose a non-linear listening experience. This is what personalization is all about. Give me a huge variety of options and let me tailor the end result my way, where my way is different from your way: “All for one.”
Note that I said “non-linear.” This is not an endless directory of linear choices. That’s the TV Guide approach to radio choice, and it works as well for radio as TV Guide works for TV nowadays.
“All for one” means if you know I like one thing, then I am also likely to like this other thing. It is not a dumb menu. And it is not forged in the opinion furnace of a music test.
What about the opposing force?
Enter “one for all.”
“One for all” represents the notion that some things are so unique, so exclusive, so desirable that they alone comprise an experience demanded by many in the same identical form. There is, for example, only one Rush Limbaugh – only one Howard Stern.
But note that this “one for all” must be unique, exclusive, and highly desirable.
“Local” is not “one for all,” so woe unto you if this is your defensive bulwark against Pandora et. al.
Let’s say you live in Philadelphia. WMMR’s Preston and Steve are definitely “one for all.” So is play-by-play of Eagles and Phillies games. But these have nothing to do with a “local” address. They have to do with things that are unique, exclusive, and highly desirable to a regional audience. Big difference.
It should be clear that these are opposing forces:
“All for one” pushes consumers towards customization and platforms which enable that customization. This force pushes us to choose non-linear entertainment forms, just the way we use Netflix to watch streaming movies and TV.
“One for all” pushes us to find unique, exclusive, and highly desirable entertainment or information whose very specialness and scarcity makes us all value it as it is. For example, it’s not my Super Bowl or your Super Bowl, it’s our Super Bowl.
It should be clear to anyone paying attention that radio is capable of pursuing both these directions simultaneously.
“All for one” requires stronger technology and greater consumer-responsiveness, while “one for all” requires unique and compelling content – especially non-music content.
So what does that leave in the middle, besides most radio stations?
In the long run, it leaves a no-man’s land. One without personalized content or unique and compelling content – always outdone by either extreme.
We might call this the path to obsolescence.
Others might call it “the best mix.”