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What Many Broadcasters Still Don’t Understand


When I read trade headlines like “who will lead Radio?” the implication is that there is this silo called “radio” which is independent from and not subject to the constraints of every other silo in the media space known by every other label.

But radio really is a gift of attention by those who are interested in our brands and in all their marvelous forms across all platforms.

And gifts don’t necessarily keep on giving.

Media companies are those companies that have our attention — they can be social networks (Twitter), games (Farmville/Zynga or Candy Crush/ or photo-sharing services (Instagram) or a listicle-powered flywheel of social attention (BuzzFeed). Like I have said before, they all are basically trying to get us to spend many fractions of our attention on their offerings.

Consider the way Amazon head Jeff Bezos thinks about the competition for books:

The most important thing to observe is that books don’t just compete against books. Books compete against people reading blogs and news articles and playing video games and watching TV and going to see movies. . . . If you realize that you’re really competing against Candy Crush and everything else, then you start to say, ‘Gosh, maybe we should really work on reducing friction on long-form reading.’ That’s what Kindle has been about from the very beginning.

This means the competition for radio isn’t simply other radio stations or even everyone’s favorite foe du jour, Pandora. The competition for radio is every media brand that isn’t traditional radio. Video games, YouTube phenoms, podcasts, e-books, even the Facebook newsfeed. Competitors to “radio,” all.

This is why it’s so important for radio brands to focus on content which compels and not simply obsess on diminishing assets like habit, ubiquity, the long-time dominance of the FM band, and what that FM band will look like in cars yet to be made. As choices on the dash become easier and more attractive to use, consumers will embrace them. And “radio’s” share of the usage pie will naturally decline, just as today’s top-ranked TV shows are only a fraction as popular as the top-ranked shows from bygone days when number one meant a 50-share.

I have often pondered what broadcasters could do if they turned back the clock on the six- or seven-figure investments they made in HD radio and funneled just a portion of that capital expense into the quality of their content.

Which makes your brand more compelling in the face of “fractionalizing attention”? Investments in HD radio? Or investments in superior content? Debates about the “connected car”? Or content that draws people to your brand no matter what channel distributes it? FM chips on mobile phones? Or content that demands to be heard on mobile phones, regardless of the mechanism?

The founder of Evernote, Phil Libin, famously said:

People [who are] thinking about things other than making the best product, never make the best product.

There are too many broadcasters today who are not making the best product. And then they wonder why Pandora and others are beginning to eat their lunch.

Too many broadcasters work backwards from what “the radio industry needs” or what will sustain and protect the distribution channels powered by towers. Instead, the challenge is to work backwards from the customer, because it’s the customer whose attention is being fractured. It’s the customer who is now in control.

The customer doesn’t care about the future of FM or AM. The customer doesn’t care about “radio” per se at all, in fact.

The customer only cares about what’s on it.

Because she loves the brands she loves.

And it’s up to you to create them.

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