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What’s the Future of Radio? That’s the Wrong Question


Everyone wants to know about “the future of radio”?

But what if that’s the wrong question?

For example, what happens if (or is it when?) the FCC relaxes the rules restricting cross-ownership of newspaper, TV, and radio stations in local media markets?

Reflect on how dramatically the radio industry changed when broadcasters were free to consolidate within the single distribution channel called “radio.” Now how much do you think the landscape will change when the differences between media channels are no longer radio vs. TV vs. newspaper but rather between my bundle of media assets in a local market and yours?

I see some form of this as inevitable because the ground under our feet is already moving in this direction – fast. What radio broadcaster doesn’t prefer to re-frame his or her brand as a “local media company” nowadays? And don’t they back up that posture with assets across platforms – on-air, online, on-site, and more?

And don’t other media platforms have many of the exact same assets at their disposal, more or less competitive depending on the quality of content, execution, and consumer and advertiser relationships?

And let’s not forget about the relatively new interlopers on the local media scene: Little companies with names like Google and Yelp and Pandora, to name only a few.

Yes, “what’s the future of radio?” is the wrong question.

And so are questions about the future of podcasting, newspapers, and local TV.

Recently a podcasting executive was illustrating to me how much momentum the space has, as illustrated by interest among consumers, advertisers, and media publications.

But here’s the thing: Podcasting’s recent momentum was sparked largely, if not exclusively, by particular nuggets of content which just so happen to be native to the podcasting space, but not limited to it. Put another way, it’s not the distribution channel that is making podcasting increasingly famous, it’s the content on it.

Think film: Movie theaters may rise or fall, but movies will go on forever.

Think television: TV viewing is more popular than ever – just not on the traditional device at linear broadcast times.

And content nuggets – whether they may be the latest movie, the hit TV show, the great new song, or the hottest new podcast – are not prisoners of any distribution channel. The shackles are all in the minds of distribution channel executives – podcasting, radio, theater, music, TV, etc.

Consumers simply want what they want when and how they want it.

So if asking about the future of radio is the wrong question, what’s the right one?

Not “the future of distribution,” surely, since that’s guaranteed to deepen and broaden thanks to ever-new technologies. Who would have imagined a decade ago that entire seasons of premium quality TV series could be launched on a platform that existed on no TV network, no cable channel, no local affiliate, and no traditional syndication platform? But that’s what Netflix has done.

I could ask “what’s the future of content?” But isn’t it obvious? That future couldn’t glow brighter.

Perhaps the most right questions of all:

“What business am I really in? How can I create value for my consumers and my clients in a market with endless choices? What will make my brand matter most?”

Let’s ask those.

It’s not about the “future of radio.” It’s about the future of your media brand.

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