Related observations on trends affecting radio:
1. Big is no match for small
A digital company with a few dozen employees – fewer than a major radio group has in even one market – can have more usage by consumers in that digital space than every radio station in the major broadcast group combined.
With a few dozen employees and a few million dollars of investment the threshold for "success" is vastly lower for the digital firm than for the broadcast company. The "nut" is smaller. The paths to success are many for the digital company, whereas for the broadcaster the likelihood of holding ground, let alone growing, is diminished.
Radio is emerging from a time where financial expectations were powered by unique and exclusive ownership of a media channel dependent on the unique and exclusive attention of advertisers and listeners. But both groups are today distracted by the new, fresh, and shiny. Not to mention the accountable, integrated, and engaging.
And that means…
2. "Companies that squelch creativity can no longer compete with companies that champion creativity."
That line if from Hugh MacLeod's fantastic book Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity
Where the small company has an advantage and where there can be an infinite number of small companies the edge will go to he or she who has the more compelling idea. And compelling ideas are usually creative solutions to consumer problems.
A large part of radio's difficulty is that tough financial times tend not to encourage creative ideas because those ideas are inherently risky and un-free. Instead, tough times favor efficiency and cost control.
Well let me say it flat out: You will never protect and grow your audience by becoming more efficient and cost-conscious. You will only protect your margins as you shrink.
That doesn't mean you should spend like drunken sailors. It simply means you should regard your business as a business – where investment leads to rewards and you take many gambles because some – not all – pay off. Such is the nature of innovation. And that's what consumers have come to demand.
3. People respond to People
Is it all about the Internet? Or is it about something else?
From MacLeod's book:
…It wasn't the format that made the art great. It was the fact that somehow while playing around with something new, suddenly they found they were able to put their entire selves into it. Only then did it become their "shtick," their true voice, etc. That's what people responded to. The humanity, not the form. The voice, not the form.
Indeed, "voices" and the passions of those "voices" and the brands born of those "voices" will become more important to radio, not less. I don't care what lessons PPM gives us in that regard, because PPM is essentially mapping a path for music-intensive stations to be easily substituted by music-intensive alternatives.
What makes one station different from another – one digital solution different from another – is its voice. Its humanity.
Good luck budget-cutting your way to that.