Friday, July 18, 2008

A Rad Idea for Radio

I received an email from a friend who listens to Leo Laporte's radio show. He said Laporte was talking about a speech he's going to give at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference. The jist of the speech? According to my friend, "Be afraid... be very afraid. Adapt or die."

A similar kind of speech was given today at the Public Radio Development and Marketing conference I'm at, but with a small difference that I think is a very important concept for businesses. And this is a concept that isn't limited to just radio, either.

Paul Jacobs, GM of Jacobs Media shared the results of the Bedroom Project, a study of how college-educated Gen X and Y use media. Rather than just using surveys, they had peer interviewers visit the subjects in their homes, apartments and dorms. The subjects talked about how they used various forms of media, and showed the interviewers (and their accompanying cameraman) how they incorporated various devices into their lives.

The results weren't surprising to anyone who's been paying attention. Whether they're online, or on their phones, or listening to their iPods or using their TiVo, there's three constants.

Control, variety, choice.

Gen X and Y want to watch or listen to what they want on their schedule. Watching "Lost" is great. The concept of having to be in front of the TV on Sunday evening is a non-starter.

This group also wants variety. They generally don't listen to just one genre of music, or watch only one type of TV show. The SAM format is radio's feeble attempt to emulate the listening habits of this group by slightly mixing some song formats together. But it doesn't go far enough. Mixing a few songs off a limited playlist doesn't come close to the real iPod experience which can mix together 10,000 tracks.

And this group really wants -- and expects -- choice. With everything that's available online, they see no reason to settle for a limited range of videos, or music, or news, or any kind of content.

So how does this group use radio? They don't. They can't control the programming on radio, they don't think there's any variety, and they don't have a lot of choices. It's irrelevant, and many of the interviewees didn't own a radio at all.

So that's the "Be afraid" part of Laporte's message. But Jacobs went on to offer hope. Because this demographic does listen to the music, news and entertainment offerings of radio stations (particularly public radio stations) -- but only if they're available online.

So that's the "Adapt or die" part of Laporte's message. And it's one I've been delivering for some time. A radio station isn't a broadcaster. It's a content provider. And if it wants to survive, it needs to be a content creator.

Now here's the new concept that Jacobs presented. While radio audiences are aging and not being replaced, they're not going away overnight. So a broadcaster doesn't have to choose what direction to go in. In the olden days, a station could be smooth jazz and serve an older audience, or switch to Top 40 and serve a younger audience -- but it couldn't do both. It had to choose which audience to go for, abandoning the other in the process.

The crux of the presentation was that Gen X and Y get their media digitally. Boomers get theirs over the air. So stations can keep serving the boomers with their on-air programming, and develop new online content (and not just recycled on-air content) to serve the next generation of listeners. In other words, one station can serve two audiences through two different mediums.

And that can be a take away for other businesses as well. You don't necessarily have to blow off your loyal customer base just because they're older to capture a younger market. You can continue to serve them as you develop new services for younger customers and transition your business as necessary.

Most of Jacob's audience wasn't afraid -- they were excited at the possibilities. I guess they've already started to adapt.

- Ralph

Day 34 of the WJMA Web Watch.

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