Whither Radio Now

Hopefully, we’ll see each other at the NAB Radio Show in Indianapolis next week.  (Actually, drop me a line, and let’s make sure that happens.)

One question heading into NAB Week: Whether you’re talent or a broadcast company, what creative means are you using to grow your business?

This year in Indy, we’ll hear lots of talk about the digital future, and that’s a great start. However, it’s only a start. If the talk goes no further than the standard industry discussions of apps featuring playlist curation, “digital platforms”, connected dashboards, and FM tuners in cell phones, your time will have been wasted.

These things are important, but here’s what really matters:

  • Content. Mind-blowingly special content that springs from creative ideas and brilliant execution. Great content that comes from the myriad great content creators who are currently (or formerly) employed in radio.
  • Distribution. Not just via various means that simply extend our typical radio brands into dashboards, apps, and websites, but unique ways of pushing content out to our audiences wherever they are and then monetizing that content.

If you read this blog often, you know that I constantly harp on creative things that content creators – big and small – are doing. Hopefully, we can all derive some inspiration from them. However, I also do it to remind you that there are so many new types of content – entertaining and profitable content – that can thrive in our new world, and the biggest lesson we can draw from the proliferation of new content types is that there are plenty more product niches waiting to be exploited.

Guess what’s missing from these discussions of creative things content creators are doing. If you answered “radio talent”, you’re right. Radio is jampacked with brilliant creative talent, but it’s not radio talent that’s making a killing with videos of themselves playing online video games, their own fashion reviews (and product line), or unboxing videos. How is that possible?

Here are some more ideas from content creators great and small:

Why is it so important to keep coming back to this stuff? You already know the answer: as with every form of entertainment, radio’s reality is changing quickly. A medium that well over 90% of Americans still use every week has remarkable reach, and with it, remarkable opportunities to reinvent itself. Constantly shrinking TSL, however, should remind radio that (1) reinvention must happen while (2) the time window for that reinvention may not be as big as you think it is.

Go look at these numbers regarding how quickly radio usage changed when the public adopted television 60+ years ago.  Or, if you’d prefer, you can watch music sales change constantly over 30 years. Lest you think this means radio has a 30-year survival curve, note that CD’s fell from 95% to 30% of all music sales…in the last decade.

Let’s talk about distribution for a moment. You know those BuzzFeed lists you use on your morning show? Well, BuzzFeed just used them to pull in $50 million in funding at a valuation of – wait for it – $850 million.

Of course, now they’re going to have to create more unique content to justify that valuation. That content will be distributed on buzzfeed.com, right? Not so fast. The company has created BuzzFeed Distributed to push its content out elsewhere, realizing that, even a website with over 150 million unique users a month isn’t the be-all and end-all of content distribution.

Oh, and there’s one more division: BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, complete with help from the producer of Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained, that will produce everything from short-form to feature-length content. Yes, BuzzFeed is diving much further into the content business too.

Meanwhile, Facebook and Twitter are now experimenting with Buy It Now buttons on their websites.

Let’s bring it back around to radio performers. What if Bob Rivers, instead of retiring, was just starting out now? Can you imagine what he’d have done over the length of his career selling Twisted Tunes (among other things) with a Buy It Now button on his website?

Are you a great creative talent like Bob Rivers? If so, please tell me you’re not doing four-and-the-door,  perhaps with some show prep, production, and the occasional promotional appearance thrown in. I hope you’re looking to make unique things that your fans will love, and I hope you’re looking for ways to profit from them.

Do you employ great creative talent? What are you doing to take advantage of that fact? I hope you’re pushing that talent to do special things that fall outside the traditional definition of “radio”. I also hope you’re supporting that talent, both with the help they need to create and thrive and also with the financial investment that allows them to do that. That, by the way, doesn’t just mean a reasonable paycheck. It also means technological infrastructure and a support team.

Here’s the question everyone should be looking to answer in Indy: What does radio have – what do you as a talent have – that is worthy of a Buy It Now button?

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