Another quarter goes by and radio revenues are flat…again. This is the fifth straight quarter where Erica Farber has had to release unhappy news, something that no one in sales – from your GSM to the CEO of the RAB – ever enjoys doing. Broadcasters can blame Mother Nature for part of Q1’s tepid performance, but when you have “flattish” results for more than a year, it has to be more than lousy weather driving mediocre returns.
Of course, there’s a story within the story – spot and network revenue are down. Digital, however, continues to grow – up 16% in Q1. And that’s precisely the crossroads where the radio industry sits – whether it’s the programming department, the sales cubicles, or the digital wizards who are all trying to make adjustments to the plane while it’s airborne at 35,000 feet. It’s not easy to adapt a legacy industry that is in a state of constant change, and yet, that’s the mission that all of us in radio broadcasting share.
Despite the obvious implications of these results from the RAB and the continuous flat environment in which radio now apparently lives, there are many in the industry who continue to staunchly cling to the tenets of the past, refusing to embrace the changing media world in which we all live. Radio fundamentally has incredible strengths, but in a disruptive information and entertainment environment, clinging to convention is a recipe for…well, staying flat.
We laugh at those who were members of “The Flat Earth Society,” but in fact, “The Flat Radio Society” continues to be well-populated, supported by beliefs that ran out of reality steam years ago. Here are some of those “flat radio” philosophies that can still be heard today:
- We are not going to trade analog dollars for digital dimes.
- We need to start making money from our social media “likes” and “followers.”
- Radio will always be the dominant player in the car.
- Good sellers can be trained to sell anything – including digital.
- We run our two stopsets an hour where everyone else does. What’s wrong with that?
- I’m great on the air – who really needs this social media stuff?
- Mobile apps are just another expense that won’t generate any revenue.
- We don’t need social media help – we just brought in an intern from the local college.
- We don’t really compete against those pure-play jukeboxes.
- Our stream is fine – I listened to it last month.
- Radio will always be the place where consumers discover new music.
- There are 3 or 4 radios in the average American residence.
- We don’t send our managers to conferences because they just go there to job hunt.
- We dominate this market – consumers have no other viable options for entertainment and information.
- We don’t really compete against public radio – besides they’re winning because of government handouts.
- There’s not enough time in the day to acknowledge listeners on social media pages, much less answer the phones.
- Consumers understand that commercials are part of the price they must pay for listening to free radio.
- We’re very active in social media – we use it extensively to promote our contests and to set listening occasions.
- We have great relationships with the local car dealers – they love our remotes and sales contests.
- I’ve got all the research I need right here in the rating book.
- Drivers will always rely on radio for our accurate traffic info.
- Local doesn’t really matter – it’s about entertainment.
- We don’t need to market our best stations – everyone knows about them.
I could go on. But so could you. We have a comment section right below, and I invite you to add your “Flat Radio Society” sayings. Let’s not get personal, but let’s also examine those philosophical anachronistic thoughts we all have. And if you think that Jacobs Media has a head or two in the sand, here’s your shot.
Our demons are stubbornness and fear, and yet, we’ve got the people, the innovativeness, and the desire to remain competitive – even as the world changes around us. If radio is to move forward as an industry, we need to overcome the traps of the past, see the present for what it is, build on the medium’s inherent assets, and imagine a future where we do a better job of serving listeners, advertisers, and communities in ways that are truly in-sync with where our changing media world has moved.
Otherwise, the future will be…flat.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.