If you've ever signed on a new radio station, you know the key is to start strong, bold, and with your best content blazing. That's why radio programmers always strive to kick off a new sign-on with a production piece that makes a statement, along with the best possible music, and promotions and marketing in place.
So, you can imagine what's on the line when it's the debut of an entire platform with expectations to sign up millions of first-time users during its first few weeks.
And lately, major brands are all readying their best stuff, including Apple TV+, Disney+, and now Amazon HD Music.
You likely have heard about the first two – video streaming subscriber networks from perhaps the best entertainment and leading tech brand on the planet.
Amazon is experiencing an incredible run, from its e-commerce dominance, as well as its ownership of Twitch, and its comfortable smart speaker lead (at least here in the U.S.). “Alexa” has become a much-uttered word these days (just don't give a child that name).
Now, Amazon is kicking off a new HD music service, set to coincide with the debut of a new Alexa product – the Echo Studio – a new device focused on high-quality sound. This new Amazon product retails for $329, far more than the cost of the standard Echo or Dot gadgets.
We're expecting to see the entire line of Amazon and Google speaker products at CES in January. along with a whole new category of “hearables” and other technologies designed to enhance the audio experience. It is amazing how big this revolution has become in just the past few years.
But with Amazon HD Music, it's a software play. While Amazon has only about one-third of the streaming subscriber base of Spotify, this embrace of HD audio is designed as a major differentiator.
Digital Music News' Ashley King reports Amazon's emphasis on quality sound included collaboration with Neil Young, who's been a long-time proponent of the rush to HD.
But rather than use a relic like Young to market this shiny new product, Amazon had a plethora of artists from which to choose to headline the campaign. And they've partnered with several of the biggest names in music, including Taylor Swift, Imagine Dragons, Chance the Rapper, Katy Perry, and the Jonas Brothers. Veteran artists such as Queen and Whitney Houston are also in the Amazon HD Music mix, but most of the artists are more contemporary.
And for good reason. Amazon – along with Apple, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and other streaming giants – are in a land grab to capture the biggest share of Gen Z's. Nielsen pegs the size of this generation at roughly 77 million – bigger than Millennials and Boomers. So, winning them over to your proprietary music streaming platform is of paramount importance.
Amazon's HQ music service is shot across Spotify's bow, and a sign the drag race to win over the most teenage music subscribers has officially begun.
But the lead commercial – the campaign's headliner – features the Beatles, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of “Abbey Road.” And the spot below (along with others in the campaign) will appear on TV, in movie theaters, and online throughout thee U.S. According to King, the Beatles are already in the top 5 of the most-streamed bands in Amazon's global streaming ecosystem.
The video is beautiful – both in its rich visuals and its incredible sound. And it leverages a band that you wouldn't necessarily associate with the streaming generation – or would you? Maybe Amazon's play to win over the largest possible subscriber base was to go with the most credible, mass appeal, multi-generational icons – the Fab Four.
Between the golden anniversary of the “Abbey Road” album, and the fact that millions of teenagers know a wide array of Beatles lyrics, Amazon's strategy is about as mainstream as it gets.
No one on the Amazon team pulled out a slide rule and ran the typical radio calculation: The generation that grew up with Beatles music is now applying for Medicare benefits.
This is a trusim, of course, if you still believe in the old saw that music loyalties are always age-based – tied to your “Wonder Years” – and that young people wouldn't be caught dead listening to music that's half a century old.
Except they do.
Funny thing is, while the Beatles continue to strongly trend in both streaming metrics and however you measure the pop culture zeitgeist, their broadcast radio play is heading steadily down. Here is the pattern of spins on Classic Rock and Classic Hits stations for the Beatles over the past three years (2019 is year-to-date), thanks to Mediabase.
Only a Beatles “rally” next month can save the Fab Four from continuing to downtrend with each passing year on the broadcast radio stations where the Beatles were once dominant.
Is this a suggestion for programmers to start scheduling the Beatles again (in the early days of the Classic Rock format, many stations used a separate “Beatles” category to help better track the band and solo hits)?
Absolutely not, because you have to respect every station's strategy for success. But the trend is hard to ignore, as yet another artist – and even genre – becomes less and less present on FM radio. And let's not forget that aside from the ability to create Beatles playlists on services from the big players, Amazon, Pandora, Spotify, there's always SiriusXM Channel 18 – an entire channel dedicated to the music and the history of the Beatles. The Beatles Channel: The Fab Four 24/8 (yes, there are 8 days in a week).
So, as those Amazon HD Music spots pop up during football games and other special holiday programming next month, as well as on the many screens we watch every day, it's another opportunity for those of us continuing to ply our craft in the radio business the concept of generational marketing via music is changing.
It is fascinating that the biggest companies are gunning for the youngest consumers in the race for the future.
And it looks like a band that visited the shores of America 55 years ago is once again at the center of it all.