A blog post that's not about coronavirus? Not quite.
Here we are, cocooned away at home, hanging out with our loved ones, and trying to get work done from home. And that means most of us are not driving anywhere as much as we were just a few short weeks ago. And as we know, that's not the best of circumstances for radio listening, the bulk of which occurs when consumers are on four wheels.
But radio pros are a plucky group, and most have made the transition to catering to an audience that's homebound, going out as little as possible. So, it's natural our focus is not on cars, dashboards, Tesla, or Apple CarPlay.
But that doesn't mean nothing's happening with new media and cars.
Last June, I published a blog post titled “Attention Radio: Digital Predators Are Attacking Morning Drive.” Spotify's new “Your Daily Drive” feature was the center point, a content ploy designed to cannibalize broadcast radio's early morning in-car dominance.
At the time, a few people commented to let me know I was being a bit hyperbolic, especially in my use of the word “predator” to refer to competitors like Spotify, SiriusXM, and other vying for a bigger slice of the in-car listening pie.
So, I felt a bit of vindication (followed by anxiety) when I read Carol Ryan's piece in the Wall Street Journal last month. The title – “Spotfiy Wants to Share Your Car Journey” is the hors d'oeuvre. It's the carnivorous subtitle that is as exciting as my headline from nearly one year ago:
“Music streaming services are trying to lure drivers away from local AM/FM stations.”
There's not a lot of doubt about what Spotify is thinking about. Ryan concedes that AM/FM radio still dominates the dash. But just as broadcast television has lost share, clout, and image to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Disney+, radio listeners could be vulnerable to in-car streaming come-ons from Spotify and others that deliver cool content to accompany the commute to and from work, schlepping the soccer team, or heading out for a late dinner.
Our Techsurvey reveals streaming audio platforms like Spotify are already enjoying a solid degree of success, even among radio's most loyal core fans. Our data shows that six in ten TS20 respondents subscribe to an audio music service (compared to more than eight in ten who plunk down money every month for at least one video streaming channels).
But now things look a little different through the COVID-19 lens. Radio is mired in the throes of a crisis the likes of which no one has experienced in more than a century. Getting through it as unscathed as possible is the industry's collective goal, as we all hope to come out the other side as intact and vital as possible.
But as Sound That Brands' Dave Beasing reminded me in a quote from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, some brands figure out a way to excel and expand, even under the most challenging of circumstances:
“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
Exactly. The smartest, most strategic, and opportunistic brands will be doing just that over these next weeks and months. Pandemically speaking, radio may temporarily lose overall share as fewer people are on the road and at work thanks to COVID-19. But when the smoke clears, and America returns to some semblance of “normal” – or a “new normal” – it will be essential those morning drive (and afternoons, too) routines return to form.
It has always been essential for broadcast radio stations to embrace their local environs, although many have argued this theory has become outdated. Successful syndicated radio shows work in Des Moines, Detroit, or Duluth. Quality content matters, of course, whether it comes from out of the market or not..
But the coronavirus crisis brings the “live & local” theory to a head. Right now, it's a very different scene in these three radio markets, when it comes to community spread and the level of concern. Sitting here in Detroit – a true “hot spot” – must be very different than being in Iowa, a state that still has not issued “stay at home” order.
That trusim was reinforced to me a couple weeks ago when our Techsurvey 2020 data landed on my laptop. We always ask the agree/disagree question, “One of radio's primary advantages is its local feel.” The results speak for themselves.
Note how the degree of agreement has steadily increased over the past five years, an indicator that as some media and entertainment brands have become ubiquitous, the need for strong local programming has intensified. We may all be watching people yakking on social media about “Tiger King” on Netflix, building and sharing our playlists on Spotify, and even listening to Stern on Howard 100, but the need to know and feel about our local environs has never been greater, thanks in no small part to – ironically – a “global” pandemic.
Yes, there are many ways to approach radio programming. But a global pandemic that impacts everyone is what we're dealing with here. Dr. Deborah Birx, one of the leaders of the White House's coronavirus task force put a point on it in a recent press conference:
“We don't think any city will be spared.”
That should tell you that at its core, COVID-19 is an intensely local story. And it's an air horn alert that while it may be helpful to listen to Dr. Sanjay Gupta talk about hygiene and safety, or Dr. Tony Fauci provide context about flattening the curve, we are especially focused on our communities – where we live, where we work, and in many cases, where are families are located.
The example by Go Radio in Minneapolis (pictured right) is another sign of hometown pride coming to the airwaves, showcasing roots music in the Twin Cities, led by Prince's “Purple Rain.”
Thus, the need for programmers and personalities to do to their best, local radio now. It will be remembered when the crisis subsides and America returns to work – to coffee shops, restaurants, movie theaters, and sporting events. The keys to radio's success – as always – will be its ability to be live, local, in the moment, and truly connected to audiences, advertisers, and communities.
Other station's are pulling out the stops to salute local “essential workers” in their cities and towns. WCSX here in Detroit is on that path, led by the Big Jim's House morning show. Yes, medical professional are in this group, but so are the folks packing bags at the grocery store, filling our prescriptions, delivering our dinners, and working the drive-thrus, none of whom signed up for “hazard pay” when they took these jobs.
Spotify is going to put on a full court press against broadcast radio for dominance in those 3,000 pound rolling radios. As the WSJ story suggests, they don't need that big a piece of radio's in-car share to claim victory. With listening habits shifting during COVID-19 – especially in-car – they might have a window of opportunity.
They've even hired some guy named Weatherly, who apparently knows a little something about building a competitive morning drive product, and determining just the right mix of information, entertainment, and music.
Good luck with that, Spotify.
We will start presenting our three flash ConronaviruSurveys to commercial radio, public radio, and Christian music radio today. We will have a free, all-industry presentation, in partnership with the RAB, ready to go next week. We believe information from this research will help inform radio programmers, managers, and sellers about their COVID-19 strategies and tactics. We'll be blogging about these studies as well.