Tis the season when radio companies are discussing their second quarter performance. And by and large, the numbers have been so-so to down. You can learn a lot about where the radio business is headed by focusing on the remarks, comments, and analysis from company CEOs about their companies and the state of the business.
Sometimes, they're actually revealing, like in the case of Urban One CEO, Alfred Liggins. Tom Taylor reported last week that Liggins was lamenting the industry's shift to digital:
“I would've preferred that the digital revolution had never happened…”
Liggins went on to explain how difficult the digital side of the business has turned out to be, but that Urban One is forced to compete because “there's billions of dollars flowing into it.”
He underscored the uncertainty of the digital business, noting there's a speed bump because “we don't frickin' know” where its headed.
True that. Everything is pointing to digital – it's the one revenue category in the radio business with the upward trajectory. But where it goes and when it gets there is the big question on every CEO's mind, especially in broadcasting.
As Ruchir Sharma, Chief Global Strategist for Morgan Stanley, summed it up well in The New York Times over the weekend:
“The clocks have no hands.”
Radio's corporate leaders, by and large, have a strong sense of digital's power and its future. As Sharma points out, they may not know its full extent or have a specific timetable, but many are moving rapidly to integrate digital into their portfolios and their corporate strategies.
The writing is on the wall. We see the inexorable move by consumers to a digital future, while the RAB continues to tell us the dollars have been flowing in the same direction for several years now.
At the NAB in April, we blogged about how radio CEOs are embracing digital. In “What Was The Vibe At The NAB?” we discussed how digital denial was taking a back seat to a sense of optimism and excitement about the digital revolution.
Last week, Entercom's investment in DGital Media provided another strong indication of the import of a digital strategy integrated with traditional radio brands. Whether it's podcasts or digital content creation in general, Entercom is ensuring it has the infrastructure and people in place to take advantage of the content offerings from its legacy stations, as well as its content-rich acquisitions – the CBS Radio group.
David Field joins Ginny Morris in placing several million chips in podcasting. Recall that Hubbard Radio made a major commitment to Podcast One back in 2015. And that same year, Scripps made the leap and purchased Midroll Media. These commitments to digital content creation and distribution are just the tip of the digital iceberg as other radio companies – big and small – are placing their bets on digital.
Radio's leaders will tell you they don't know precisely where digital is headed, much less when a tipping point for monetization will occur. But they all willingly admit that all signs point to the inevitability of continued digital disruption and the need for their companies to embrace rather than deny that certainty.
One thing I can tell you with confidence is that the radio industry's personalities are ready and energized about the digital opportunities. I witnessed this first-hand last Friday at Morning Show Boot Camp. Our panel discussion – “New Skills For Survival” – featured four savvy digital strategists: iHeartRadio's Chris Peterson, Entercom's Kim Reis, Cox Media Group's Tim Clarke, and SonicAi's Steve Goldstein.
Each outlined the opportunities, and the enthusiastic room of more than 200 air personalities from all-sized markets was all over it – armed with questions, thoughts, and ideas of their own. There's no question about it: they are ready to face the digital future, and radio companies should be tapping into the passion of their on-air staffers. Rather than viewing digital as a speed bump, they perceive it as a way to build brands and better engage with their changing audiences.
The media industry is moving quickly. And Liggins' lamentations are another sign the captains of the radio industry have lost control of the clock. It truly has no hands, and that means they either need to step up and lead the way or let outside circumstances determine the fates of their companies.
When Wall Street hears a radio CEO ruing a digital future, complaining that it doesn't bring a financial windfall and the easy returns that radio became used to back in The Roaring '80s, it tells them broadcasters are out of step. That's not the perception we want the investment community, automakers, technologists, or consumers to have about radio and its ability to adapt to the exciting uncertainty.
Are radio's leaders going to embrace the future or will they wring their hands about the change that is all around us?
Optimistic innovators or rueful, reluctant followers?
The future of radio will be on display later this month at Podcast Movement. Jacobs Media will host an entire day of sessions designed for radio professionals – “Broadcasters Meet Podcasters.” Details here.