The moral of today's blog post is that we are all creatures of habit. Like the old guy pictured above, some of us carry around habits that have been with us for a long, long time. (Not to worry – no dinosaurs were harmed in the writing of this post.)
The sociology of habitual behavior (yes, addiction) has been a topic of discussion for centuries. There are things we are addicted to physically, but then there are the ones we are hooked on mentally. Radio listening falls into the latter group.
In Techsurvey, we make the effort to measure habitual behavior, and how it plays into one's relationship with radio stations, as well as the medium itself. In our much-discussed “Why Radio?” question, we track the reasons why consumers continue to make broadcast radio a media habit, as well as part of their lives.
Overall, we list more than 20 potential reasons why respondents listen to radio, and we ask them to tell us which ones are the main drivers for tune-in. And most years, “I'm in the habit of listening” is easily in the top 10, right alongside personalities, music, and the fact radio is easiest to listen to in the car.
In spite of all the new media competition – satellite radio, streaming audio, podcasts, etc. – core radio listeners tell us year after year radio listening is often one of their habitual behaviors.
In reality, this is not a bad thing. It is easy to conclude that routine listening to a station or a show is a sign of passive engagement. But I would argue that when respondents tell us they're in the habit of listening to the radio, it's a good thing. It means radio is part of the fabric of their everyday lives – another of their routines. We tend to habituate around activities we enjoy, and for many, radio listening is something they like to do.
To illustrate the pervasiveness of habit as a key reason why radio listening is a regular activity, here's the pullout of people who place themselves in this category, with a five-year trender up on top.
I walk away with five key thoughts:
- Since COVID, habit is playing an even bigger role in radio listening. A solid majority make radio listening part of their routines.
- Women are more likely than men to tune in broadcast radio out of habit.
- Progressively younger radio listeners are more apt to listen out of habit. Our Gen Z sample is small, but they follow the pattern.
- Members of ethnic groups are more likely to point to habit as a main driver for AM/FM listening.
- And least surprisingly, nearly two-thirds of the heaviest radio listeners point to habit as a key reason why they consume so much AM/FM content.
The psychology behind habit formation is fascinating and is helpful for radio programmers to understand. A piece last month in Therapy Tips by Mark Travers focuses on USC psychologist's Asaf Mazar's research on habitual behavior.
I love this way of thinking about the routines we find ourselves repeating again and again:
“Habits are shortcuts our brain develops as we repeat an action in a specific situation.”
Like listening to the radio in the car. For hundreds of millions of consumers post-40, it became a habit since driver's ed to stick the key in the ignition, start the car, and turn on the radio.
We fall into the habit zone without conscious thought or intent. Habits serve as our default modes – our response to a situation. Another psychologist, Dr. Wendy Wood, found 40% of all personal behavior is driven by habit.
I believe it – where we shop, the restaurants we frequent and the food we order, the brands we buy – so much of those “decisions” are the routines we just fall into over time.
The radio broadcasting industry has sustained itself largely on the force of habit. Whether it was waking up to a morning show on a clock radio, turning on the car radio on the way to and from work, or Monica selecting the station for the entire office, the regularity of radio listening was always thought of as a “given.”
Until it wasn't.
Habits can be disrupted and even broken, often by outside factors that just happen to happen. Like COVID. By no choice of our own, businesses, offices, and eateries closed, forcing us to make other choices. And in some cases, form new habits.
We have seen the strong wake of the pandemic, particularly in our COVID studies conducted throughout 2020, in those early game-changing months of the pandemic. Many consumers were forced to learn new technologies: how to log into a Zoom meeting or connect with the family via Facetime, how to talk to a smart speaker, how to download an app, and how to discover and subscribe to a podcast. Those behaviors are learned through repeated use over time. And when they are repeated often enough, they become new habits.
Seizing on that, there are more and more companies working overtime to hook us on new behaviors, especially in the media world.
Axios is a great example. In January, I blogged about their news coverage of select metros and regions in a post called “Did Axios Just Lay Down The Gauntlet On Local Media?” Five months ago, Axios was publishing local newsletters in 14 U.S. markets, threatening to disrupt local news operations – commercial TV, newspapers, and of course, public and commercial radio. At that time, their goal was 25 markets by the end of the current month.
Last week, a new missive arrived from Axios heralding one million email subscribers – quite the milestone. Market-wise, they are near their goal, circling around their 24th U.S. market.
According to AdWeek‘s Mark Sternberg, Axios Local (good name, right?) will generate $10 million this year. And in a sign Axios is serious about upending local news habits, they have recently hired executives from the New York Times and Washington Post to shore up content, ad sales, and subscription functions.
And continued coverage at a high quality level has direct revenue impact on traditional local media outlets (attention: Gordon Borrell). Axios Local's chief business office, Fabricio Drumond (pictured) says it's all part of the plan to dominate local news coverage and the revenue it produces:
“The more additional markets we reach, the larger our footprint grows and the more relevant Axios Local becomes for national brands. On the other end, the work Jamie (Stockwell of the Times) is doing within the local communities has really helped strengthen our brand awareness and kickstart conversations with small businesses.”
That's a shot across the local media bow of any media outlet that has held the reputation for local news coverage.
Public radio is a great example. Some stations (especially in larger markets) produce local shows that cover issues and personalities close to home. But many others shoehorn local news stories and features within their highly popular “tentpole” magazine shows, “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.” Both of these NPR productions are stellar, but listeners often don't notice some of the local stories affiliate stations embed in these shows.
And few public radio stations actively position and even market their local news efforts, a fact Axios Local is heavily leaning into. That sums up the challenge, not only when it comes to local content focus, but also underwriting and sponsorship efforts. It's analogous to the way Facebook and Google have become go-to ad platforms for Main Street businesses. Those habits have been broken, and now local news is in the crosshairs, too.
On the music side of the ledger, we're seeing a similar set of circumstances. These days, Spotify is throwing platefuls of spaghetti against the media wall, hoping some of their efforts stick. Many of these initiatives veer away from streaming music – both Spotify's stock in trade and also the financial bane of their existence because of onerous royalty fees. The more non-music content they create, the better their chances for sustained profitability.
Interestingly, their newest effort goes right at music stations, and the longtime practice of airing concert and event information. Remember the old concert hot lines and concert calendars? Thanks in large part to COVID, many of these radio features were put on hold or terminated altogether because no one was going anywhere. But now that concert venues, movie theaters, and other entertainment options are back in full swing, many radio stations are providing little or any of this info. Or they're doing it sporadically.
Concert info and weekend activities features have become rarities on the air, while coverage of these events online is sporadic, incomplete, dated, or inaccurate. Spotify has picked up on this opportunity, revamping its “Live Event Feed,” covering local live events. Like other things, when local radio drops the ball, tech brands are quick to run the carpe diem play: seize the opportunity.
There are exceptions across the radio dial. One I found is The Drive in Utica, New York. Its concert listings are extensive, comprehensive, and cleanly displayed. It efforts were in contrast to many stations where I clicked on a “concerts” or “events” tab, only to be taken to a blank page or one that embarrassingly not been updated for weeks – of months.
Spotify's new entry is called “Concert Hub.” Digital Music News reporter Dylan Smith explains that when a user clicks on an event, Spotify's app now displays ticket info from Ticketmaster, Eventbrite, and others. The Swedish music streaming giant will earn a rev share when tickets are purchased off their app.
How big is this opportunity for Spotify? They're hoping to net $100 billion from their efforts, while showcasing discoverability, and even emailing fans about future tour dates.
You can read the details of Spotify's “Concert Hub” here.
Radio (and other local media) have choices to make: what turf to defend, how to take better ownership of key coverage spokes, and finding the optimal ways of marketing them on and off-air.
That might mean rethinking features, as well as web resources. It might also open the door to developing a simple events app, covering local concerts and events. Of course, this type of initiative requires content aggregation, but it also can easily lead to new revenue opportunities.
(I know just the folks that can develop one of these apps for your station or cluster. Click here.)
Axios Local and Spotify's newly reimagined “Concert Hub” are just a couple indicators of big tech's incursion on the local news and events coverage environment.
Local broadcasters and their stations would be well-served by taking an inventory of owned images – not just in the radio ecosystem but in the media world at large.
Too often, radio continues to depend on the power of habit to sustain its brand equity. In this environment, inertia is way overrated. Tech invaders could care less about what radio stations “own” or more to the point, “owned.” They are emboldened to go after turf that once belonged to traditional media players.
In their research and strategic planning activities, radio broadcasters would be well-served by taking stock of their situations. Which images matter, which are “nice to have,” and how can they be both defended against as well as monetized?
Whether it's local news, event marketing, or concerts and things-to-do information, where must local radio plant its flags in the hometown turf?
If broadcasters don't recognize and grapple with these competitive volleys , like the dinosaurs, radio's creatures of habit may face extinction.
Old habits often may die hard, but new habits are ready to take their place.
And by the way, no smoking.