Yesterday's blog post explored broadcast radio's digital journey, speed bumps and all.
After working with radio companies for more than a couple decades on their digital activities, it has become clearer to me that most have struggled with this process. Part of the friction has been in letting go, giving digital its due in a world where AM/FM radio dominated for much of our professional and personal lives.
But the thing that has gummed up the works more often that not has revolved around making the best choices for the organization and the radio medium itself.
Yesterday, I published four key questions broadcasters might ask before getting ensconced in costly commitments to digital content that is harder to make than it appears.
You digital content should pass the following filters:
- Does it allow you to “digitize the audience?” – Can you capture an email address, allowing future connections for later actions, purchases, or in the case of public and Christian radio, donations?
- How difficult is it to create this digital content? – Does it require major changes in staffing and budget? Does it strain the “mothership?”
- Does your audience already engage in this activity? – If they're already performing the digital behavior, it will be considerably easier to encourage them to sample your version of the digital product.
- Is your timing realistic? – Are you allowing the time for new digital content to get sampled, adapted, and marketed before you send the sales soldiers out to monetize it?
Perhaps part of the problem is that success in radio was easy for a long time. And in suggesting that, I'm not taking anything away from those who pioneered the medium in the 60's, 70s, 80's and the 90's. The competition for much of that time was simply the other guy with a tower and transmitter.
Margins were crazy big, and when it came time to unload properties, there were plenty of investors waiting in line to pay 20 times cash flow for the privilege of owning a radio station. I recall the period where the venture capital world got all hot for radio sending valuations for stations skyrocketing. Radio attracted a lot of oddball buyers with a checkbook and the yearn to double or triple their money in just a few short years, while the cash rolled in.
That seems like a long time ago. In fact, we've learned the only thing that's easy is pouring money down a digital black hole in an effort to “go viral,” be an “influencer,” and maybe just maybe nail down that IPO. How can radio broadcasters strategically and wisely digitally participate by creating content that is complementary, desirable, marketable, and within the realm of possibility to produce?
Yesterday, I promised solutions. And I have a couple you may have thought of (or are even doing in a form already), neither of which are “sexy” by digital definitions. They aren't about creating a series of hot videos on TikTok or Reels that have the likelihood of going viral or making the 6pm TV news.
And they aren't about creating the next “Serial” podcast or going the Joe Rogan or Marc Maron route. Those ships have likely sailed. You may as well start buying Power Ball tickets at this point if your goal is to create the next great podcast that captivates the world.
That's not to say either of these pursuits is impossible to accomplish. It's just that the chances of pulling them off aren't anything you want to pitch to your board of directors, much less your general manager.
But each of my digital answers has a solid likelihood of being achievable. They each check off the aforementioned four boxes. And they have a good chance of adding something of substance to your overall content offerings rather than creating unrelated digital assets that have nothing to do with your branding.
The first of these is games.
And no, I'm not talking about you and your team inventing the next “Myst” or “Grand Theft Auto.” Think “Wordle,” a simple word game the New York Times has taken to the bank. They bought this game less than two years ago for what was rumored to just north of $1 million.
They've rolled that game into their already crossword puzzle franchise and their popular “Spelling Bee” game to create a subscription service simply called “Games.” For $40 a year, you can play all these games, plus a new one called “Connections” that just came out of beta.
None of these is what you'd call ‘breakthrough,” but they are clever, challenging, and highly addictive. “Communities” of players start (or end) their days playing “Spelling Bee” or “Wordle” from the “Games” portal with family, friends, and colleagues.
For the Times, it is moving the needle. And the bottom line. For Q4 last year, the company reported an 11% increase in digital revenue, hitting the $667 million mark. It is not known how many non-readers of the Times are subscribers to “Games.” But you'd have to figure it's a sizable number of consumers.
In this way, the company has created its own “side hustle” whose flavor fits the persona of the newspaper, while generating new revenue from both readers and non-readers alike. “Games” is just one of several other verticals started by the New York Times, all of which are moving that “big wheel” we talked about yesterday.
Now, perhaps you're the “average radio station,” and you're thinking it's preposterous to replicate what the Times is doing. The fact is, you may be along the path to creating your own game that could live on your website, or better yet, a mobile app – something fun for your audience to play. If your station has contest benchmarks, you're already into gaming – it's just on the air.
Converting it to digital allows you to digitize your audience and attract sponsors (if you don't think its subscription-worthy or you don't wish to get into that game). And with a little help from Google, Chat GPT, interns, and maybe the afternoon jock, you can easily make your game sustainable without breaking a sweat.
OK, it's not Wordle, but it doesn't have to be to connect your audience to an activity they're already doing on their phones. And if you can design it around your music, your morning show, your local city or town, you've got content that is “on brand,” as they say.
The second solution is newsletters.
Now, there's a strong likelihood you're producing one (or maybe two) of these now. Leaning into newsletters isn't just relatively simple content to create, but if you work at it, you can create multiple newsletters that reflect your audience's interests, your station's “brand bible,” and your community.
Maybe that odd character on the morning show is a movie freak. Rather than clutter up the show on Fridays, why not dedicate her musings to a movie newsletter. Connecting with local theaters in town might be an easy way to nail down a sponsorship. And the concept is simple to adapt to a monthly “movie night” promotion allowing your station to leach onto most big films that hit the theaters.
Or maybe you've been trying to figure out a way to embrace local music in your area. A “homegrown” newsletter focused on musicians in the area can open up all kinds of doors, cultural and economic. And if the newsletter takes off, local music showcases can't be too far off. And they won't negatively impact a single diary keeper or meter panelist. I promise.
Remember each of your newsletters requires that all-important email address so your audience (and others!) can seamlessly subscribe to it. All of a sudden you're a publisher, and instead of just garnering transient and disappearing page views, your email database strategy gets a new life, thanks to to newsletter signups. You're making some money, while paving the way to a better future with a digital pathway that actually connects you to real consumers, not fleeting cume and AQH numbers.
But what about that all important third question – does your audience already play online games and read Internet newsletters?
Let me show you the chart I'm going to present to the smart attendees at the Public Radio Program Directors' Content Conference next week in Philadelphia. I'll be previewing public radio's version of Techsurvey, the 15th annual study we've conducted in collaboration with PRPD.
It's the perfect opportunity to do a little homework on our “fish where the digital fish are” project. We asked all 27,000 respondents about their consumption of podcasts, online word games, and local Internet newsletters. Here's how it broke down:
It's not even close. And keep in mind, public radio fans are the most frequent podcast consumers among all core radio listeners. Yet well more than twice as many are playing games like Wordle and/or reading a hometown-driven newsletter every day than listening to all those podcasts.
And the degree of difficulty between these three digital content are very different. If you've tried your hand at podcasting, it's like comparing the reverse 4½ somersault in the pike position dive to a “cannonball.”
OK, maybe not precisely. But your chances of producing entertaining games and informative newsletters are much greater than trying to outdo the “My Favorite Murder” duo.
Yes, these are active public radio listeners, so they may not perfectly apply to your audience. That's why we'll be asking versions of these questions in our other Techsurvey versions next time around. Of course, that shouldn't stop any of you from fielding a study in your market, among your audience to see for yourself. You might confirm my data and you might come up with a digital concept or two of your own.
I'm just tipping the big toe into the digital waters. Imagine what we could come up with if we thought this through, making sure we're filtering ideas with clear-eyed questions to proof and vet our ideas.
At Jacobs Media, this is what we do, a lot lately. Rather than letting digital confound, frustrate, and exhaust your radio organization, why not build assets that are sustainable and don't bleed rivers of red ink? And why not work toward strategically expanding those email databases to help broadcasters built a sustainable pool (or ocean) of followers?
If you'll be in Philly next for the PRPD Content Conference, join me for my session, Tuesday afternoon, September 19 at 4:15 pm to close out the first day. And please stop by and say hello. It's not too late to register. Information here. – FJ