Real estate is a funny thing. Even though there are agreed-upon values depending on location and size, value is very much in the eye – and the mind – of the beholder.
That's especially true with vacant lots. Less imaginative people see eyesores or wasted space. But creative, opportunistic types are able to perceive genuine value – even though it may take a lot of time and money to maximize a plan.
Clever builders and crafty developers might conceptualize a vacation property, a shopping center, or a park. Again, it's all a matter of what you envision, and what the market will allow. The truly bright planners and schemers do their homework – their research – before breaking ground.
Most radio companies haven't exactly thought about the “big picture” in the planning of their acquisitions and their sales over the last 25 years. Like smart stewards of their corporations who must answer to their investors, they have all made moves designed to best help and position their companies. There's nothing wrong with that.
But many have followed a very similar playbook, bulking up in key markets, while liquidating in others where they'd rather not compete. Cluster strategies in any given market are focused on that specific territory – not on its potential impact to the radio broadcasting industry as a whole.
Thus, nearly all are focused on vanquishing their in-market radio competition – in ratings, sales, and securing the best employees. In the meantime, digital competitors from Facebook to Spotify to Google to SiriusXM have swooped in to take much of what was once considered primary real estate – not to mention local ad dollars.
In order to win the radio wars, ownership has relinquished turf it once owned outright. Talk about “cancel culture.” In the format battles, the industry has totally “cancelled” Soft AC, Jazz, Classical, and Oldies – abandoning radio genres that once gave the medium diversity and variety, all because none can effectively compete for a respectable share of 25-54 year-old adults.
And you know where those formats and genres went? To Spotify, Pandora, and SiriusXM – platforms glad to have the revenue they generate because of the subscribers willing to pay for this music. Public radio also continues to support both Jazz and Classical, formats it has traditionally embraced.
On the chopping block in the next 3-5 years is Classic Rock and Alternative, two very different formats facing oblivion for very different reasons. For the former, it's the much-discussed “demographic cliff.” Classic Rock has actually demonstrated amazing appeal under 50, but still, the format will continue to skew older, well beyond the “55 Year-Old Line of Radio Death.”
For Alternative, the death spiral looks a little different. (Same with CHR, by the way.) The easy excuse for the format's ultimate demise is that there's not enough good new music to play. The fact is, there IS quality new music across all formats. Embracing and showcasing it with the same force, support, and emphasis in which radio supported new music and emerging bands in older decades, however, would result in strong appeal from younger listeners, with resultant decreases among those over the age of 25. For most radio owners, that's not an acceptable risk : reward relationship.
Alternative isn't a victim of a dearth of new music to expose. Instead, by doing so, Alternative will not be able to compete in the coveted 25-54 arena. Game, set, match.
The wheels are in motion. Some of radio's biggest companies have tacitly turned their backs on Alternative, hubbing-and-spoking a format that instead thrives on cultivating local roots, not by listening to personalities that don't matter to people where they live, work, and hang out.
When you ask radio's leadership about what it might mean to lose another format, or worse – “the new music hill” – you're likely to get a lot of shrugs. “It was inevitable,” is the off the record response. “After all, young people have been gravitating away from radio for some time now, opting instead for digital streaming platforms.” They might add, “My kids don't even know what a radio is” to strengthen the argument that investing in new music “real estate” is a fool's errand.
But is it?
As we know only too well from our own personal real estate dealings, one's woman's trash is another's treasure. Isn't that what antique collecting is all about? There's a saying that I just love:
“Nothing haunts us like the antique we didn't buy.”
And as most antique collectors agree, “You just never know” what could end up being valuable.
The sad part is that “new music” is a treasure that broadcast radio owned – for decades and decades. But these days, it's been cast off to a garage sale with other formats no longer desirable.
In our conversation about radio, and the broader discussion about the changing world of digital media, we're seeing big brands from all corners coalescing around similar portfolios. Whether you're The New York Times, NPR, Spotify, SirisuXM, iHeartMedia, Amazon or WTOP, you're working hard toward building multi-media holdings that encompass broad arrays of content: Streaming, news and information, podcasts, diverse music formats (curated and playlists), video, newsletters, etc.
They all may have been very different brands a mere five years ago, but their efforts are converging in these areas. And they're making substantial investments in research, people, infrastructure, and marketing to achieve their goal of being true multimedia one-stop shops that offer a wide array of marketing tools.
But what about local news, a topic I blogged about last month? As mentioned in that post, brands like Axios now have their designs on disrupting the long-time hometown holdings of newspapers, TV stations, news/talk radio, and NPR. Because of neglect and/or disinterest on the part of legacy media players, the Axios brain trust thinks they can take this local news turf.
And that's why the new music question isn't a moot one.
Ask most radio operators, and they'll tell you they don't think losing the “new music hill” is much of an issue. But a look across the way to other media regions reveals there's more than idle interest in first stealing, and then cultivating new music's valuable real estate. Alex Tear is a very able, clever, and strategic former broadcast radio programmer whose intellect and energy now belongs to SiriusXM and Pandora. Last week, he posted this on his Twitter account, heralding the “Future 5,” a new SiriusXM feature:
I'm thinking that if you buy this space on Times Square, you want the whole world to know about your commitment to new music discovery. They also put out a press release to be sure the music community, the media, and their shareholders know the company is making a serious investment in new music. By investing in music's future – and not its past – SiriusXM (and Pandora) are also reaching out to younger generations of listeners.
Not to be outdone, The New York Times stepped up as well. You know, “The Old Gray Lady,” where it's about “All the news that's fit to print.” The ultra-traditional Times has made the transition to digital, and is now busting moves in the new music arena. Last summer, music critic Jon Pareles got the green light to start a new feature called “5 Songs to Listen to Right Now.” Here's one of the new entries posted a few days ago:
Interesting that both of these radio competitors chose the quantity of 5 – for songs and artists – for these features.
The Times also supports the feature on its website, archiving the songs it showcases on “5STLTN.” Interestingly, it could even be better. Missing are artist bios and discographies – simple features to make it easy for users to learn more about these artists. Instead, I had to leave their site and navigate to Google to learn more about Raveena and the other artists featured in “5 Songs.”
So, is owning new music and new artist discovery “real estate” trash or a treasure that will pay off in the future? Is it something valuable broadcast radio operators are ceding to digital competitors or is it something they'd just as soon give up?
Every year in Techsurvey, we ask our mostly core radio listeners to tell us the main reasons they're still listening. With each passing year, new music discovery is less and less of a radio driver. I snuck a peak at the 2022 survey over the weekend, and I can tell you this trend continues to head down.
By doing very little to claim this turf, broadcast radio is losing it to its competition who apparently want it more.
The hills are indeed alive with the sound of new music.
But on the radio, not so much.
- In Radio, Whatever Happened To “4 And Out The Door?” - December 7, 2023
- An Open (News)Letter To Radio - December 6, 2023
- The Case For Handcrafted Radio - December 5, 2023