Jacobs Media consultant, Mike Stern, is a sharp observer the world around him – whether it’s technology, new media, or the broadcast radio stations he counsels on a regular basis.
In today’s guest post, Mike takes a look at how companies and brands may be committing not-so-petty larceny with our time. And whether radio stations are co-conspirators.
So I get the day off while the Jacobs Media & jācapps team runs around Las Vegas at the NAB Show. Hope you like it. – FJ
A recent article in Wired explores the idea of “attention theft.” Titled “The Crisis Of Attention Theft – Ads That Steal Your Time For Nothing In Return,” author, Tim Wu, explores how we frequently hand over access to our minds in exchange for something free.
Think about how we use Facebook, watch football games on television, and of course, listen to the radio. In essence, we “pay” attention in return for things we want. And in today’s busy world, that attention is a valuable commodity.
Wu defines “attention theft” as an opportunity for brands to “seize our time and attention for absolutely nothing in exchange, and indeed, without consent at all.” He offers examples of true attention thievery that include Gas Station TV – those screens on gas pumps that blare ads at you while you are stuck filling your tank — or in doctors’ offices with video monitors that air “The Newborn Channel” with ads directed at a captive audience of expectant parents.
When it comes to radio, listeners know what they’re getting into. Most audience members, outside of some at-work situations, choose not only to turn on the radio but which station they want to listen to. So, as an industry, radio isn’t committing “attention theft” but quite often is guilty of what might be better called “attention abuse,” using the listener’s focus without providing any real value in return.
Here are 7 familiar examples:
- Breaks that recount news stories without adding anything. Odds are if a host has seen a news story so have many listeners? Information moves faster than it can be delivered on the radio so there is minimal value in simply regurgitating the facts. What makes the story interesting for your audience?
- Breaks with irrelevant information. Sure, this is subjective, but there is a difference between a host sharing how an artist was inspired to write their big hit song and telling an audience in Wichita that a band is playing a concert in Poughkeepsie that night. It’s important to convey something interesting about the music you play. Otherwise, there’s Spotify and Pandora.
- Tease-only breaks. Anyone who has ever had an aircheck with me knows how much I believe in the power of teasing ahead. That’s how new listening occasions are created. However, I’ve learned in focus groups that listeners get frustrated when hosts turn on the mic and do nothing but tease what’s coming up. They are listening in real time, so reward them with substantive content first, then expand on the value of staying tuned or coming back later. In other words, respect their time now.
- Positioning statements that don’t mean anything. Constantly repeating “Today’s Country Favorites” provides very little information about what listeners can expect in return for their attention. Yes, jocks are directed to incessantly repeat these liners – even in PPM markets. So it comes down to programmers and brand managers being sure to provide genuine benefits to listening to the station = beyond numbingly repeating a slogan. What’s in it for them?
- Stopsets that go on forever. Commercial load continues to be an issue radio needs to address but seldom does. Compared to other free services that provide music at a much lower price tag – meaning less or no commercials – radio is committing “attention abuse” twice an hour, every hour of the day, every day of the week. Results for stations that have experimented in different revenue generation methods – like KNDD’s “Two Minute Promise” – have been impressive, as often jaded Alternative listeners now have a reason to sit through commercial breaks.
- Promos that bury the lead. Whether live or recorded, promos that open with meat and potato details (“Johnny will be broadcasting live at Bar Louie located at 666 Radio Remote Lane”) instead of fun and compelling info (“Johnny has a $107 bar tab to buy drinks and you’ll have the chance to win $1,000”) squander the moment, failing to reward the listener’s attention. What’s being promoted and why does it matter?
- Stream fill that is annoying or irrelevant. Too many stations fail to monitor what plays on their stream during commercial breaks. A litany of repetitious PSA’s or worse – silence – is a capital crime that abuses the listener’s attention.
Most listeners understand radio’s “grand bargain” – listen for free in exchange for hearing advertising. That’s not “attention theft.”
But when stations don’t police these abuses and squander a listener’s time, the audience is more likely to put us in jail – “ratings jail.”
And given all the options they now have to inform and entertain themselves, the goal should be to make sure they don’t abandon radio entirely if they aren’t getting a good return on their most precious investment.
Three years with the company taught him a great deal about successful radio programming and helped him launch a career that included overseeing stations in Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Las Vegas, Milwaukee and Dayton. He primarily worked in Alternative and Active Rock, though he was also involved with Heritage and Classic Rock stations as well as Hot AC and the 80’s format.
After leaving his position as Vice President of Programming for Emmis Chicago, Mike began writing about the industry taking positions as News/Talk/Sports Editor for Radio & Records and Editor of Billboard’s Top 40 Update. During that same period, he also began consulting Arbitron’s Programming Services Team and helped launch their twice-weekly column Not Your Average Quarter Hour, which focuses on providing insights for programmers and helping them maximize the value they get from their ratings data.
Finding that he missed working with talent he also launched his own coaching business, Talent Mechanic, where he worked closely with hosts from across a wide range of formats and market sizes, as well as a large number of podcasters hosting shows about a wide range of topics. While looking for new ways to help hosts bring out their true personalities, Mike has taken classes in and performed both stand-up and Improv comedy where he discovered the differences between the two disciplines and how each applies to being on the air.
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