The health, welfare, and efficacy of the AM/FM radio industry is much debated – by advertisers, consumers, trolls, and among broadcasters themselves. There's evidence on both sides of the ledger – radio's history, its reach, its seamless and simple technology, and its ubiquitous presence on the one side, and its declines in influence and relevance due to the torrent of digital and on-demand competition permeating the media landscape on the other.
To ensure a happy, prosperous future, most radio broadcasters are engaged in new, exciting, and risky initiatives designed to connect the business with the fast-moving media train. As consumers rapidly gravitate to digital gadgetry, platforms, and customizable content, radio's top leaders have jumped in – in recent years, with both feet.
And here at Jacobs, we have and will continue to encourage this activity. It's essential broadasters make their content easily available on digital platforms, ensure its programming is competitive, and embrace younger consumers who bring a different mindset to the media world. These are all imperatives if radio is to live to fight another few decades.
But these are all heavy lifts. Starting podcasting initiatives, developing mobile and voice strategies, investing resources in auto industry projects, purchasing and providing training in video content, and social media marketing are all expensive and complex endeavors, both in terms of human and financial resources.
Fred Jacobs shows radio personalities how to take their game to the next level in this webinar recording.
Both our companies – Jacobs Media and jacapps – are heavily involved in these activities, and we support broadcasters who embrace them. But we also acknowledge the degree of difficulty that success in these spaces carries. There are no guarantees.
That's why we don't see commitment and investment in digital as a binary choice, leaving the terrestrial product behind. And in fact, we strongly embrace a balanced attack – aggressively developing digital assets and skills, but also maximizing radio's inherent strengths as a reach medium that's thoroughly ingrained in millions of consumers' media menus.
So when I read “Hollywood Is Embracing the 50-Plus Crowd, And Marketers Need to Take Notice” in AdWeek a few days ago, I simultaneously cheered and screamed in anguish.
Written by Patricia Lippe Davis, VP of marketing for AARP Media Sales, the story details how the TV industry is successfully cashing in on the 50+ audience.
Tomorrow night, it's the debut of “Roseanne” – the reunion of the original cast that made ABC gazillions in the '90s. Its stars, Roseanne Barr and John Goodman, are now Medicare recipients – both are 65 years-old.
These reboots are becoming more common, as old standbys like “X Files,” “Murphy Brown,” and “Will & Grace” are all making comebacks, too. The TV networks must believe that reviving an old hit is a smarter and less risky move than attempting to develop new concepts and new shows. Or maybe they see a way forward in doing both – focusing on reality TV on the one hand, while serving their traditional aging audience with blasts from the past.
But what about those Baby Boomer demographics? As radio veterans of Classic Rock and Classic Hits stations, along with the ill-fated AC, Jazz, and Oldies formats, will tell you, it's impossible to successfully market demographics that fall out of the 25-54 year-old sweet spot.
Don't tell that to the TV networks. Davis reminds us that 50-plus consumers in the U.S. spend $3.2 trillion (that's with a T) every year – higher than the GDPs of the UK, Russia, and France.
Add that to the fact these Boomers control over 51% of all consumer spending, and you've got a compelling case to take to advertisers.
That is, if you're in television.
Not so much in radio where stations that skew past the dreaded “54 line” are flirting with disaster, forcing researchers and programmers to alter their brand strategies to better conform with what agencies want.
But somehow on the TV side, they've effectively sold through the value of a graying audience, taking advantage of their demographic strengths. As more Millennials cut the cord and rush to streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu, television demographics will skew even older. After all, who's still out there watching television in real time – even tuning in local newscasts? Yes, all those 50+ consumers.
And so it goes in radio. We can tout reach metrics all we like, but radio's natural demo trajectory is decidedly older – including both public and commercial stations.
Television has unlocked this Rubik's revenue cube, and now the nostalgia ideas are flowing as marketers and advertisers cash in. Imagine if radio could tap into this same opportunity by re-expanding its content menu by appealing to 50+ consumers, not to mention the 35-64 demographic. And think about what formats like Classic Rock and Classic Hits would sound like if they wouldn't have to superserve the 25-54 arena. The Beach Boys would return to radio, along with Lionel Richie, Kenny G, Kenny Rogers, and maybe even Mozart. Those nostalgic acts would all find an affluent audience waiting to spend money on businesses that advertise on their favorite stations.
So what's the tougher task? Building a podcast platform, courting automakers, and developing a robust mobile strategy? Or reminding national ad agencies that radio is more efficient at reaching seniors than TV – and we can do it for less ad spend?
Maybe it's a matter of matter of radio companies hiring one less digital whiz and bringing in a DSM – Director of Senior Marketing – a pro trained to speak to media planners and advertisers at the highest levels.
Radio execs have been talking to advertising executives – account managers, planners, and buyers – since before Don Draper was born. We know how to connect with, charm, and sell these people. It's easier than writing code and algorithms, simpler than stitching together a podcast network, and less clunky than communicating Alexa invocations to audiences rushing through their busy lives.
So for radio, is it about building complex and expensive digital platforms or making the case for high-spending seniors?
Here's the good news. This isn't a binary choice like in “The Matrix,” where you could take the blue pill or the red pill – but not both. It's the classic either/or question.
But for radio, there's a more logical and simple solution.
Swallow them both.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.