In recent years, radio has watched while competition has proliferated all around it. Satellite radio, Pandora, Spotify, and myriad podcasts have started to change the listening landscape. But overall, radio reach continues to be healthy as the industry grapples with how to re-evaluate the competitive environment.
In TV, the proverbial horse is out of the barn. It begins with on-demand viewing, which thanks to services like Netflix and Hulu, has altered the ways in which consumers enjoy their favorite shows. Cord cutting – something that we started measuring this year in Techsuvey13 – has also become a factor. Now, more than one in ten consumers has cancelled pay TV services. Among Millennials, more than one-fifth have cut the cord:
What factors explain these somewhat seismic shifts in the ways in which North Americans sit down in front of the so-called tube?
A recent Pew Research report cites Nielsen data showing part of the issue may be tied to declining local TV news viewing. Overall local viewership has dropped across all dayparts – especially late night local news reports. Americans are simply not staying up to watch those 10 and 11 pm newcasts. In the last decade, their viewership has plummeted, dropping more than than 30%:
But it gets worse. That because overall television is viewing has experienced sharp declines – especially among teens. And according to data from Pivotal Research Group, it's impacting real-time viewing, as well as time-shifted consumption from DVRs. In June, TV viewing among 12-17 year-olds dropped 22%; among 18-34s, it was down 20%. Adult viewing losses weren't as bad, but these losses among younger viewers indicate systemic problems among Generations Y and Z.
Radio is seeing some of these same warning signs. Not so ironically, it's younger generations most likely to be more ensconced in podcasting. While on-demand simply isn't the widespread factor in radio that it is in television, we continue to see some of these same demographic patterns in our Techsurveys – among commercial, public, and Christian radio listeners.
There seems to be content issues at play here, too – especially on the TV side. It probably wasn't surprising to learn that local TV news numbers are ebbing. You hear chronic anecdotal complaints from people whining about the “if it bleeds, it leads” nature of their hometown TV station newscasts.
But it's more than just content issues. TV's problems have been exacerbated by the explosion of available on-demand streaming options. While radio listeners increasingly stream audio and gravitate to podcasts, it's nowhere near the tsunami that's occurred for local TV stations, as well as television networks.
It is an object lesson for radio that getting serious about on-demand options is a really smart idea. Our research shows that once people start listening to podcasts, they become somewhat habit-forming. It is more difficult to access on-demand audio than it is to enjoy on-demand video. We have Netflix, in particular, to thank for that.
Note, however, that on our cord cutting chart, those who regularly listen to podcasts are considerably more likely to have cancelled pay TV services. There is a relationship here.
And it's not hard to envision the day when podcasting's technical speed bumps will be all but eliminated, making it easy and seamless for consumers to access their favorite podcasts – rather than be tethered to real-time radio schedules.
That's why we're trying to get ahead of the curve with an entire day's worth of sessions, panels, and keynotes at next month's Podcast Movement conference in Anaheim. Our “Broadcasters Meet Podcasters” track is tailored to helping radio people better understand the potentials and the realities of podcasting, and how to best optimize the space. You can see our lineup of great sessions and speakers here.
One final note about the ratings ills that television continues to face – it goes all the way up to the network level. And it involves the ways in which TV networks get credit for Nielsen audience ratings. In radio, we all know the importance of filling out those slogan file forms, being especially careful to use the words, phrases, and dial position references that ensure proper ratings credit.
Well, according to CNET coverage of a Wall Street Journal story, the strange truth is that television executives are doing just the opposite – apparently altering the names of shows that are projected to do poorly in the ratings in order to avoid having them show up as debacles when Nielsen issues its reports.
CNET's Ry Crist reports that when a program competes directly with a major sporting event or other program that is expected to dominate that time slot, networks will purposely misspell the names of shows to keep their inevitable failures below the ratings radar. He notes that since last fall, ABC has submitted “Wrld News Tonite” seven times; during the same period, NBC defaulted to “NBC Nitely News” 14 times, and CBS copped out with “CBS Evening Nws” on 12 occasions in order to save ratings face.
It seems counter-intuitive to try to avoid ratings credit for programs destined to tank in the ratings, but that's the ironic world in which television execs now live.
In radio, it's hard to imagine that happening. But if it ever did, it might be as easy as walking in the rack room, and turning those Voltair boxes down to “0.”
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