Yesterday’s edition of Radio Ink included two related stories that suggest 15-19 year-olds have moved away from radio. They quote a Music Biz (Music Business Association) study revealing that late teens choose streaming as their music platform of choice, often at the expense of radio. While not a shocker, these teens (or Gen Z as they've been branded) are far more apt to rely on their smartphones than AM/FM radios.
The article mentioned a story in Forbes with this ominous and controversial headline for radio:
Ironically, the headline in Radio Ink asks an even more provocative question:
Perhaps the fact this is even a question suggests something about the radio industry, its knowledge of demographic trends, and its vision of the future. If radio is to be viable a decade or two from now, connecting with today’s teens and college students isn’t just desirable, it’s mandatory for survival.
With this handy list of blog topic ideas, your radio station's staff will never have writer's block again.
So while we may not be able to flip a switch and directly address the Forbes headline claim, none of it matters if the answer to Radio Ink’s question is somewhere between “No” or even “Not Really.”
Oddly enough, I’ve heard many people in radio acknowledge there’s a Gen Z problem when it comes to radio listening, but they then fall back on the old theory that once these teens go to school, get jobs, and become “adults” (a process that continues to be delayed due to cultural and economic circumstances), they will “discover” radio.
The thinking goes that they’ll join the workforce, buy cars, start commuting to work, and then stumble upon the radio that’s embedded in their dashboards. But the logic of this assumption gets shakier with each passing year.
First, more and more teens are delaying the ritual of getting a driver’s license and driving cars. Some suggest they'd rather be passengers, allowing them to work their mobile gadgets rather than get behind the wheel.
Second, there’s the reality that many of them prefer alternative forms of transportation instead of purchasing or leasing a car. After all, what's not to like about cars? They're expensive, require maintenance and care, and then there's the gas, the insurance, the parking, the tickets, and the accidents.
The rise of Uber and Lyft, municipal and virtual carpooling initiatives, shared mobility services like Zipcar, and the eventuality of autonomous cars all signal a driving environment that promises to be very different from the one most of us experience every day.
And then finally, there's this little issue revolving around the changing makeup of the dashboard, a serious challenge facing everyone in radio.
As we have shared with the industry in umpteen presentations over the past several years, our DASH Conferences, and this blog, the “2 knobs/12 presets/CD player” hardware that was once front and center in every vehicle produced in Michigan, Germany, or Japan is being replaced by “head units” that are far more complex. And they're loaded with myriad media entertainment and information options. Cars will incorporate all the technology and media that are already part of the DNA of young people’s brains.
Add in the smartphone piece – the dashboard ecosystems offered by Apple (CarPlay) and Google (Android Auto) – and you have a perfect storm that will make it even more challenging for the radio industry to stay front and center with young people when they’re in cars. The Music Biz study notes the lion’s share of listening time among these 15-19 year-olds occurs on their smartphones – 41% – a stat that will continue to amp up over time. And more and more, it’s becoming clearer that what’s on your smartphone is what will be coming out of your dashboard speakers.
So the answer to the Radio Ink question boils down to two simple words, “Hell, yes.” You’d better care about teens, because if radio doesn’t find a way to engage with Generation Z on the platforms, gadgets, and channels that matter to them, the industry not only loses an entire generation, but also the ones that will follow.
So if you’re running a radio company or even a local cluster, what steps might you take to ensure your brands are speaking to future generations of potential radio listeners? Conveniently, we've put together a Top 10 List of must-do activities and initiatives for you consideration.
Let’s start with SOMOVOPO & LO. Or social, mobile, video, podcasting, and local. These are the building blocks that can help radio connect with teen consumers.
1. Genuine socializing
Teens live on social media, but your Facebook page is barely table stakes. And most teens have moved on to other platforms. Connecting and having presence in the social spaces teens care about ensures that you're at least in on the conversation. This requires true interaction and acknowledgment – not just posting times when you’re giving away cash.
2. A smartphone strategy
It's not about doing perfunctory things with mobile phones (“Download our app!”), but developing a smartphone strategy that speaks to these young consumers. What can a local radio station offer teens via their iPhones and Galaxy Notes they cannot get from Yelp or BuzzFeed? As Music Biz notes, their music comes to them via streaming, so providing a great mobile experience on topics like local bands, eateries, entertainment, comedy, games, and even politics may be a great starting place. As we discussed in yesterday's post, there's much more to mobile apps than just providing your station's stream.
3. Video is ubiquitous
That's the case with young people who have grown up with YouTube, and now are consuming so much of their entertainment via video on sites like Netflix. You can ask your friend who runs the TV station in town just how much their world has been disrupted by on-demand video. Stations and clusters that don’t have a video specialist, and talent that can create visual entertainment will be left in the dust.
4. Dive into podcasting
All signs point to a strong potential among younger consumers for on-demand audio, too. The beauty of podcasting from a radio point of view is that we know how to technically produce great audio and we can use our air and social channels to promote and market podcasts. The hard part is creating on-demand content that resonates for a younger audience. But the really good news is that this is all off-air, meaning we can run podcasting experiments and utilize the talents of area colleges, universities, and even high schools. And in the process, we might just find a new generation of hosts and DJs.
5. Local visibility
And finally, the LO piece, or local. Nothing hi-tech about this, but it's something that you have that Spotify, Pandora, Snapchat, and WhatsApp don’t. You're there in your local market 24/7/365. You know the turf, and where kids hang out. Like at the mall. Imagine having a satellite studio at one of the key malls in town where teens shop. There’s radio – right in front of their eyes – in between Chico’s and the food court. You may not have much of a marketing budget but in the early days, neither did WLS, CKLW, or KHJ. They showed up wherever the audience spent time.
But beyond the SOMOVOPO & LO model are other key steps radio can take if it intends to get serious about its generational future:
5. Creative streaming
Just repurposing the on-air signal is one thing – using alternative streams to showcase local music and other proprietary content makes all kinds of sense. Gen Z gets most of its music via streaming as it is. For radio to use different streams to serve more diverse tastes could be another way to connect with this audience and build brands.
Just watching the Pokémon GO phenomenon play out over this past week should be enough to remind us of the awesome power of gaming. And of course, it all goes right back to all those smartphones in pockets, purses, and backpacks. Games with local roots and references could be another avenue to engage teens.
8. High school sports
That’s WTMJ/Milwaukee's play, and something to consider, especially in smaller markets where you don’t have the Yankees or Patriots. High school sports represents passion, not to mention continuing to keep the parents of Gen Zers interested, too. And then there's the local sponsorship potential. You can read about how they're doing it here.
9. Interns, interns, interns
Instead of assigning them to chase coffee and hang banners, consider looping them into strategic conversations about what their friends are doing, where they hang out, the music they listen to, the things they value. And then support initiatives in and around radio that are bringing youth into the industry, from Conclave (happening this week in Minneapolis) to Dan Vallie’s National Radio Talent System which we also highlighted in our Radio’s Most Innovative series. Young people can change the environment in our radio stations. We’ve seen the impact here at jācapps, and by extension, at Jacobs Media.
10. Give them something to do
This might work better in smaller markets (a la the Townsquare model) but giving teens something to do on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon can connect radio brands to Generation Z, not to mention the sponsorship possibilities, too. As revenue moves away from :30s and :60s, event marketing makes sense for radio period. And providing events for teens represents another proprietary activity that only local radio can pull off.
So that’s my “Top 10 List” answer to Radio Ink’s question about whether the industry should even care about teenagers at this point in time.
What’s your answer?