Since I returned home from Las Vegas yesterday afternoon, I’ve heard from a number of people asking for headlines from the NAB Show. Not surprisingly, the major radio trades all did a nice job of summarizing some of the key sessions, speakers, and keynotes that took place this week.
But the question – “So what was the vibe at NAB?” – is a different kind of query that goes beyond exhibits and panels, and right to the heart and soul of the mood of the radio industry. And that’s an important factor because as we talk about all the time, metrics clearly matter – whether it’s EBITDA, broadcast cash flow, or the multiples being used to calculate what a radio station is actually worth in 2017.
But vibe is what really powered all those meetings around the Wynn and Encore this week. If you look into a CEO’s eyes, you can usually get a keen sense of their mood – not just of their individual fiefdoms – but of the larger landscape that is radio broadcasting.
Las Vegas was the first major industry get-together since the Entercom/CBS deal was announced, and as you might expect, it was a frequent topic of conversation, along with the financial health of other major players in radio. But beyond individual companies, there seemed to be something entirely different going on this year that I just haven’t felt in past years.
There was acknowledgment the media world has been rocked by the Digital Revolution in every possible way – emerging gadgetry and platforms, new assets and tools, and a changing competitive environment that is rocking radio’s business model. And this year, I didn’t get that sense of defensiveness from the CEOs and leaders I met with and spoke to.
Rather than fear, I picked up on a strong feeling of facing radio’s problems and challenges head on.
There was affirmation of the change that is all around us – with no shrugs or anger, but acceptance. And along with that, a truly open-minded spirit about what’s happening now and what’s coming next – even if the news may not always be sunshine and roses.
I know that many broadcasters – including even some CEOs – skip this spring event, instead focusing on “The Radio Show” in the fall. Sadly, they missed that intangible sense that can give you a barometer for the outlook ahead. Many of the radio leaders I spoke to are genuinely trying new things – they’re experimenting, they’re curious, and they’re asking good questions.
And credit to the NAB for putting together a more aggressive, adventuresome agenda for this show that didn’t just include token sessions or one-off panels about the “connected car” or podcasts, but provided a deeper dive into these key areas.
In yesterday’s post, we touched on Ford’s Scott Burnell keynoting the “Radio Lunch” and his frank comments about the good, the bad, and the ugly of radio’s past, present, and future in the car – whether we’re driving them or they’re driving themselves.
Robust sessions on podcasting and how broadcasters can more effectively participate were part of the agenda as well. KQRS’ morning king, Tom Barnard, talked about his highly successful podcasting venture and even recorded a podcast right on site the next day featuring Las Vegas icon and winner of “America’s Got Talent,” Terry Fator, along with comedian Louie Anderson. What a concept – an NAB Show that actually included showbiz stars, and live performance. It was a strong step in the right direction.
I was also happy to see Jacobs Media’s Digital Dot Connector, Seth Resler, give a great presentation – “Podcasts Your Station Can Launch Next Month” – practical, hands on advice about the in’s and out’s of actually launching a podcast.
Seth is very representative of many of you reading this blog post. He has an extensive background in radio – programming and on-air. But when he first tried his hand at podcasting, he quickly found out he needed to learn an entirely new set of disciplines and skills. Seth has now launched and hosted numerous podcasts, and shared his experience with broadcasters in attendance. Having that expertise on the NAB stage is the kind of content that broadcasters appreciate and need to see at industry gatherings.
And then there was “Alexa.”
I can’t tell you how many times in three days, broadcasters of all ranks, formats, and geographies wanted to talk about voice command devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. And many were ready to dive in, explore, and talk about developing skills with our new venture, SonicAi.
That’s a decided shift, from the “We’ll give it a year or two to see if this is a real thing or a fad before we invest a dime.”
Or “We’re not getting involved with ventures we can’t immediately monetize.”
Instead, the prevailing attitude was that if ears are moving to these devices in the home, there is no reason to take a “wait and see” approach on a new distribution outlet that is likely to experience exponential growth in the next year. Yes, even if it is, in fact, a streaming solution. Broadcasters seemed genuinely intrigued, curious, and even excited about the Amazon Echo. “Alexa” was a much-heard name at the NAB Show.
Same with the “connected car.” From the upper regions of the NAB to broadcasters in small markets, the industry is awake, alert, and dialing in to this space. It was gratifying to us that after three DASH Conferences, the car is now front and center in the minds of many broadcasters. Every CEO I spoke to in Las Vegas was engaged about the car and how the dashboard will evolve moving forward. Now you can argue that it’s years late or that product development cycles are at least two years in the offing.
But you can also make the case that radio – even with the development of platforms like Ford Sync, Apple CarPlay, and autonomous cars – is still the #1 medium in cars – whether it’s a 2006 Ford Fusion or a new Audi A6. That’s a strong foundation from which to develop meaningful automotive strategies. How the industry comes together to launch smart initiatives involving automakers, car dealerships, and technology companies remains to be seen. But if the NAB Show was any indicator, look for some definitive action in 2017.
No, the NAB Show didn’t feel like CES. Not yet, at least. But there was an overriding feeling the media business has indelibly changed; that entertainment and information is being redefined, along with the devices and gadgets that will deliver content to consumers.
Rather than shy away from those truths and barricade the radio business, the vibe in Las Vegas was one of engagement and participation.
I’ll be at Worldwide Radio Summit in L.A. next week presenting a top-line of Techsurvey13, a study of more than 51,000 radio listeners that will provide more information and guidance to radio broadcasters. And I’ll be joined by an impressive group of radio and tech leaders and innovators from here in North America, as well as from around the world, tackling many of the same issues that helped make this week in Vegas meaningful.
The conversation will continue. And hopefully, so will the vibe.
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