How do these adages and sayings become statements of fact?
A goldfish has an attention span of 3 seconds – more than that of most people.
That “truism” has gained in popularity these past few years, as most of us have become content vaccumers – sucking up entertainment and information on our phones, our laptops, and the touchscreens in our cars at increasing rates of speed. The “speed of scroll” (SOS) seems to accelerate with the younger the consumer your brand is targeting.
But are attention spans shrinking? Or are people simply become more skilled at filtering material that seems relevant?
Seth Resler shows you how to use webinars to generate leads for your radio station's sales team.
That was the question recently tackled by Carley Faircloth, global VP at Freeman EMEA, a brand experience agency. In a recent opinion piece in The Drum, Carley makes the case that we're not becoming goldfish-like. In fact, she posits that consumers “simply choose when to disengage at a far quicker rate.”
In radio, we know this as tune-out.
When I came up in the business, a frequently-uttered observation is that radio was living in a “pushbutton world” – if listeners weren't engaged with your programming, they were just a finger punch away from other station options.
In today's high-speed world where choices have grown exponentially on myriad devices, consumers have become highly skilled in the art of content selection – and rejection.
What's the first thing we do when someone sends us a video – we check the subject and the duration of the video itself.
So, there it is – Billie Eilish on “The Jimmy Kimmel Show.” You're fascinated by her, and you know Kimmel will do a good job with this interview.
But the video is nearly 12 freakin' minutes long.
So, you do the split-second calculation – is it worth your time or do you move onto something else?
Those are the decisions being made billions of times every minute of every day, whether we're talking about the digital ecosphere or simply choosing a morning show to listen to while driving to work.
Yet, audio content creators have shockingly little data to fall back on that answer existential questions about tune-out, rejection, and engagement.
One of the few in the radio space is NPR One, the app that aggregates local and network content, personalized to a consumer's taste. Unlike listening to an over the air radio station, NPR One allows you to stay with a story, feature, or newscast or skip to the next one – yes, much like music playlist services.
Tamar Charney – former public radio program director – is now Managing Director for Personalization and Curation for NPR One. As a PD, she experienced the daily dilemma faced by programmers, tasked with extending listening duration, while generating new occasions.
And thanks to the plethora of data generated from the NPR One, she now sees first-hand just how precious those opening seconds are in a news story, a musical intro, or a podcast.
If you've ever programmed a radio station, you feel this pressure all the time, amplified in PPM markets where measurement is real-time.
It's why personality coaches increasingly teach the value of getting into content quickly – setting up a bit, interview, or segment, without the customary “banter” that used to be much more common just a decade ago.
Interestingly enough, podcasters are often the worst offenders, due in part to the insufficient download metric serving as the medium's key yardstick, coupled with the belief podcasts are, by definition, slower, more casual in their style and delivery.
And there are those wildly successful podcasters who are not slaves to the clock, producing episodes that can run hours on end. Dan Carlin's “Hardcore History” is well-named.
Far from a “This Day In History” factoid podcast. it's a deep dive into the stories behind all the ancient history we've mostly forgotten from high school and college. But Carlin, a gifted storyteller, also has a background in radio and is perfectly suited for this extra-long format of podcasting. He has also won the trust of his audience, a key component in generating consumer interest.
Suffice it to say, Carlin is a rarity. Like Howard Stern, there aren't many who have established the level of trust and anticipation that accompanies the release of a new episode.
But in much the same way Howard has indirectly influenced other jocks to open the mic and stream their consciousness – with checkered results – Carlin has no doubt unknowingly green-lighted other podcasters to just converse about a favorite topic.
Now that we're approaching the 800,000 podcast milestone, it is becoming clear to producers and investors alike that at best, many are simply not good enough to find a marketable audience. At worst, many more are unlistenable.
As content reaches a point of over-saturation, consumers are becoming more adept at screening, filtering, and managing their media choices.
As Carley Faircloth notes, “It's still going to come down to having a compelling story to tell.” And that means a higher bar is being set for content creators – as it should be.
But it's also going to depend on the storytellers themselves. Who do we trust to weave a fascinating tale? Who are the interviewers who can coax the most interesting revelations from their subjects? Who are the creatives who can make us laugh? Who are the analysts who can make sense out of the world of sports? Who are the personalities whose lives interest us, to the point where we actually want to know what they did over the weekend?
Yes, it's about stories. But those stories are dependent on the talent who tells them.
It's not about scale, it's not about consolidation, it's not about multiples, it's not about the economy. Yes, those variables matter.
But it's about how broadcast radio now competes against everybody. What is it about the radio we create that makes it compelling, buzzworthy, and valuable to marketers?
It's about talent, whether there's the Internet or just the airwaves.
And it always has been.