“Agification” is not a word. If you try to Google it, this blog post may pop up, but that's it.
Search engines will probably think you mean to look for “magnification,” and will direct you there.
Nope, “agificaiton” is not a word…but perhaps it should be. I would define it as a trend signifying something that was once fresh and mainstream is now getting older. This AARPing process is becoming especially common in pop culture these days. It is most associated with nostalgia, a deep-rooted psychological force I'm more than familiar with as a result of my launch of the Classic Rock format on FM radio back in the 80's.
Thanks to the power of the music, the trend has permeated other cultural institutions, especially TV and films. The latest episode of the “Plain English” podcast hosted by Derek Thompson maps out this trend with special guest Ted Gioia, who wrote an article you read about here: “Is Old Music Killing New Music?” That post titled “Are Rumors About The Death Of New Music Greatly Exaggerated?” was published late in January, based on an article Ted wrote in The Atlantic.
These are two bright dudes of different generations – Thompson is a Millennial while Gioia is on the younger edge of the Baby Boom – intelligently talking music and pop culture in our anomalous times.
The through-line of all this is the continuing theme that old is trumping new. It's the case with the movie industry where the big story of the year is likely to be the NEW “Top Gun” movie, starring Tom Cruise who turned 60 years-old last month. As Gioia points out in the podcast, films are dominated by sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes, and spinoffs. There's simply more “box office” with the tried and true.
But it's the music industry where nostalgia rules. And it's been that way for many years now. There are fewer big hits, outside of artists like Taylor Swift, Adele, and Bad Bunny. That prompted this recent headline from the Wall Street Journal:
“Beyoncé Releases Album ‘Renaissance': Can She Break the New Music Curse?”
Journalist Neil Shah write about the struggles to produce hits, even in the Pop music genre, where they were once abundant. But a curse?
When you think about how the music industry is investing its capital, it's almost all skewing old. Thompson and Gioia discuss the $5 billion that's been spent on classic artists' catalogues – a belief in the power of old money and old music.
And of course, there's considerably fewer dollars being allocated to new music and emerging artists. Why? The money's just not there. Once sales of physical music took the back seat to “all you can eat” $10 a month streaming platforms, the once lofty profits that breaking artists could generate are a thing of the past.
As Gioia suggests, it's the old “Deep Throat” adage:
“Follow the money.”
But it runs deeper than that because the retreat to nostalgia is also about fiscal safety. Gioia aptly refers to it as “the risk aversion doom loop” (let's call it “RADL” for short). There's a palpable fear of innovation when you can simply make “Jurassic World Dominion” or buy Stevie Nicks' catalog of big hits, and reap huge profits.
And that bring us to broadcast radio, where these same trends hold up very well. due in large part to the aforementioned “RADL” that defines an industry wide fear of rolling the dice.
The end result is an industry that's continually aging, like it or not. Every year we roll out Techsurvey where the average age ticks older with each passing year. It's now just south of 56 years-OLD.
When stakeholder stations complain about why their samples skew so old, I offer up this scientific fact:
That's who's in your database. That's your core audience.
So, I felt validated when I saw Edison's info chart from their most recent “Share of Ear” study. You probably saw coverage of it earlier this week. The infographic below shows the median age of those who use radio, podcasts, and streaming point. And then the median age where there's as much time-spent listening above as there is below.
As Larry Rosin told me, there is still lots of radio listening among younger consumers. But there's not a lot of engagement – or “stickiness.” Broadcast radio's median age is a very ripe 46 years-old. That places it right in the 45-54 cell – the upper-third of the coveted 25-54 year-old “must have” demographic.
And the median by TSL is a lofty 51 year-old – two whole decades older than for streaming audio and well north of podcasting's TSL median.
After conducting more than 100 focus groups and 1-on-1's via Zoom in 2020-21, I firmly believe the rush to nostalgia accelerated during COVID. People found their comfort in the familiar and the comfortable, whether it was watching “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or listening to “Dark Side of the Moon.”
For broadcast radio, these numbers aren't likely to turn around. Like so many other pop culture trends, radio listening is like a slow moving locomotive, heading inexorably older.Now, if you're a radio broadcater, and you buy into Gioia's advice to chase the moolah, you jump on the age train and ride it out. Problem is, radio simply has no demonstrated ability it can monetize 35-64 year-olds, much less any listener who has turned 55. As meter watchers in PPM markets will sadly tell you, once a panelist celebrates that 55th birthday, they may as well have moved into a nursing home. They are not the least bit accretive to radio revenue.
It is digital revenue that floats their boats now. And the Edison data illustrates what that looks like. In the earnings calls that we've seen covered in the past week or so, radio's CEOs have pointed to their growing digital revenue.
Townsquare has led the charge here, having heard the digital alarm before the others. Today, radio's interpretation of “follow the money” is to develop digital assets – websites, apps, SEO, podcasts, streams. If they could monetize ringtones at this point and count it as digital revenue, they would.
So, does that mean radio should give up the ghost, and jump on the bandwagon as the medium heads for those gated retirement communities? In the same way that Gioia and Thompson look at the folly of record labels placing their chips on artist catalogs rather than developing new artists and seeking out new genres, radio's leadership might benefit from an analysis of the listening trends above.
While Boomers may have the fattest wallets – for now – Gen Z is a force to be reckoned with both by size and by their pop culture influence. Mature digital brands like Facebook now struggle to compete with the bite-size offerings on TikTok, but they are still well-positioned for a future that isn't all that far away. Most experts believe that by 2030, the hot spot will have gravitated away from Boomers, and will firmly be centered in the Gen Z zone.
Larry Rosin put it this way:
“When radio station sales departments meet, they talk about ‘top of the funnel’ development, creating awareness in the marketplace and identifying new leads. And yet, American radio stations (and the radio industry as a whole) engage in very little such ‘sales’ development when it comes to new listeners. There is no outreach to high schools or colleges, or even strategies for attracting young adults. In that radio had a functional monopoly for so many decades, radio people learned how to fight between stations for newer listeners as they came along, because they could just depend on them coming along.
But the ‘muscles’ for pushing new people into radio’s funnel were barely developed. Radio stations, and the radio industry, need to understand that they are in a brutal competition for new listeners entering the pipeline. If ‘radio’ doesn’t fully enter this competition, it can probably expect the average age of its listeners and listening to continue to get older and older, to the point where the ‘average’ listener is outside of the hallowed age 25-54 sales demographic.”
And where will radio be then?
So, let's return to that “risk aversion doom loop” in light of the data we're all staring at. For the moment, it may seem easier to stay put, rather than experiment with new formats whose turrets are aimed at the under 30 set.
But the radio “cheese room” (see Spencer Johnson's brilliant book, “Who Moved My Cheese?” for reference) is beginning to take on an odor that is rapidly losing its appeal. Some things simply don't get better with age.
Sequels, reboots, cover songs, and tribute bands will only get us so far.
The agification of radio marches on, unless we actively try to stop it.
Thanks to Larry Rosin for the data and the perspective.