I know…today’s blog post title sounds like the name of a rock band.
But, in fact, it’s the story of how content and distribution continue their fascinating and evolving dance around the radio industry. You’ve probably heard me say this before:
Content is king, but distribution is queen.
And by that I mean that while radio stations are nothing without their great personalities, community involvement, news teams, music mix, and talk shows, if consumers can’t find your content or prefer platforms other than AM/FM, it just doesn’t matter. And these days, while traditional broadcast radio listening remains healthy in the teeth of digital competition, there is more and more TSL being spent on mobile devices, smart speakers, and of course, touchscreen dashboards that feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
I thought about this the other day after speaking with a broadcaster who was grousing that Amazon won’t allow stations to run commercials within their “skills” on their red hot Echo devices. Now, the “rules and regulations” of these smart speakers are being rewritten as you read this, but Amazon has been especially lukewarm to Alexa being cluttered with ads.
He was unhappy about these limitations on monetization, and we had to remind him that radio doesn’t control Alexa as a prime distribution outlet. And if you think about it, that’s also the case for the other “Queens of distribution” – smartphones and tablets, connected cars, and social media. Executives like Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg get to write the rulebook. It’s their distribution platforms. They get to decide how we use them, how content is approved – or rejected – and whether we’re able to run Geico commercials on their platforms.
And perhaps it’s unpopular to say, but radio is fortunate that so many of these “Queen outlets” are audio and radio-friendly – not to mention, very cost-effective. Radio station content is in the coolest gadgets out there – the center stack of the hottest cars rolling off the assembly line, premium smartphones like iPhone X, and on the social networks where the world shows up every day to share their stories, their opinions, and their pets.
Back in the day, it cost broadcasters millions to buy a station license, build a tower, purchase a transmitter and a building, hire a staff, and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars building and promoting a radio brand.
In contrast, the price of entry for distribution on the Echo, the Jaguar or the Cadillac, and Facebook and Twitter is mere pennies on those dollars. Radio gets to use these massively popular distribution outlets – assuming it abides by rules that are set. And in the case of social, the cost of entry is simply the time it takes to establish a page and post content. As a marketing and branding tool, even the most fastidious CFO would tell you that’s great ROI.
But for many radio owners accustomed to totally controlling their destinies (the FCC aside), this new media reality may seem as shocking and out of character as an ice bucket challenge. Someone else is pulling the strings, and no one is sending radio a courteous heads-up letter when the rule changes or a decision comes down from someone else’s corner office.
The reality that Tesla has left AM radio off its new Model 3s is a bitter pill for the industry to swallow. So is Apple’s total lack of interest in turning on its FM chips in their popular iPhone line of smartphones.
As we’ve learned in recent years, it is no longer a done deal the big automakers will follow a predictable, familiar path with the design of the hardware and software displayed on their techie dashboards. Now, seemingly any content creator – SiriusXM, Pandora, Stitcher, Spotify, and others – has an equal or even better piece of in-car real estate than local AM and FM stations.
Similarly, the mega-smartphone makers and social media titans owe radio no loyalty or even respect. That’s the price you pay for virtually free distribution.
For decades, radio has played the role of media gatekeeper, making the calls about the music, formats, PSAs, and personalities that make it to the airwaves. Now, the distribution shoe is on the other foot, and it’s not always a great fit for broadcasters used to calling the shots.
Rather than the industry wringing its collective hands over these letdowns and disappointments, it is paramount that radio execs embrace these new distribution outlets, while devising strategies that optimize their brands on these exciting new pathways.
Our mobile apps company, jācapps, has coined the mission statement “App Everywhere®” and its more than just an empty slogan. It translates to making sure radio content is available on all the distribution queens – smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, smart TVs, and smart speakers. Pretty smart, eh?
In many ways, the content challenge for radio hasn’t changed all that much. Sure, there’s more competition now. But the elements that go into making great radio are similar to the ones we were all working on decades ago.
It’s the distribution models that have changed. Radio needs to realistically see beyond that behemoth tower in the parking lot or field, and direct its efforts to ensuring its content is being heard, seen, and enjoyed.
As a wise rock band once sang, “You know the Queen of Hearts is always your best bet.” So is the Queen of Diamonds, Clubs, Spades, and whatever new distribution royalty rolls out in the years to come.
Let’s keep working on that content, while not forgetting about the growing importance and value of its distribution.
Special thanks to Kelsey Neveu.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.