The radio industry is going through tumultuous times accompanied by a cascade of conflicting data and anecdotal evidence that suggest the medium stronger than ever or as challenged as it’s been since the advent of television.
On the one hand, Nielsen tells us that 93% of Americans listen every week, affirming radio’s amazing reach. A New York Times article yesterday about the debut of Apple Music’s Beats 1 reminded readers that 243 million still listen to broadcast radio in any given 7-day period. That makes radio king of all audio, as Pandora attracts 80 million every month, iHeart Radio has 70 million registered users, while Sirius/XM boasts a 28 million person subscriber base.
Any way you look it, that’s a lot of radio, signifying that people walking, driving, and working while audio is playing has probably never been higher. And as a content platform like podcasting continues to hold even more promise for the growth and potential ubiquity of on-demand radio, that’s represents a lot of listening hours every week.
But perhaps the most fascinating story that surrounds all this audio usage is the branding that digital challengers to terrestrial broadcasting use to market and describe their products to consumers.
They all call it “radio.”
That’s the reference point, it’s the vocabulary, and it’s the nomenclature used by consumers to describe the concept of channels, stations, and yes, formats that we consume aurally.
It’s how Apple is defining its new Beats 1 service, set to debut tomorrow, featuring DJs, special programs, and all the trappings. And as their concept has developed, the Apple team spent gobs of money and time trying to get the branding right.
In the Times’ interview with the face of Beats 1, former BBC Radio 1 icon Zane Lowe, he admitted as much:
“Part of the last three months has been desperately trying to come up with a new word that’s not radio. We couldn’t do it.”
In many ways, that’s a microcosm of what’s been going on for more than a decade now. Upstarts from Pandora to Spotify to Rhapsody to Grooveshark to now Apple are all trying to build a better mousetrap called “radio.”
And during that time, the radio industry has been fighting its own demons of debt, disruption, and denial. In the process, broadcasters have struggled mightily to get in touch with the “why” of its business model – the reasons that consumers hire radio, especially during these rapidly changing times.
Apple – along with Pandora, Slacker, and others – have learned from radio. From the things that has made radio essential to people’s lives to that elegant one-button solution that radio boasts, the ubiquity and free nature of broadcast radio remains a challenge to every one of these wannabes.
Yet, broadcasters struggle to understand their own identity in the new paradigm, especially as its sales model is roiled by digital accountability and consumers are faced with seemingly infinite listening options. It's never been more challenging inside radio stations as it is today.
At its core, Beats 1 is attempting to present a better version of what we know as broadcast radio – with an emphasis on surprise, discovery, and personality.
Broadcasters could easily be flattered by all this attention, especially the attempts to redefine a product that has been essential to consumers for nearly 100 years.
But they should also see this scramble as an indicator that while radio continues to dominate a very attractive piece of real estate – audio information and entertainment – they need to understand the changing needs of listeners and advertisers. They need to study both groups to better comprehend how needs and wants are changing. And they need to launch innovations that are as bold as these new upstarts are offering.
Each week on this blog, we’ve highlighted experimentation and daring ideas in our “Radio’s Most Innovative” initiative. You can peruse these weekly spotlights here. They represent people and ideas from radio’s past, as well as those who are boldly going where few broadcasters are daring to go today.
A global channel dedicated to new music discovery is, in fact, a very cool idea. It will be fascinating to see if a “skip-centric,” self-absorbed audience will hang in to hear the offerings of Lowe, Julie Adenuga, and Ebro Darden, the three main DJs who will attempt to keep the Beats 1 audience in the know about what’s new and what’s next.
Apple is learning from radio, but radio can learn from Apple.
- The Power of Music Passion - October 21, 2021
- Addressing My Car Radio Paranoia 3: Let's Fix It - October 20, 2021
- Radio's Car Radio Paranoia 2:What If Eric Rhoads Was Right? - October 19, 2021