NextRadio may be no more, but that doesn't stop the incessant online chatter about “What if…”
So what if all those millions of smartphones with FM chips were activated? How would that change the fate of the broadcast radio business?
Consumers are more addicted to their phones than ever. We've tracked it each year in Techsurvey, and now new research from Common Sense reveals what we've known all along:
Most of us sleep with our smartphones. In fact, parents are now more likely to have their iPhones on their pillows even more than their teen kids. Nearly three-fourths of the parents in Common Sense's 1,000 person sample report being addicted to their mobile phones, going to sleep with their cellular devices. And more than one-fourth wake up during the night to check them.
So, imagine if there were a built-in radio in all these smartphones – that didn't use any data. Wouldn't that be the game-changer radio broadcasters have been looking for?
Oddly enough, this summer marks the 40th anniversary of the Sony Walkman. If the standard car radio embedded in every dashboard since the 1920s was the ultimate gift to broadcasters from automakers, Sony's portable radio/cassette player was a close second. Seemingly everyone owned a Walkman back in the '80s and '90s, allowing for a smooth transition from transistor radios to a cool new gadget that people loved to carry around listening to the radio wherever they went.
When Sony finally phased them out and Apple stepped in with their iPod, it was a bad day for radio broadcasters. Suddenly, radio lost its portability, and with it, millions of quarter-hours and perhaps an entire generation or two of habitual listeners.
So, if I waved the wand and presto chango, every smartphone had an activated FM chip, what would be the net effect for the radio industry?
Radio ratings might improve. All of a sudden, many more people would ostensibly listen to favorite FM stations and personalities on their smartphones. Of course, most of them would be using earbuds, air pods, or headphones to listen, thus making it difficult for Nielsen's PPM methodology to fully measure all this new listening. Still, more is more.
And radio sellers would be happy…or maybe a little happier. After all, it's easier for them to monetize their terrestrial listening than squeezing dollars from their digital streams. A turned-on FM chip would no doubt be accretive to radio's broadcast ratings. But perhaps that would also set back broadcasters' digital initiatives and efforts. The lower hanging fruit of over the air listening would consume radio reps' time and energy, putting them farther back in the digital media race.
The real difference that activated FM chips in all those iOS and Android handsets would make is that broadcast radio would finally be on an equal playing field with Spotify, podcasts, and other digital music and talk offerings when it comes to mobile access. FM radio on millions and millions of smartphones would be a boost for broadcasters.
Or would it?
While most radio stations are competitive with other radio stations, how do they stack up to digital media content standards? Pick any radio market in the country, and you'll hear most stations playing commercials at the same time, running virtually the same national contests, and playing dozens of commercials each hour – not exactly the best user experience up against all those digital options.
And then there are these questions:
Does radio offer personalization and customization?
What about radio's ability to easily time-shift programming so listeners can access it any time they like?
How is radio's social engagement?
And how well does the medium serve its biggest and best fans?
I'll let you provide the answers to these questions. But it's clear to me that in a world where everything is available on mobile devices – even radio – broadcasters might not have the pole position, despite the presence of an operational FM chip.
We're seeing this phenomenon play out in digital dashboards, where radio lives right alongside satellite radio, podcasts, and streaming music and spoken word channels. When radio stations match up with other radio stations, the battleground is a familiar and comfortable one. But we know drivers move from FM to satellite to podcasts to content available on their mobile phones. How is that comparative experience, and how does radio fare up against virtually everything?
It starts with seeing the broader competitive landscape, something that broadcast radio has struggled to get its collective head around. And an understanding that it's not just a diary or meter game, but an all-out battle for the audience's time and attention.
So, an FM chip for smartphones would be a great thing, right?
Be careful what you wish for.
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 1,200 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.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.