I've spoken to a lot of radio programmers in the past several months about how their entire process has been altered by the pandemic. Even grizzled veterans tell me they've learned a lot about how to create radio content under these less-than-idea circumstances. Remote working, connecting teams via video, and other force innovations have been eye-openers.
It's a little different on the TV/video side of the ledger. Producing a newscast and interview show is one thing. Filming TV shows and making movies has become next to impossible. And that's why so many production units have essentially called a halt to new content. For many types of shows, programs, and features, there are more roadblocks than solutions.
And the ultimate is looming large. Simply put, we've been watching more television since the pandemic began, and as a result, there's fewer programs left to watch.
Our two COVID-19 audience studies of core radio listeners clearly showed how video streaming services, like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and other entrants in the space have thrived since we're spending so much more time at home.
And while it seems impossible to even fathom, more and more consumers are claiming they're running out of streaming video programming to watch. According to MediaPost's Joe Mandese, we're running out of media – period.
Global media firm Mindshare has been tracking this question for 13 “waves” of research conducted since the coronavirus began. It clearly shows the growing percentage of consumers who agree with the notion “they’ve run out of media” (the orange bars below):
And it’s not likely to get better. That’s because Hollywood has effectively been shut down, with no end in sight. A typical TV or movie shoot might contain a couple hundred people sharing a set at the same time. In our COVID-19 world, that’s a non-starter.
Seemingly every day now, I get the “Netflix Tonight!” email alert, tipping me off to what they recommend I watch this evening. And more often than not, I open that email hoping there will be something – anything to watch I haven't seen before or I've skipped over 100 times.
But more often that not, it's the same warmed over shows, tired movies, or tepid documentaries. These days, Netflix even urges viewers to “Watch It Again.” It's that bad.
In a story last week aptly titled “The fall TV season looks doomed” by Sara Fischer in Axios, it turns out there’s not much optimism the growing television content drought will end. She reports that Netflix – the platform with a production budget in the $20 billion zone – doesn’t see how production in the U.S. will even return until 2021.
She quotes media analyst Rich Greenfield who asserts that “none of them (the networks) are going to have a fresh season in the fall.”
This has caused the following moves from by a number of TV platforms and networks:
- Shows have been removed from fall lineups because of production delays. (NBC is only introducing two new shows this fall.)
- Networks have been forced to license shows from international producers
- There will be a deluge of “classic” TV shows (i.e., reruns) including on new streaming networks like Peacock, mostly scheduling content consumers have seen before.
The stunts have already started, mashing up archived programming, movies, and other nuggets designed to motivate more viewing during an otherwise bleak time for new content.
Multichannel News reports how this unusual lull in television has forced many networks to package “shark week” type promotions on outlets like National Geographic and Discovery Channel.
Here's how the creativity is rolling out:
The Smithsonian Channel will repackage “hump day” to “Wild Wednesdays” – animal-themed docs.
Lifetime just finished “Ripped From The Headlines,” focusing on true life crimes.
AMC has scheduled “The Walking Dead” marathon for the end of this month.
And let’s not forget that in many markets, local and network television will be even more difficult to watch than ever due to the incessant political ads that consumers will be pelted with over the next 80 or so days.
And then there’s the world of music. The drive-in concerts concept is already showing signs of fraying around the edges. Live Nation is having second thoughts about this model.
Give credit to Metallica. They've been especially active and creative during the pandemic. Now, in partnership with Ticketmaster, they're launching a national drive-in event at the end of the month, presenting a pre-taped show throughout hundreds of these old school venues across the U.S. It's innovative and will probably do very well, especially during this six month concert drought.
Country superstar Blake Shelton started this series, and now Metallica brings their live performance to drive-ins. If it goes well, more major music acts will no doubt follow.
But stadium, arena, and theater concerts as we knew them won’t be possible until well into 2021. Some think that’s optimistic.
Sports may be the only content that saves the day. But as we know, broadcasts of many sports don’t have across-the-board appeal demographically. Some popular sports – like college football – are on the ropes right now. Will the NFL season happen? Maybe. Maybe not.
So, let’s turn our attention to radio.
Most radio stations have been riding out the pandemic and the changes it has wrought with solid, consistent programming. Once the initial shock of coronavirus wore off and people accepted we were in this for a long haul, radio hunkered down as well, delivering on its format promises.
Nielsen tells us radio listening in many markets is now approaching March levels. And we know fans, in particular, may be consuming even more of their favorite stations while working from home.
What are we giving them and how are we keeping them engaged?
Feature and special programming to beat the same-old TV blues is a place to start, whether during the week or weekends. As media consultant Bill Carroll recently told Multichannel News' R. Thomas Umstead:
“These [stunts] provide an opportunity for networks to focus audience attention on content that fits the brand and audience wants to see. During this pandemic, it’s important to have viewers check out your brand, and any type of promotion that attracts viewers works to your advantage.”
And those same “rules of engagement” apply to radio content and entertainment.
Compared to television and movies, it is infinitely easier to create new radio programming content. In fact, many stations have archived features or special programming that could be dusted off, adapted, and updated.
Sometimes it's a matter of “reshuffling the deck” – repackaging features, specials, music stunts, special days, themed weekends to support the brand as the pandemic wears on.
What about giveaways? Yes, there’s the logistic problem of “picking up prizes,” but USPS, FedEx, and UPS are among the many services delivering content reliably.
Many stations have been particularly hurt by the lack of concerts, sporting events, and theme parks – all tried-and-true prizes that are essentially off the table now.
Realizing that few, if any stations, are in a position to give away cash (“stimulus checks”) which would resonate well with most listeners, what types of prizes would appeal to your listeners?
We know that since the onset of the pandemic, listening to stations has skewed more toward P1s who already were invested in your station. So, thank them.
Think about access – invites to meet-ups, Q&As, “Ask Me Anythings” with shows and hosts, music meetings are other virtual get-togethers you can offer up on platforms like Zoom. There’s also station merch – from masks to other logoware items that would reinforce the brand. And this might be an opportunity to work with local clients for sampling and other trade deals that would work for both local businesses and the station.
Off the air, this is a chance to introduce new features and upgrades – especially with your digital footprint. If your app allows you to customize its look, this would be a good time for a makeover. Similarly, streaming access on platforms like Apple Watch, smart TVs, and smart speakers and other platforms are worth heralding.
Similarly, new web features, video series, and podcasts are also promotable as new and different enhancements.
While you’re at it, this is a great time to re-examine your look and content on car dashboards – not just on the programming front, but also providing sales information and graphics during commercials. Quu is a company focused on lighting up those car touchscreens, a way to showcase programs, features, personalities, and advertisers.
The flip-side of consistent is boring. And going into the critically important rest of 2020, it's never been more important for radio programmers, marketers, and digital content creators to find new ways to entertain and inform.
Yes, the ratings matter. Bad, risky, or off-brand programming could get punished by either diarykeepers or metered panelists.
But at this bizarre moment in time when sales and revenue are lagging so far behind, entertainment and information need to be the focus.
The audience is more than ready for something interesting and even different to happen.
Why not give it to them?
Full disclosure: We do some work with Quu.
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