What's your biggest fear as a radio professional, whether you're on the air, selling time, running the cluster, or you're the CEO?
Most of us have a fear of failure.
And it seems like as the stakes have gotten higher and the margins have gotten tighter, that fear is widespread and palpable. This is a smaller industry than it was a decade ago. Or two decades ago. There are fewer jobs, and less room for error.
In order to avoid a disaster – especially an epic fail – people will go to great lengths to play it safe. Oftentimes, the Hippocratic Oath that doctors take is invoked in radio strategy sessions:
“Do no harm” is the oft-quoted phrase. I've said it myself.
But by not taking risks, are we simply delaying the inevitable? That is, doing little to capture the zeitgeist, much less the listener's attention. Perhaps you've noticed it. Radio rarely makes headlines anymore. Yes, disaster aid and charitable fundraising will earn you coverage. But how often does radio generate “earned media” for its formats, its personalities, and its trendsetting? Not often enough.
That's why I like to track epic fails, especially from big-name companies and global corporations – the types of enterprises worth millions and billions, that surely can't afford to screw up.
But screw up they do. And lots of the time, it's a public, highly visible miscalculation, a new product fail, or a bet that not only fails to pay off, but costs the company a fortune.
You don't have to look hard to find them.
Perhaps one of the most visible occurred during the opening weeks and months of COVID. It had all the ingredients for success; media genius, gobs of money, and an amazing opportunity when the entire world found itself holed up in their homes with nothing much to do.
When you've got business icons like Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman and $1.7 billion in investment equity, it's hard to imagine the epic fail that was Quibi, a bite-sized video platform that lasted just six months.
Virtually no one subscribed to Quibi, while at the same time TikTok took off. As Katzenberg explained to NBC News: “I think Meg and I believe in owning our miss, simply blaming it on Covid is not fair and not something either of us want to do.”
And here's the thing…
Katzenberg and Whitman will be back, hopefully chastened by the Quibi debacle, smarter and better prepared for their next venture. That's the way it works in technology, in radio, and in pretty much every discipline throughout history. It's certainly part of the game in the world of sports.
One of the greatest baseball sluggers of all time – the guy known as “Mr. October” for his clutch hitting in the World Series – said it best:
“Home run hitters strike out a lot.” – Reggie Jackson
And lately, there have been some pretty major fails by otherwise massively successful companies. Get your schadenfreude ready for these three stories of big companies screwing up royally:
Facebook's podcasting venture – One year ago, the Godzilla of social media debuted a series of audio tools to support podcasts. After all, they have more content creators than any other social site and podcasting is a white hot space.
What could possibly go wrong?
Here we are, just 12 months later, and reports are Facebook is moving other initiatives up the funnel, leaving podcasting behind. The story was originally reported by Ashley Carman in Bloomberg. Instead, Facebook is pivoting to short-form video projects (see the Quibi story), perhaps chasing TikTok and other platforms featuring snackable video.
Like all smart fails, Facebook – er…Meta – is playing the “bait and switch” game, downplaying podcasts, and moving into talking about video. Bloomberg notes Facebook sponsored Podcast Movement last August, but opted not to do so at their “Evolutions” event last month.
Everyone's getting into podcasting, it seems. But even an empire as vast and successful just can't force it's way in.
CNN strikes out with subscription streaming – Even as it seemed like all brands have to do is put a plus (+) after their name, and collect the cash, think again.
CNN isn't killing it in the Nielsen ratings, but opted to launch its video streaming platform late last month. The results have been nothing less than abysmal.
According to a CNBC report, less than 10,000 viewers are accessing CNN+ each day. That in spite of adding the talents of Kasie Hunt (NBC News), Chris Wallace (Fox News), and Audie Cornish (NPR).
To put it in perspective, the CNN cable network was down last year, but managed to attract an average of 773,000 viewers a day.
Many of the radio stations we work with in PPM markets have daily cume audiences of 10,000 a day. Of course, they're not charging $5.99 for the privilege of listening.
Unless there's a quick turnaround, it's becoming clear that just tacking on a + to a brand is no guarantee of success.
Not likely. Axios reported yesterday parent company Warner Bros. Discovery put the kibosh on all external marketing for CNN+. Even radio people know what that means.
Is CNN+ D.O.A? It's too early to count them out, but it sure looks like a major facelift may be necessary soon.
Spotify's live audio is a no-go – You'd think having a foothold in podcasting would be enough. But from the git-go, Spotify's efforts to out-Clubhouse Clubhouse (which isn't doing well) have been…well, clunky.
See if you can keep track of Techcrunch's explanation of Spotify's foray into this space:
- Spotify acquired the app that became Greenroom 13 months ago for $62 million. It was originally Locker Room.
- Greenroom was launched last June, and the company started producing live weekly shows last fall.
- Spotify cut an audio content deal with Complex Networks.
- Greenroom tanked, attracting only 275,000 downloads globally in Apple's App Store.
- Greenroom is history, now renamed as Spotify Live.
- And rather than have its own app, Spotify Live programming content (and there's a lot of it) will only be available in the main Spotify app.
If Spotify is that bent on making live audio work, it might want to be a radio station…or 800 of them.
Failure is a part of the innovation process. New Amazon CEO, Andy Jassy, knows precisely how this works. In a recent letter to shareholders, he made this admission:
“If you invent a lot, you will fail more often than you wish. Nobody likes this part, but it comes with the territory.”
Every company mentioned in this post realizes failures, screw-ups, debacles, and even disasters are part of the innovation process.
Why is it so essential to keep pressing for “the new, new thing?” Because consumers won't stand for the same old-same old.
Advertising icon David Ogilvy knew this implicitly. One of his mottos:
“You know you can't bore people into buying your product. You can only interest them in buying it.”
For an incumbent platform like broadcast radio, that's a saying we have to take to heart. We can no longer achieve profitability with a mundane, predictable product.
And in this environment, hitting singles and kicking field goals isn't going to cut it. We need home runs and touchdowns – the more spectacular the better. “Baby steps” won't move the needle, not in a media landscape where new brands are launching every week.
Sadly, even the names chosen for new products have become mundane, and yes, boring. This has been the case in radio for a long time now. In addition to the lack of great new formats, we have a shortage of attention-getting format names that signify something exciting is happening over the airwaves.
It's not just in radio. Take the “+” frenzy, for example. With the exception of Peacock and HBO Max, so many streaming brands now carry the plus sign that it portends a channel with no imagination. What will stimulate you to plunk down $5 or $10 month on yet another video streaming platform – especially when the name delivers the message, “Oh yes, we have a video streaming channel, too.”
The only solution is innovation, albeit a process that comes with failure.
The good news is that most disasters – even the high-profile ones – are usually forgotten, especially when a brand turns around and does something amazing.
Few remember the guy who came up with New Coke, the Edsel, Google Glass, or the Apple Newton.
But I'll bet we remember Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Meantime, let me know what you think of our new launch (exciting new logo pictured), a spinoff of our existing consulting business.
I think it has potential.
A tip of the JacoBLOG hat to long-time reader Bob Ottaway.
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