Talkin Bout a Revolution

Time for my annual blog post about radio. ūüôā

This time, I’m responding to a request put out on Mark Ramsey’s Hear 2.0 blog.

Mark – in conjunction with Radio & Records is soliciting ideas about Radio’s Future.

The question:

What’s the recipe that every radio broadcaster needs to follow to get ahead of the game in 2009? What are the best practices that must be followed to compete effectively? What are the best-in-class ideas that every broadcaster can profit from in a turbulent year?

I’m not sure if this is the kind of response they were looking for – but it’s what I deeply believe.

So I decided to share it here also.

Please feel free to drop a comment and pass it around.

RADIO’S CULTURAL REVOLUTION

revolution_fist

Radio’s future will be as much about what happens off the air as on the air. ¬†Because of this – Radio needs nothing short of a top to bottom Cultural Revolution.¬†

We need to birth a new Culture of Innovation.  A culture that embraces new ideas & experimentation.  A culture that faces down old Fears in the pursuit of creating new products and services for our clients and audiences.  

It’s unreasonable to expect we can incubate a Culture of Innovation in radio before we get out from under the pervasive Culture of Arbitron. ¬†

The problem isn’t Arbitron specifically. Arbitron is just a tool. The problem is what we’ve allowed Arbitron to become and the effect it has on our thinking. ¬†

WE have put the tool at the center of our universe. If an idea doesn’t have the potential to move the Arbitron needle, we discard it before any resources are “wasted” on it. ¬†We behave as if there’s no other way we can create meaning and value for listeners, clients and ourselves than by playing and winning the Arbitron game. ¬†This, I believe, is a false and increasingly dangerous choice. ¬†

Of course, Arbitron ratings are important. For now.  But we systematically choose to focus on what Arbitron does measure Рat the EXCLUSION of everything else that Arbitron does not measure.  

We’ve been doing this for so long that our internal culture has become one of echo-chambers and feedback loops. ¬†A process that asks the same questions that recall the same answers. ¬†It’s led to a culture that is often quite hostile to any idea that isn’t about winning the Arbitron game. ¬†¬†

For example:

CBS launches KYOU here in San Francisco. Billed as “Open Source Radio” – they would solicit and broadcast pod-casts and audio created by the community and other sources. The station was closely integrated with it’s website. ¬†It was an idea truly of this place & time.

It was put on a tertiary AM signal so there wasn’t much at stake from a traditional point of view. ¬†Still . . . the inside reaction & chatter I witnessed from the radio peanut gallery – from the lowest to fairly high levels – was mostly snide mockery & derision. ¬†¬†

That kind of naked hostility towards new ideas doesn’t happen in Silicon Valley. I doubt you’ll find it inside Apple. Or Google. Or any organization/industry that thrives on it’s ability to generate IDEAS. ¬†

We can’t be surprised that nothing new happens in radio. There is a systemic bias against it if it doesn’t square with Arbitron. ¬†Think about the fear this creates and it’s effect on our culture. ¬†When the easiest way to fit in is to mock experiments and new ideas – pretty soon there won’t be many new ideas. ¬†

Even Detroit – despite all it’s troubles – still build concept cars that challenge their engineers and tease our imagination about the future. It’s a systematic, institutional process to create, expose and leverage new ideas. ¬†

So.  What are we building?  

Why didn’t Pandora come out of our own Test Kitchens? ¬† What were we so busy doing? ¬† Shouldn’t it have rightly been OUR innovation? ¬† Will we come up with the next idea that captures people’s affection? ¬†

If we wait for Arbitron to tell us what’s important; what’s worth our time & effort, we will always be followers. ¬†We will miss opportunities to create and define new markets. ¬†To set new product standards. ¬†We will abdicate leadership and control of our destiny. ¬†¬†

In an increasingly social, interconnected & symmetrical media space – we can’t afford a myopic world view of radio as a closed eco-system that can thrive without new ideas or innovations. ¬†Business as usual is going to be an increasingly bad business. ¬†

So how do we get there Рto birth a Culture of Innovation? 

We can begin laying the foundation right now by rewarding Extra-Arbitron thinking.  We can do it throughout our industry. At every level. In every department.

We don’t need to stop thinking about Arbitron to begin thinking about what is possible in ADDITION to Arbitron. ¬†

But thinking is only the first step.  Action needs to be empowered.  The veil of fear Рof failure and ridicule needs to be lifted.  Experimentation needs to be encouraged and embraced.  

Here’s just one thought. Have you ever wondered how many passionate niche communities might exist within your “database” of generic radio contest players? ¬†

Is there anyone in your group getting an incentive to 

A.) Find out

and 

B.) Create new products and services specifically designed for those passionate communities?

Passionate, engaged communities will command far higher CPMs than generic, passive crowds.  But we can rethink that also.

This is going to be the prevailing wisdom of advertising in the years to come.  A bullhorn will not be able to compete with a whisper from a trusted friend.  Advertisers are now learning this. Where will we be, and what will we be doing when this is common knowledge?

If we are only rewarded for playing the Arbitron game – this kind of idea (or even the 5 Extra-Arbitron ideas you just had) will be viewed as completely useless and a waste of time. They will die on the vine. ¬†And we’ll be worse off for it.

I don’t see this as an Either/Or choice. ¬†But – ¬†BOTH / AND ¬†

We can be BOTH great mainstream broadcasters on the radio РAND dig deep into creating credible products and services for the MANY niche communities/interests that ALREADY exist within our fan base.   We can play Arbitron without being a slave to Arbitron.

This, along with many other ideas can happen Рfor real Рwhen we begin rewarding Extra-Arbitron thinking.  

Are we there yet?   

2009 can be the year we answer – yes we are.

–jeff schmidt

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