Engage – or drift

August 31, 2010

I admit it.

In my radio work I’m often jealous of other media.

Not all of it.

Just certain examples where other media THINKS and ACTS in direct opposition to how we in radio think and act – and the results are often quite cool. Then I find myself wondering – why can’t radio think like that?

Most recent example is the ARG going on for the Showtime Original series Dexter. (arg = alternate reality game)

More on that in a moment – but allow me to digress: why aren’t our programming, promotions and creative people expected to have any gaming knowledge/experience?

Why don’t they know basic game theory, or even basic principles of good game design? These are people that are expected to create “contests” to engage listeners.

10 Songs in a row = audience.

Games = engagement.

People that tell you they don’t like radio games aren’t lying. They don’t like radio games. But they play games. Just not OUR games. Because we suck at it.

Caller/texter 10 is not engaging.

Here’s what I do know. There’s more gaming going on in more ways in our audiences than we have ever thought to consider. People that tell you they can’t play radio games at work have no problem playing countless social games like Farmville at the office.

Look at what people – especially women are doing on their iphones on public transit – playing casual and social games.

Games know no bounds and can be designed to work within ANY medium.

But a sense of what makes good game design is crucial. Unfortunately these are not traits we seek or hire for in radio.

Shifting songs around in Selector, plotting your listen to win contests with “Caller 10” attached and you think game theory/design is not relevant to you?

Ok. Good luck with that.

Back to the Dexter ARG.

Dexter/Showtime could easily have said – we’re just a TV network – a PAY TV network – with an hour long drama. We’re no game designers. We make TV shows. That’s all we do. Law & Order doesn’t do ARGs.

Screw this expensive game thing. Go buy some billboards!

Sound familiar? We’re radio people – not__________ It’s too hard, too foreign, too “has KROQ done this yet?” Let me check the charts.

Here’s another issue. Think about this for a minute.

In radio – we forsake everything for MASS.

If it doesn’t reach the largest group possible – we ignore. And we leave a lot of opportunity unexplored in my view. We’re a relatively vulnerable, stagnating medium as a result.

Now look at Dexter.

A show you can only see if you subscribe to Showtime (about 15 million people do) and of that about 2 million watch Dexter. (guesstimates pulled from various reports around the interwebs) But we don’t need the specifics to understand the fractions.

Number of Dexter viewers < Number of Showtime Subscribers.

The Dexter ARG (an incredibly intricate, well thought out and executed piece of entertainment) appeals to an even smaller chunk of Dexter fans still. The hyper-fans. Actually – even a smaller sliver of hyper-fans. Hyper Dexter fans who are into Alternate Reality Games.

How’s that for niche? So why do it?

If modern radio people were running that show we could count on these things.

Dexter would have been re-written so as to appeal to ALL 15 million Showtime subscribers. So – it would suck. At best, mediocre. Can we make it more like Everyone Loves Raymond? That show had great numbers!

An ARG that only interests a fraction of the show’s audience – shelved.

Let’s give away $10,000 instead! Everyone loves money! Oh – and make sure the audience won’t have to jump through too many hoops because, really . . . we’re not worth it and they might tune away.

I could also imagine hearing this sentiment in a conference room meeting – “once we have your $10.00 per month – we don’t need to spend money to “deepen” that relationship – it’s not like you’re gong to start giving us $15 a month – will you? ”

Hmmm.

To be clear – it’s not the specifics of doing an ARG that has me jealous.

Although it would be cool if stations had personalities and stationality traits that would lend itself to such activities. (we came close on kfog in the late 90s with a puzzle based exotic trip giveaway – sounded very cool on the air)

But it’s the THINKING behind the Dexter ARG that I most wish we had more of in radio.

With even greater budget and audience pressures than we have in radio – they are unafraid of engaging smaller passionate communities without an obvious “this = that” action to rating payoff.

The ARG communities is exactly the kind we in radio toss away and disregard as “too narrow” or “too niche”.

So – we give away concert tickets. Because our research shows everyone loves raymond – I mean free tickets! And coupons!

If you’re waiting for your research to say : “You guys should do a really elaborate off the grid type engagement game that requires lots of fan commitment and effort and will only appeal to your most fanatic, engaged fans” – good luck.

We can engage the part of the audience that WANTS to be engaged. They are there. Like Showtime.

We can also ignore them. They are too small to matter.

We can continue to facilitate passivity on the broadest possible scale.

But when we choose that path (it is a choice) – we really shouldn’t be surprised how vulnerable our station is to anybody that comes along playing more (fill in your core music here) with fewer commercials.

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Talkin Bout a Revolution

January 29, 2009

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