February 8, 2009

Portable People Meter (PPM) has been rolling out in major markets across the U.S.

For the first time – radio stations get credit for the people actually exposed to it’s broadcast. Rather than it’s ability to get people to remember & write their name down in a paper diary.

The prevailing “wisdom” developing around PPM was not difficult to predict.

PPM Is Watching You Pee.jpg

Before PPM – our job was to get people to remember our station.

Now, PPM’s passive measurement is turning our job into making sure the people already listening don’t tune out.

We’re moving from trying to make a mark; to be remembered – to trying to not be objectionable.

Terms like “Mic Flight” were coined to explain what people do when a DJ starts talking.

PPM will not forgive a bad break, an unfamiliar song, a misguided promo, an obnoxious commercial, a boring interview.

Everything, at every moment is being measured and it all counts.

PPM Is Watching You Pee.

Which might be a welcomed thing if we had a tradition of developing and training our air talent to consistently deliver desirable content.

Instead, it’s largely demoralizing because we’re seeing that our “wing it” approach to most non-music elements is more likely to REDUCE listenership.

So – we’re looking at everything we do thru the EARS of PPM.

Do we need to identify the station at EVERY segue?

Do promos need to be :40 seconds?

Do our Disc Jockey’s have a real reason to open the mic – or is it just some old school habit?

Is it really worth playing an unfamiliar track? A B-side etc….

Certainly re-examining these things with PPM ears is important. I’ve always been an advocate of challenging conventional wisdom. PPM does help us with that.

My original excitement with PPM is that it changes the game.

The old game was fun – but it got boring to me. Everything was already figured out. There was no more exploration to be done. Change was almost impossible to achieve because “the way it works” (arbitron diary games) had already been figured out.

The rewards for status quo maintenance were far higher than for taking risks and trying new things.

With PPM, I sense we have a new guide to help us make radio more humane. More personal. More relatable and more responsive. To change it for the better.

I believe we finally have a tool that will reward us for daring and doing big things on the radio. PPM has proven great at measuring events. This should be a great inspiration for radio makers.

Instead – it appears the other side to the PPM coin; the fear based “tune out avoidance” meme is getting far more play.

And why not. It’s easier. It’s cheaper.

But it’s also the least forward looking, laziest, path of least resistance approach we can take. It will eventually lead us into a corner from which we will not be prepared to escape.

My fear – in our effort to shave potential tune-outs across our presentation – is that we ignore our responsibility of ADDING new value.


The result of our present approach will be to reduce our stations to little more than a streaming music service.

But with 12+ commercials an hour.

And no song skip.

And No “favorite”, “customize” or interactive functionality.

Sound compelling?

I’m not sure what it will take for us to approach what we do differently.

I don’t expect it will happen industry wide.

But courage is certainly going to a necessary trait. And until one of us steps up, tries something different and wins – business as usual (PPMIWYP) – no matter how stale or ineffective the results will continue to be the “prevailing wisdom”.


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 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


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

The whole picture

August 1, 2006

According to an FMBQ report Media Audit proposes as part of it’s SmartPhone rating service alternative to Arbitron to track ALL radio listening-

The Media Audit/Ipsos will not censor how radio listening is reported. All radio listening will be reported on the same page, whether it is over the air, internet, podcasts or MP3 players.

Once you measure it – it’s easier to monetize.

Radio compaines will likely jump into new media full force the minute it’s usage can be measured and quantified. ¬† They’ll also continue to avoid/ignore it as long as it’s unmeasured.
I’d personally like to see big radio out there right now – setting the standards rather than letting other disruptive technologies do it to us – forcing us to play catch-up.