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


Sirius Internet

August 9, 2006

Via OrbitCast comes this report:

SIRIUS Satellite Radio has filed for a series of trademarks all revolving around the accronym “SIR” for Sirius Internet Radio.

Also on Orbit – 2 stories below,¬† one speculates on reports that XM and MicroSoft’s new media effort Zune will work together.

Wi-Fi.¬† The great equalizer.¬† Sat Radio, terrestrial radio, little kid in his bedroom radio – it’s all the same on-line.
Not only should radio be getting content online (streaming) we should begin developing INTERNET ONLY content.
Great radio stations will have broadcast content, and distinct content that floats Рfreely  Рto ANY device people are using to enjoy audio & video.

Internet Рlearn it Рlove it Рlive it.  ,-)


Me, Myself & I

July 25, 2006

It’s all about me. And you. And everyone else.

That’s the big lesson the tech explosion is teaching us.

In addition to the mass media everyone consumes (or at the expense of it – if you prefer) increasingly people engage in ME media.
ME as Journalist.

ME as a DJ. And a Programmer.

ME as a Radio host.

ME as Photographer

ME as a Filmaker

and now –

ME as a real time talk radio host.

BlogTalkRadio is targeting bloggers who want to hold a live telephone conversation with up to 5 people on a phone line at once. Anyone can listen live to the call on the phone or through Windows Media Player, like a live web radio show. Listeners can also download an archived copy of the conversation later. Revenue from contextual advertising is split 50/50 with show hosts.

Be careful about ignoring or otherwise writing these things off as being “small” and therefore “insignificant”.Unlike radio, they don’t attract mass audiences – they attract mass participants. That affects us on a very different level.

The explosion of choice and the tools it makes available means people are not only spending time with competing media – they are spending time CREATING COMPETING MEDIA.

Looking ahead – this will condition viewers/listeners/readers etc… to EXPECT to be able to re-fashion – re-make- re-mix – and generally modify ANY media to suit them.

Not being open to this kind of relationship won’t piss them off – they’ll simply find something else.


Old to New may not have a Tipping Point

July 25, 2006

So says Robert Paterson (consultant who is responsible for helping NPR re-create it’s entire organization that I blogged about here)

In his latest entry Robert says:

Until very recently, I thought that the rules of the adoption curve or the Tipping Point would apply and that eventually everyone would “get it.”

I no longer believe this to be true.

I see no signs of any airline other than AMR going the Southwest Culture route. I see no signs of the US or Israeli military matching their asynchronous opponents. I see no signs of the Commercial media other than Murdoch making a shift to true participation.

In fact I see all the signs of the establishment of Inquisitions and the choice to fail rather than to change.

This is really the way I feel when I read or hear people almost blindly defending our old methods – or using any out of context “research” or “study” to telegraph to the general radio community “everything’s ok the way it is – go back to scheduling your 10 song sets“.
Robert continues:

I think that the context that fits best for me is that of the religious wars of the 17th century. Is not Fundementalism a response to the modern commercial world? What compromise do we see there?

So this is why I see the choice so starkly. If you stay with the old, you will inevitably be destroyed by those that use these new rules.

These new rules have emerged and are now clear. So you get it or you don’t. For those that get it, you can now compete on the basis of culture and not money. You have the clear advantage.”

Damn.

I’m not one to see things so starkly – truth is often vantage point specific.

I also think those that don’t currently “get it” – while at a disadvantage, when faced with extinction will change their tune and find enlightenment.

Sometimes we just need to get our asses kicked before we start self-defense training.¬† Yes I’m aware that’s often too late.¬† And that is human nature.
And while not without Fundamentalist proclivities – Business is all about the cash.¬† As long as there’s money in a system to be extracted – business will extract it until it’s empty and then move on to “discover” the next thing.

Yes I’m aware that’s also very often – too late.¬† Again, human nature.

The current system is at an . . . uh . . . what’s the word . . . . PRECIPICE. ,-)

The OLD ways are still throwing off WAAAY too much cash for most people responsible for collecting all the money to even THINK about changing a thing.

But – as Robert points out – new ways are emerging that are changing the old systems – and in many cased killing them off.¬† Like it or not there’s no stopping it.

I admit I’d feel more comfortable if I thought the radio industry as a whole will suddenly “get it”.¬† I know there’s lots of ground troops in radio that “get it” – so the question is really put to the commanders.


Irrational Exuberance 2.0?

July 17, 2006

From one of my favorite tech blogs TechCrunch comes news that internet video site YouTube has announced it’s serving up 100 million videos a day.

First the article tries to determine why YouTube has attracted such a large group of users – citing one stat that 60% of the videos streamed on the web come form YouTube.

How did this happen? Being an early mover into MySpace via embeded flash may have helped.

The social features, recently added by Google Video as well, could be a winning combination.

The smart branding via a catchy URL, simple as it sounds, may have helped as well.

Partnerships with NBC and a variety of other content producers may have helped Рthough these are most likely a consequence of the site’s popularity far more than a cause of it.

It’s hard to say just why YouTube has caught on and other services have not.

It just might be that YouTube is simple, easy, works well enough and people like it – there may be no more mystery than that.

Yes – all that and IT’S FREE!

While the most popular videos on YouTube are viewed thousands of times – not a single one of the producers of those videos could afford to stream that content to that many people on their own.

So the article also rightfully questions where YouTube’s ultimate business is.

A key question that remains unanswered of course is whether the service will succeed financially.

Forbes estimated that bandwidth costs were approaching $1 million per month in April, when YouTube was reported to have been seeing 12.9 million unique visitors per month (March).

Three months later that number is reported to be approaching 20 million unique visitors per month.

The bandwidth problem is the single largest issue with the current internet – for every new user you attract – your costs go up.

As much of an advocate for Web 2.0 and the attitudes it brings that I am – I can’t help but fear the ultimate lessons of emerging Social Media like YouTube will be reduced to the next iteration of Pets.com.

Bubble 2.0?

UPDATE:¬† Via MicroPursuasion comes this link to a story about Broadcast TV seeing it’s lowest ratings ever.

Even with TV in the “summer” off season you can’t help see the drift away from appointment mass media to on demand ME media.