Forward Into The Past: Radio's Uncertain Relationship With Its Own Future
This Week's 'The Letter' From All Access News-Talk-Sports by Perry Michael Simon
June 17, 2011 at 7:07 AM (PT)
Here's a question for you salespeople out there: If you're told you have to sell something that you know isn't going to work for a client, how's that going to go? Even if you sell the product, you know you'll leave an unhappy customer. And that's why you won't do that if you can help it.
So I see this in my email inbox the other day: the HD Radio people -- yes, we're back to that -- are "encouraging Account Executives to include (a) station’s HD Radio HD2/HD3/HD4 Channels in client campaigns." They're awarding cash prizes to the campaigns judged "most effective," with the idea being to influence stations to aggressively inflict... er, offer HD channels to clients, whether alone or bundled with analog.
Let's go back to my initial premise: If you sell a client something you know won't work for them, you're risking that client's business. So... is there an HD2, HD3, or HD4 channel that's getting ratings? Any? Oh, there's that comedy channel in KANSAS CITY or the Alternative station in ATLANTA? AHA -- NOT SO FAST! They don't count -- the ratings are because they're rebroadcast over analog translators. They're using HD channels the way you otherwise would use an STL or a satellite feed. The listening is to the translator. Doesn't count. So, again, where's the listening? Can you tell a client with a straight face that a campaign on an HD subchannel will work?
Yeah, but you can win a few thousand dollars for "most effective campaign." It won't make up for the ill will you'll engender with clients who spend extra to reach nonexistent listeners, but, hey, that's show biz.
Meanwhile, there's another refrain being sung by some broadcasters getting attention this week, the one about how stations shouldn't spend a penny on streaming their stations online because it won't return the investment and the cost of music licensing is high and going up. The latter part is a failing of the industry leaders who have been singularly ineffective over the years in making their case to legislators, but the former is... well, let's back up a few inches. This industry is willing to spend money putting HD Radio on the air and to lobby for FM (or HD) chips in smartphones, but we have broadcasters advising that streaming is one to sit out? Really?
But, one might point out, the station in question is riding high in the PPMs. It doesn't NEED streaming. Yes, right now, it isn't hurting business. That's a surprising shortsightedness, though. Streaming is growing, and you want to be there because you want to be where your listeners are, or where they're going, or where the next generations are. While streaming is unlikely to make a difference in the car for some time, and terrestrial broadcast is likely to remain the largest and most important delivery system for radio for the immediate future, you can see where it's going. Oh, and you'll note that unlike HD Radio subchannels, Internet streams from broadcast stations ARE showing up in the PPMs. It's small now, but that'll change. And it's more than any unassisted-by-translator HD2 or HD3 channel has. If you're not streaming, someone else is. And if you wait too long, that competition will gain traction while you're waiting it out. Unless your content is absolutely unique, people will find it from someone else. (I'm not even talking about PANDORA, or whether they can survive the royalty crush or the cost of adding additional users. Streaming is more than PANDORA or broadcast station simulcasts)
We've been through a long stretch, especially with publicly-traded companies, during which broadcasters have been living from quarter-to-quarter and month-to-month, just concerned with making enough to pay the debt service. Meanwhile, the world hasn't stopped adopting new technology (although it's not adopting HD Radio, come to think of it). Spurning streaming because it isn't profitable right this second it the kind of thinking that I thought we'd gotten past. But, then again, at the TALKERS convention last week, I heard Facebook called a "toilet," so I guess a lot of folks in radio need to readjust their thinking about new media and technology. You can't stop the future from coming by ignoring it or wishing it away.
Okay, so, what do we have at ALL ACCESS News-Talk-Sports' celebrated show prep column Talk Topics this week? The usual hundreds of items for discussion on the radio, like, say, a high school yearbook that's apparently illegal to possess, burgers with a secret ingredient that's a lot less than appetizing, why ferrets and babies don't mix, why politicians are distancing themselves from golf, another unfortunate GPS incident, spam sliders, another town where they hear "The Hum," the question of whether constant tornado warnings make people ignore when the real deal shows up, a new way to get off jury duty, why your DVR is costing you more than just the usual monthly fee, and much more, from Weinergate to the economy to the Stanley Cup riots. You'll find it all here, and on Twitter at @talktopics. You'll also get all the best industry coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess.
But what if you want more of me? That's strange, and you might want to get that checked by a competent mental health professional, but if you insist, you'll want to follow me on Twitter at @pmsimon, read my work at CHRIS HARDWICK's Nerdist.com, and check my own website at pmsimon.com. That's all separate and apart from ALL ACCESS, in case you're a disclaimer fan.
Hey, it's Father's Day this weekend, isn't it? Have a great one, assuming you're a father, or have a father, and/or at least like your father. I'll take the day to remember my dad and honor his memory by doing something we loved to do together, by which I mean watch a ballgame on TV and eat burgers. Who am I to mess with tradition?