'Play The Hits' Is No Longer A Winning Strategy For Radio
February 16, 2016
I love television. Especially quality television shows: The Wire, Arrested Development, Freaks and Geeks, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica. And I pride myself on having watched so many of the great shows.
But now, there's just too much of it.
When the cable channels first started creating compelling television, it was easy enough to limit myself to the best shows. I'd just swap out Weeds for Wheel of Fortune, or Entourage for a Friends rerun that I've already seen 17 times.
But now that Netflix and Amazon are putting out great shows like Transparent, Jessica Jones, and Master of None -- with YouTube following suit with its own slate of shows -- I finally have to admit that it's just not possible for me to watch all the quality television out there. In the past, I'd hang in there with well-reviewed shows if they didn't grab me (I found Mad Men to be too slow, while the Gilmore Girls spoke too fast).
If a show doesn't grab me right away, I bail.
Once upon a time, quality content was the scarce resource. Today, my attention is the scarce resource. Now that the cost of production and distribution has dropped dramatically, it's easier than ever for people to create quality content. As a result, there's such an abundance of quality programming that it is no longer the limiting factor.
Unfortunately, most traditional media companies built their business models on the assumption that access to quality content was the limiting factor. When we had a limited number of television channels, it made sense to bank on shows that appeal to the broadest audience. But in a world where there is no limit to the number of video programs we can get -- including access to a fantastic archive of past shows like Cheers, Twin Peaks, The West Wing, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- it no longer makes sense to bet on a small number of shows and hope a handful become huge hits.
Now, it makes sense for media companies to create lots of content and hope that most of it finds a niche audience so they can connect advertisers to the right consumers.
Radio In The Age Of Abundance
So far, radio broadcasters have not faced the same pressure from a proliferation of competitors that the major television networks have. But it's coming. And not just from Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn, and Apple, but also from podcasters. Very soon, Google will be including podcasts in Google Play Music, and this could break podcasting wide open. We're on the verge of having an overwhelming abundance high-quality audio content. In short, what's happened in the world of television will soon happen in the radio industry. When it does, the business models that are set up on the assumption of scarcity will start to falter.
We will no longer be able to bank on a 'play the hits' strategy.
Build A Fleet
So what should radio broadcasters do?
Stop thinking of your radio station as a ship; start thinking about it as a fleet. Sure, the station's airwaves are still the flagship, and you should continue to use those airwaves to air the content that appeals to the widest possible audience ("play the hits").
But you should also be creating niche content that lives on the web and is never broadcast on the air.
Start by matching your air talents' interests to your station's brand. Let your DJs use the internet to go deep with content that they can only scratch the surface of on the air. So if you're night jock is really passionate about the local music scene, let him create a station blog dedicated to local music. If you have a morning host that's a foodie, let her interview local chefs for the station's YouTube channel. If you have a midday jock who lives for the local minor league baseball team, let him create a podcast series around it.
Use your airwaves to promote this content. Between hit records by Taylor Swift and Muse, use produced elements and live mentions to drive people to this online content.
Teach your sales staff to monetize this content. Sure, Coca-Cola may want to reach everybody, but the local sporting goods store only needs to reach the people in your audience who play sports. When you create targeted content, you should also be able to do a better job of connecting clients with the right audience.
In short, stop thinking that success means reaching the largest audience; Success can mean reaching the right audience. This is the way forward in the age of abundance.