Report From The Buyerâ€™s Remorse Convention
September 15, 2011
A few years ago, the NAB made an interesting decision for its Spring convention. Time was, the Spring show was mostly about television and largely about the technical side of that business, while radio had its Fall show. But despite the "B" standing for "broadcasters," the NAB went all-in on making that convention more about digital video content production than anything else. The result is that the Spring show draws a large, diverse crowd of people who probably don't think of themselves as having much in common with, say, the Vice President and General Manager of the CBS affiliate in Dorkchester, Vermont.
At the moment, I'm in Chicago at the NAB and RAB Radio Show, and, looking around the rooms, I'm wondering if a similar redefinition of this thing is in order. As it stands, the Radio Show appears to be geared primarily towards the paying members, who, let's face it, are largely the guys in suits who made the decision to buy radio station licenses and transmitters at the peak of the market. Fair enough, but that makes a lot of the discussion about how to transform their businesses in the digital age while still generating enough revenue to not only cover operating costs but service their debt as well, and they're still paying for those licenses and tower leases and electricity bills. It's like a Buyer's Remorse convention.
Yet, there IS a bright future for radio. It just depends on what you mean by "radio." If you're a license holder, "radio" means you spent huge money on clusters of stations in places of which you'd previously never heard, and now you're kinda stuck with them. You're looking at streaming as a necessary evil, Pandora as the devil, Facebook as a curiosity, and FM chips in cell phones as your savior. For you, I'll just point out that the lobby bar is open.
But if you're a content creator -- not a station owner, but among the people who actually create things people want to hear -- the possibilities are many indeed. Your definition of "radio" should include streaming, podcasts (a word I have yet to hear mentioned at this conference), video, and whatever ways to entertain and inform that haven't even yet been invented. Is the revenue there yet? Maybe not, but for you, the urgency of generating revenue, and the amount you'll need to make a profit, aren't as great as if you owe some equity investor a bundle and the next payment's due.
And that would be a different convention. Maybe it would be more like the RAIN Summit, which was here in a crowded room in the very same hotel the day before the "official" Radio Show opened. At that show, it was still business, but everything was upbeat, possibly to a fault. The panelists did talk about dealing with royalties and the hopes that actual advertising revenue is starting to finally roll in -- it's just around the corner, folks! Big gains coming any quarter now! -- but there was the feeling that everyone on the digital side is still trying to work that out. And, once again, it seemed that the only content they all were interested in involved music, personalized music, custom music, long tail niche format music, music, music, music. Anyone can program music, and, in the new digital world, anyone does.
Back to the Spring NAB show: When that convention was opened to the people who rig together whatever they can afford and produce video for whatever distribution channels they can find -- YouTube, cable, streaming, anyplace -- things got interesting. I'd like to see that with the NAB and RAB Radio Show. Again, I understand that the dues-paying members are the Upper-Middle-Aged Guys-In-Ties who aren't all that keen on digital because their lenders want to see some money flowing in right now. But I've also seen the benefit of bringing in new, enthusiastic people with an agenda that might not be identical to that of the old guard. This thing needs personality, not just putting jocks on a couple of panels but throwing open the doors to people who you might not consider being in radio at all: podcasters, viral video producers, audio book producers, anyone who cares enough about the art -- not the business, but the creative side -- of spoken word entertainment to come out, network, and just talk. Who knows? Cross-pollination might lead to some interesting outcomes.
Or we could have the same people showing up year after year fretting about what Wall Street thinks, which is hard to endure year after year. We need to fix that. We're in show business, barely, but in show business nonetheless. These conventions need to be more of a show. The business is, as the cliche goes, what it is.
Next week, I'll be back in Los Angeles and back, I assume, to a normal schedule of updating All Access News-Talk-Sports' show prep column Talk Topics, but I've managed to put some fresh material in the column whenever I had a spare moment, so do continue to peruse that particular resource, which you will always find by clicking here, and on Twitter at @talktopics. Also at All Access this week, you'll find "10 Questions With..." Skip Mahaffey, the longtime Tampa Country morning man who's taking his career in a new direction with a talk show presently airing in Tampa and Little Rock, and you'll get the best radio and music industry coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess. And, unrelated to All Access, you can follow me on Twitter at @pmsimon, read my stuff at Nerdist.com, and check out my personal website at pmsimon.com.
Wow. I got to the end of this column without even reacting to the comments by the Guys-in-Ties about HD Radio and FM in cell phones. Maybe that'll be next week's topic.