Rolling the Dice
September 23, 2011
Radio can learn a lot from the upcoming Facebook changes... but not what you think.
I know, everyone's queuing up to be in on the action. iHeartRadio's in there, Jelli's in there, and, if it all takes off, I imagine every radio company will be coming up with some form of semi-customizable streaming to work within the Facebook structure. Yeah, fine, but that's not the main lesson I think they ought to be taking from what Facebook's doing. It's deeper than that.
Facebook is, presently, a success. It has a massive number of users despite some nagging, annoying flaws in the way it works and the way it looks. It's the biggest player by far in social media, the king of the hill. It would be easy to just leave things the way they are, because, clearly, they've worked.
But that's not what's happening. Thursday's reveal showed the company pretty much redoing everything -- the news feed goes out, the "ticker" and "timeline" come in, you're going to be sharing information that you might not have chosen to share before, the system is now picking "top stories" for you (that may not be what you might pick yourself), you'll be expected to listen to music and watch video right within Facebook, and everything is going to look different. These changes may or may not be wise, but they're happening anyway. Some are obviously prompted by how Google Plus works, and some seem to be coming from another place. Presented with market leadership and success, the company is choosing to make changes.
There, I think, is something to which the radio industry should pay attention. Facebook isn't standing pat. It's not looking at the way things are and assuming that there's no reason to risk changes now. It's rolling the dice for a chance at a bigger payoff. The changes may not work; they may be disastrous. But Facebook seems determined not to pull a Myspace and stick with what worked before while the world rapidly changes around them.
Radio, of course, has a tendency to do just that, stand pat while consumer preferences and advertiser requirements change. The radio industry has been reactive, not proactive, for as long as I can remember. What was the last true innovation in radio, on any level? Exactly. And that's why radio's trying to get in on someone else's action, playing catch-up. I'm not sure that it's even possible for radio to become an innovative industry anymore, and, surely, there are benefits inherent in the present system -- it's simple, easy, everyone knows how to use it, it has an amazing installed base. But the audience is slowly moving to competing media, technology is bringing more competition, advertisers are using different criteria to place buys, and radio needs to come up with answers to those questions that are better than "well, WE have something just like Pandora." The immediate problem is making Wall Street happy while possibly sarificing the immediate future to the long term, but it's not like other industries haven't been able to please investors by showing strong growth potential while sustaining near-term losses. It's a matter of proving to investors that you have bold visions, that you know where you're going. Right now, radio's still in a defensive, we're-still-viable position; It needs to make its own future more clear.
Does radio have a Zuckerberg? Does it have a Jobs, or Page and Brin, or Bezos? I don't know, but it could use a visionary right about now. The long-term prospects for a me-too medium don't hold the potential of those for an industry that isn't content to just hold on.
Let's keep the plug for All Access News-Talk-Sports' show prep column Talk Topics brief (I'm running way late this week) and just say that it has lots of material for any radio show and is available by clicking here, and on Twitter at @talktopics. Also at All Access this week, you'll find "10 Questions With..." Mary McKenna, who's making the move from being a longtime morning personality in country radio to talk with a weekly show, "The Radio Dish," in Kansas City, 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. And one more non-All Access plug: please watch the Nerdist TV special on BBC America Saturday night (9/24) at 10p (ET), with Craig Ferguson and Matt Smith (Doctor Who) as guests. Thanks!
By the way, for the record, boy, are those Facebook changes annoying so far. I'd be more upset about them if I had any time to spend on social media this week.