Conventional Wisdom, or Give the People What They Don't Want
April 20, 2012
Someone in the audience for an NAB Show panel this week, a manager at a college station in the Midwest, stepped to the mic during a Q&A segment to talk about how her station tries to compete in the new media world, and she said that she's aware that her listeners are using Pandora. But, she said, Pandora isn't really all that, because "sometimes you want to hear something you don't like."
There it is, radio's secret competitive weapon against customizable, personalized media. We're here for you when you want to hear something you don't like.
This year's convention was pretty much like the last few years' worth of Spring NAB Shows, mostly in that while most of the exhibit floors were taken up with video equipment and the video side of things was filled with enthusiasm, radio was just... there. There wasn't a lot of excitement about anything radio, despite the press releases about "HD RADIO ROLL-OUT SURGING" ("roll-out"? It's been available for HOW many years with no interest from the public and they're suddenly "rolling out"?). And that, I think, is because, despite the stated theme of the show ("The Great Content Shift"), the convention, on the radio side, isn't at all about content. While the video side brings in creators (like the "Walking Dead" team and James Cameron), the radio side is focused on preservation of the old business model while trying to figure out how to make money with those new-fangled website things and social whatever. The actual content? Oh, that creates itself, right?
No, it doesn't. But you wouldn't know that by this convention, which treats radio content as, well, a steady stream of music endangered by royalty payments and the Evil Pandora. That's when they're not concerned with apps on the dash. That's the big thing: Gotta be on that dashboard somehow. And, yeah, you do need to be accessible everywhere and at any time, but there isn't even lip service given to exactly what you're serving up through that app. What good is a dashboard app, or a cell phone app, or a stream or a podcast, if the content isn't any good? Shouldn't content creators -- hosts, producers, programmers -- be included in the process of steering this industry's future? Am I asking questions knowing that they're falling on disinterested ears?
Yeah, probably. After all, driving around Las Vegas, I heard two stations which featured repeated long stretches (minutes, not seconds) of dead air when the automation burped. That's what some people in the industry are serving up through the dashboard right now. And they wonder why there's such buzz about personalized streaming and podcasts. Turns out that people don't want to hear something they don't like. The longer it takes for the industry to understand that, the harder it will be for it to compete.
The convention and the drive to and from Vegas (tip: If your car's air conditioning isn't working, driving through the Mojave Desert in the afternoon when it's 90 degrees isn't advisable, trust me) disrupted Talk Topics, the show prep column at All Access News-Talk-Sports, a little, but there's still a large load of topic ideas and news stories and kicker items there and available for free by clicking here; all the topics are also linked on Twitter at @talktopics. There's also "10 Questions With..." NPR "Only a Game" producer/reporter Doug Tribou, who's worked both on the commercial and public sides of radio and has also gotten to report on some fascinating stories; read all about it this week, and don't forget the radio industry's first-best-most complete coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess.
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