The Road Ahead
June 6, 2014
As is the case practically every time I go to any conference for any reason, I come away with jumbled thoughts. This week is no exception. I was down in San Diego for Mark Ramsey and Jaime Solis' hivio, and you can read all about that here and watch it here for all the details. As for me, while I was sitting in traffic heading back home, creeping through the customary Del Mar-to-Oceanside Rush Hour Crawl, a bunch of things came to mind, some of which may not have been what others would come away thinking. Because they're fairly random, I'm not even going to try to put them in order. But, herewith, my observations:
1. If you have any hope at future growth, you are not in "radio" anymore. You don't even want to restrict yourself to strictly audio. This is a multi-platform world, across many devices, for each of which one needs to take a somewhat different approach. What works for a radio show may not work for a podcast, and video has another set of requirements. And then there's your website and social media. If you're going to not just survive but prosper, you need to be doing all of it.
2. The days when a talent could just do a show and nothing else are over, at least for what we do. Especially because nobody else is going to do it for you (and you don't WANT them to do it), you have to handle everything - you have to do the show, tweet, monitor and post on Facebook, and direct your video output. Not optional, guys. The downside is that it's a lot of work you can't delegate (not if you want it done right; if you work for a large group broadcaster, they'll assign it to an intern and claim ownership over all of it once it's done). The upside is that you have control.
3. It can be monetized. I would have been interested in more talk about digital revenues at the conference, but there ARE people making money with podcasts, with streaming, and especially with video. It's true, the money's still MUCH bigger for broadcast media; then again, expenses can be much lower for digital. But....
4. You have to know what works on different platforms for different audiences. A podcast is in some ways a radio show and in other ways is very different. Listeners' expectations are different, and their behavior is different. It's why "programming to the PPM" bears no relation to programming for podcasts. (INSERT DISCLAIMER HERE -- see below.) And video is another animal. The short of it is, there's a learning curve even for the most experienced broadcasters. The good news is, a lot of what you learned in radio applies to podcasting and streaming and video production, too. But it boils down to one thing you've learned, I hope, that applies in every medium:
5. It's a show. No matter what form it might take, it's entertainment and information. The presentation might differ, but the underlying constant is that you're making a show. You know how to do that. A lot of your cross-platform competition is just learning that now. (But some of them are quick learners, and you'll discover that there's a generation of shows with people who have never been on "real" radio or television that are as good or better than anything on broadcast stations. Not only can you NOT get sloppy or lazy in the digital realm, it's important for you to be at the top of your game.)
So with all the jumbled thoughts, I did come away optimistic, not for the antenna-and-transmitter part of radio so much as the creative part. There is, I will stipulate, a romance in the way radio has been for the last several decades; I can write as rhapsodically as anyone else about call letters and DXing and hearing distant stations waft across the country to my little AM radio back when the airwaves were less static-filled and life was exactly like "The Wonder Years," but those days are ending. What's happening now is different, a renaissance, one that offers unlimited creative freedom and opportunity. That won't give the license holders any comfort, but if your interest in radio is centered on putting on a show, this is, as I've written before, a really great time full of opportunity. And with that, as I hit the toll road in Orange County and sped traffic-free through Laguna and Newport Beach, I thought, it's time to give up trying to convince the laggards to enter the 21st century and just move forward talking about the new era to people who are already in the lifeboats. That sounds like a good mid-year resolution.
And then I hit another traffic jam in Costa Mesa. But I still felt pretty good about things.
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And here's the Important Disclaimer: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries (a division of Legendary Pictures), which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities. So I have a dog/horse/go-kart in that race. Hey, this week, we had Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, and Anthony Bourdain on the Nerdist Podcast; come on over and take a listen....
Thanks to Mark and Jaime for another good conference -- again, you can read about it here and watch it here. Now, a blessed break from conventions until Comic-Con. Even I have to come off the road once in a while....