Viva Las Convenciones
April 17, 2015
This week, I was in Vegas. Convention stuff happened. It was the usual. The end.
No, wait, I can add a few observations to the coverage we carried all week in Net News here at AllAccess.com and the tweets I posted. First, I tend to look for panels that offer actionable advice or strong insight into the industry and the future, and I found, as is customary, more of that in the adjacent, concurrent shows -- RAIN Summit, which offered some good panels on things like the future of spoken word content (it's digital, folks) and music licensing (whatever happens, it'll cost you) and Kurt Hanson's usual "Star Trek"-laced forecast of industry trends, and New Media Expo (NMX), which... Okay, here's what I took from NMX: There were presentations and panels that were absolutely worth checking out, with good advice backed by experience and actual research, and others that were somewhat less illuminating, with people whose expertise I'd question, acting as if they have the answers.
Truth is, even though podcasting is a decade old, it's still in the nascent stages for monetization (with a possibly rocky, definitely difficult transition from direct-response advertising to traditional brand advertising in the offing), listening ("Serial" notwithstanding), and, critically, measurement. I won't say nobody's an expert, because some people are, and some of those were there offering valuable information and insight. Just watch out for the self-appointed gurus whose experience is debatable. Do your research. (And insert the disclaimer about my involvement with a major podcasting network here (see below), because full disclosure is always proper.) Podcasting is, I think, clearly a part of the future, and critically so for spoken word programming, so it's enormously important for most of you in this format that it develops in the right way. The more legitimate image podcasting acquires, the more it can grow its audience, the more it can be monetized, the more opportunities for everyone. So, Excelsior, baby.
The NAB Show itself? They had Jerry Lewis. They had drones. The drones were cool. Not necessarily radio-related, though I know radio news departments want them. Radio was represented more in the panels and Radio Luncheon than on the (strangely emptier-than-usual) exhibit floors -- "say, aren't the aisles a LOT wider this year? And where are the customers? Oh, they're all watching drone demonstrations" -- and I sat in on several panels hearing the usual stuff about NextRadio and the connected car and programmatic (we're just saying "programmatic" now, right? Not programmatic advertising or programmatic buying, just "programmatic"? Okay, wanted to make sure), and the repeated mantra, "we just have to tell our story better," which wouldn't hurt but won't address one key point. See, I heard CEOs and other executives repeat how 91% or 93% (they haven't settled on the exact number) of Americans still use radio, but nobody asks the follow-up question: is "use" the same thing as "prefer"? And if it isn't -- hint: it isn't -- is radio vulnerable to a rival technology once it's as ubiquitous and easy to use, especially in the car, as AM and FM are? Is that 91% or 93% a given or a target? That wasn't directly answered, but when the CEOs feverishly stress how their companies aren't so much RADIO companies anymore as DIGITAL companies, you know what the answer is.
But you can't blame them for that. As long as the future of radio is in the hands of impatient investors and the CEOs searching for an exit strategy while stalling the inevitable, you're going to see them concentrate on stressing digital while trying to lower costs, which means you-know-what-that-means. Taken on its own, it can be depressing. But combine it with the optimism -- maybe naively so, maybe not -- at the streaming and podcasting sessions and the increasing aggressiveness of those parts of the industry, and you can leave the conventions feeling that there IS a future.
Which I did, and then I turned on the radio on the long drive back and... well, I'll save that for next week. It's a separate issue.
Yes, that was a short column, because after that drive, I'm ready to sleep for, like, a week. (Everyone should make the L.A.-to-Vegas-and-back drive once. Once. I do it multiple times a year. The romance of the drive -- do I need to quote "We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold"? -- evaporates pretty quickly, and then you really don't look forward to the "MAD GREEK" billboards or the abandoned water park anymore. So, I'm beat, bushed, exhausted, all of those, and just want to do the plug for All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, with hundreds of items and ideas and bad jokes accessible by clicking here, and wrap it up for the week. Oh, and there's the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item.
If you don't yet do so, follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, where I was live-tweeting basically the whole convention-filled week, from panels to booths to dust storms to my favorite pizza joint on the Strip. That goes for my Instagram account (same handle, @pmsimon) as well. And you can find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon, and pmsimon.com will be getting active again now that I'm back.
And for that Full Disclosure: 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.
Oh, and congratulations to Kevin and Bean on the Hall of Fame honor (Bean! Dude! Hall of Fame! Make them put a plaque up someplace!), and Marilu Henner on having more energy on stage than I've ever seen at an NAB Show, and all the attendees for surviving the shuttle buses and dust storm and everything. Now, I'm going to rest up before the next convention, which is... what? When? Next week? You HAVE to be... ah, well, okay, see y'all at the Worldwide Radio Summit next Wednesday through Friday in Hollywood. At least it's a shorter drive for me.