Final Episode Of The Season
December 4, 2015
The year in radio is ending the way it began: uncertainty, financial instability, the promise of growth with new technology tempered with the understanding that it isn't generating enough revenue quite yet. Sure, some of the names have changed, but we're where we were, just with additional debt.
Okay, then, what's the theme for the year's final column? What can we take away from another transitional year in which the transition continued to move slowly? Oh, I think it's a building but fundamental shift in our business, that's all. It has to do with podcasts, yes, but it goes beyond that to redefine what talk radio will be. And it's something we've seen happen in television, so it shouldn't be a surprise. I'll try to put into a snappy shorthand here: The currency is moving from stations to individual shows.
It happened in TV before that industry was ready. Yes, programming was always based on individual shows, but the audience consumed it by finding it on a particular channel. You wanted Ed Sullivan? Channels 2 and 10, Sunday night. (It didn't matter that it was CBS; people couldn't tell you the network, but they knew what channel had what show.) Even in the cable years, the channel paradigm carried over. "Beavis and Butthead"? MTV. "Larry King Live"? You go to CNN. Then came VCRs and DVRs, but it still required a channel and a time. And then, on-demand begat SVOD and while, yes, you have to subscribe to Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and HBO-Whatever, the industry is rapidly moving towards universal search: if I want to see, say, "South Park," I don't need to know where to find Comedy Central, I can just search on my Roku and it'll list all available episodes, whatever the source. If I want "The Sopranos," it'll show me episodes available on HBO and Amazon all in one place. Search any show, and you get any of it that's available, and the channel matters only if you don't subscribe. Channels still matter in some cases -- HBO, for example -- but unless you're watching a show as it airs live, which is increasingly not how people watch TV, you're watching a show, not a channel.
That's where radio's headed, for spoken-word programming, at least. What station is Adam Carolla on? Marc Maron? "Serial" or "Start Up" or "Nerdist Podcast"? (Had to get a plug in there, sorry.) To be sure, they all belong to podcast networks, but you don't need to go to a network source to get them; you go to iTunes, you search for what you want, you download or subscribe, you listen. You don't tune to a station or frequency. There's no "stationality" (one of the truly horrible buzz words in radio history). Each show is its own thing, no need for a station format or clock or consistency in programming.
Which is, of course, not how radio's been done for a few decades. And consistency is important when you're selling your product as a station. The problem, long-term, is that this is increasingly going to be NOT how consumers will want to use your product. They will want personalities and topics that they choose, when they want them, and it will not matter that KXXX is where the shows originate.
Or maybe it will. One thing that podcast networks can offer is something radio should be offering, too: Curation, a stamp of quality and approval. If podcast networks can, with their name alone, offer assurance to potential listeners that a show will be of a certain quality or in a certain topic range -- if, say, a customer will have confidence that a show from TwIT or PodcastOne or Nerdist or Earwolf or Panoply will likely be of interest because other shows on that network are good -- radio stations can do that, too. A radio station's brand already represents in the marketplace a particular style of programming; it should be easy for radio stations to produce on-demand programming that, with the slogan or call letters attached, tell listeners a lot about the quality and content of the show before they ever actually listen.
Which is how I, as both a broadcast industry person and a podcast industry person, hope it will go for radio. I'm not suggesting radio will go away, but I do think that radio can use its brands and its expertise in producing content to help grow the podcasting and streaming business... that is, unless the brands have been devalued to the point of uselessness, which I fear has happened to too many formerly iconic stations. If your station still has a positive image in listeners' minds, now is the time to position that image and branding to take advantage of where the growth in the industry will be. A radio station can't be just a radio station anymore. It's way past time to move beyond the antenna, transmitter, and frequency.
And that's it for The Letter for 2015. But it's not over for All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, which will keep churning out topics you can use for your show, right up until... okay, first, the links: You'll find all the news items and kickers and bad jokes by clicking here and at the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item. Now, the schedule: I'll be updating regularly until close of business next Tuesday (December 8th). And then it's Holiday Time, by which I mean I have such an insane amount of work at other parts of this website, I will not have time to do as many Talk Topics and retain sanity. So there will be some updates here and there, but for the duration of December and for the first full week of January while I'm covering CES in Las Vegas, it'll be Holiday Lite at Talk Topics.
Oh, right, don't forget the new Podcasting section at AllAccess.com/podcasts and do check out "10 Questions With..." Brian Whitman of KRLA (AM 870 The Answer)/Los Angeles this week and an update with Salem Radio Network's Michael Medved next week.
Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries, which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities.
Again, next column is January 8th and I'll be back to full power on January 11th. And you can follow me on Twitter @pmsimon and on Instagram @pmsimon to keep up with me on a regular basis. Have a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy New Year, and wonderful whatever holidays you celebrate. Talk to you in January....