Slow Down To Go Fast
May 14, 2013
Begin With A Different Spin
We're approaching the halfway point of 2013 ... a perfect decompression time to glance back and then look ahead. If you're running as fast as you can and still struggling to keep up, welcome to the club. In a time-starved work world, we need to stop running in order to make the right leaps ahead. These days it feels like we're all running faster than ever, yet it seems we've not moving fast enough. Maybe it's time to slow down, see what we need to accomplish and then set new goals.
One of the things we've observed recently is that the so-called, cookie-cutter, "off-the-rack" Urban formats are not working that well. Maybe what they really need is a different spin.
Why would they need a different spin? For one thing, so far 2013 has been a wild year for our industries. Urban radio is now facing new format competitors that threaten to nibble away at our Time Spent Listening (TSL) and cume. There are still the obvious old ones. Many of the new audio forms can be downloaded right onto your cellphone or in your car. Digital is changing the way radio is delivered to listeners. At the same time, it is transforming the radio listener. Manufacturers are designing interactive experiences and new technology for their connected cars.
Is the iPad the new transistor radio and is the smart phone the new radio receiver? Google, Apple and YouTube have or about to launched radio services like Pandora. Today's multi-media exposure to music means that your audience will grow tired of music much faster -- especially younger listeners. One of your listeners could hear about a new track from friends on a social website, listen to it on Pandora or Rhapsody and then view the video on YouTube ... all before their favorite station adds it.
Today's hits are much more perishable. Urban radio needs to work on a strategy to strengthen our brand relationship with our audience so they'll still seek you out when they have hundreds of other choices. Smart calculated risk-takers will test a wider range of jams -- ones that stretch the boundaries of the format.
Urban radio can expect to be forced to compete with more new forms of technology; with it will come the possibility of broadband Internet connectivity in your ride. HD and wireless Internet are available everywhere. In some cases, it will even be free.
Smart Urban stations will create an app for their stations so consumers can take you with them everywhere they go. That includes station content and the ability to listen online.
Now, let's take a quick peek at high-definition radio. I personally have experienced it under ideal circumstances and I can tell you that as soon as they figure out how to improve the antenna systems and bring the costs down, that's going to put a different spin on music radio. Many of these HD side channels will offer a different format than the main channel and they're going to increase the available choices in an already crowded radio world.
The Hispanic Hole
Something else we must slow down to see, take into consideration and target is the Hispanic "hole" that exists -- and is growing -- in many markets. I've been saying for some time now that future research for Urban stations needs to be adjusted to include Hispanic listeners who love the music and artists we play. These Hispanics have to be included in the auditorium music tests (AMTs) and perceptuals. Why? The answer is that if you're lucky you will get as much audience as you go after. If you narrow your target, you lessen your chances of victory. If you target a 2.5 share composed almost entirely of African-American listeners, that's what you may get. In the future, smart programmers will put a new spin on their research and look for crossover potential between demos and music preference groups. Leave no potential listener type unserved, underserved or hanging for more than one song. Smart Urban program strategists will make sure their stations always come back through the "center line." In doing that, they appeal to the largest group of target listeners.
These past few years have been laced with change and demographic density. A population that is rapidly adjusting both its demographic status and its colors must be recognized. Urban radio's new target audience is not just black any more. It's becoming more brown, red and yellow.
In some markets, the catch phrase is "mega." Regardless of what it's called, it's what it means to the listener that counts. Mega's loyal listeners will now get the best, researched classic R&B and funk enhanced with the right current songs, which includes hip-hop. Mega's new core audience targets a non-Arbitron-defined category that is 25-49. They are, for the most part, second and third-generation Hispanics. And believe it or not, they're into artists like Miguel, Alicia Keys, Wale, Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce.
Hispanic-targeted radio is making huge gains in many markets. And it's not just the traditional markets such as New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Houston that have experienced this burgeoning swell lately. The Hispanic population in The Windy City, for example, has grown to 17.4% of the market's approximately 7.7 million total. Chicago's African-American population is just 17.%.
Generation Jones ... The Moving Target
Finally, we want to examine what demographers often refer to as the new "Generation Jones." From the time someone graduates from high school at around 18, until they turn 30, their lives typically transform from dependents living with their parents to workers supporting themselves to married couples and inevitably, to parenthood. They've become a moving target -- one that is very hard but not impossible to hit. To consistently hit this moving, musical target, howeve,r Urban radio must keep up so that as it changes, so does our music and its presentation.
No format is forever. Every format morphs and in some cases, fades away altogether. The cookie-cutter cautiousness and timidity of today's radio has to be replaced with the boldness of the "calculated risk-takers." Speed and nimbleness have to replace the inertia and ossification of today's Urban radio. We have to embrace creative risk-takers, and their willingness to continually reinvent themselves even while things seem to be working.
So far in 2013, we have witnessed lightning constantly striking while the game and the rules continue to shift. It's all part of today's hyper-competitive business environment. The number-one question for today's harried broadcasters is not why are we running so fast? It's how do we keep up (much less stay ahead) in such a hyper-paced world? The answer is simple. In a world where change keeps happening faster and faster, we need to move fast in order to keep up. But moving fast works only when we do it with precision and purpose. And in order to move fast with precision and purpose, we first have to slow down. At first, "slow down to go fast" might not make much sense. Our brains tell us that if we pause even for a moment, we'll fall even further behind. So we lace up our Reeboks and go at it with more determination than ever.
But in order to move fast with precision and purpose, slowing down is precisely what we need to do. Instead of running 90 miles an hour in all directions, we need to pause, think, focus and then run in the right direction ... instead of diving in and having to do it over next week.
Through it all, we have to keep the music playing, but now it has to have a different spin. The spin will always best be determined by the market composition and its colors. Going forward, we're going to be forced to look at these colors a little differently and go a little deeper than just the surface colors. And we must remember, the grass always looks greener on the other side, until you realize what's being used for fertilizer.