Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The More Things Change

I am frequently asked for my opinion about how public radio will be affected by the growing on-demand media marketplace. Stations managers, in particular, are trying to figure out how to respond. As always, I think people's past behavior is a good place to look for hints about the future.

Ten to fifteen years from now listeners will face the exact same choice they've had for the past several decades: listen to a real-time linear audio service or listen to personally selected content. People have always had the option of playing a CD, cassette, or 8-track tape instead of listening to radio. They chose radio because it was timely, topical, fresh, surprising, relevant, and reliable. It was also easy to use.

None of that changes in the 2010s. True, listeners will have more choices in on-demand programming, particularly in spoken word content, but they will also have many more choices in streaming content. The wireless web will allow listeners to choose from a seemingly infinite number of "radio stations."

What's likely to happen is that consumers will spread out along a "continuum of personal media control." Consumers who want total control will reside at one end. Consumers who don't want any control beyond punching buttons on linear services such as radio or TV will be at the other end. These two groups will represent a minority of consumers.

Most people will fall in the middle. Some will exercise greater control over the video content while others will exercise greater control over their audio. Some will exericse greater control over their music while others will exercise greater control over information content. Listening habits will be adjusted more than they will be changed. We're not going to see consumers abandon the FM dial or streaming content in overwhelming numbers. Not in the next decade.

That makes the number one charge of every radio station to remain timely, topical, fresh, surprising, relevant, and reliable. It's the only way to compete on every available platform. So when asked about the future, I ask in return, "what have you done today to strengthen your station in these areas?"

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Anonymous Islander84 said...

For fear of sounding like a dittohead, I can't agree more with your quote "what have you done today ...?" Seems like I have been thinking that thought and sharing it with close colleagues for a decade.

While we do have to have open minds about how to make our programming adaptable to a variety of platforms, most of us have not come close to having our daily programming performing consistently at a high level.

Of course I also have to chuckle when I hear people talk about the coming of wireless web. We've been hearing this for a decade now. I still can't stand talking on a cell phone with the constant digital delay and still crappy signals if I move even a little bit - I can really see someone listening to a wireless internet radio station going down the highway at 65 mph. I realize this is purely personal but I am pretty sure I will be out of radio and therefore not giving a damn by the time wireless web audio takes a significant chunk out of OTA listening.

I digress but it goes back to your point (I think) with the long-term nature of even these current threats still a ways off from seriously threatening OTA radio therefore we need to get back to the editing desk and get to cranking out the great work.

12:18 AM  

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