Let us start with some of the issues that were
addressed - all in our opinion justifiably on the agenda at
present but unlikely to be the major factors in radio's future
long-term health when it comes down to the real essential
- attracting enough listeners.
*Less is more and commercial spot duration. Yes it would seem
that listeners did become peeved about the excessive amount
of advertising and it is reasonable to suppose that less adverts
may attract more listeners, albeit a moot point whether they
will attract more income: That last is a business decision
to be modified, as with pricing policies, by the nature of
The same rationale applies to moving to 30-second spots from
ones of 60 seconds but it's hardly likely to be THE determining
factor when people come to decide what station they will listen
*Satellite or any form of subscription radio. Maybe the no-threat
view is correct - a number of radio executives including Cumulus
President and CEO Lew Dickey and Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan expressed
the view that pay radio services have never yet been profitable
anywhere in the world, be it satellite, terrestrial or Internet
with the clear implication that advertising-funded radio need
not fear the threat from this source.
That seems to us dangerous complacency - not of the level
of computer pioneer Howard Aiken's famous comment that "only
a very small number of computers would be needed to serve
the needs of the whole world, perhaps a dozen, with eight
or 10 for the United States" - but foolish nevertheless
especially as similar views were expressed about cable TV.
*Radio is a local business - again a means of playing down
the threat from other media operating on a national or international
basis. The fact that the statement is true for most radio
in the US is again complacent and appears to us to neglect
the reason for this - the original regulation of the medium
in the US at a time when it was new and national distribution
was nowhere near as simple or inexpensive as is now possible
- and also the degree to which local stations owned by major
conglomerates have reduced the local through techniques such
as voice-tracking and many stations rely on nationally syndicated
programming. The adverts in other words may be local but if
the content is not, the local station may well lose a significant
portion of its audience because the latter make a rational
assessment that for much of the time the local has no advantage.
*Digital radio - perhaps a little more hopeful although indications
of co-operation to form an alliance - or a cabal? - amongst
executives of big players Clear Channel, Emmis, Entercom and
Infinity as to how they are going to share up extra stations
available from multiplexing makes us think that the devotion
to competition is only skin deep and the result may be more
of the same - and less to attract new listeners. We think
the estimation of some executives that they have a very narrow
window to convince listeners and auto manufacturers to move
to HD is probably correct and that if all that is made available
on the new channels does not break any new ground, a lot of
the former will only make a move when receiver prices are
way down - Catch 22 as this will only happen if there is a
mass market for them -- and they are getting a new receiver
*Audience measurement - an area seen as crucial to attracting
advertisers and one where electronic metering is inevitable.
This is an area where there are still objections from those
who perceive the change will be to their detriment but overall
it's probably the area where today's executives are best informed.
After all they don't need to know how it works and it only
*The future audience. Apparently the issue that keeps Infinity
CEO Joel Hollander up at night is concern about younger listeners.
We rather doubt that they'll be attracted into the radio habit
to the degree they were in the past unless there is something
compelling in the content to make them turn to radio rather
than other sources of audio.
Issues that didn't
As far as we can gather there was no
or almost no discussion amongst the big players of how advances
in wireless technology may significantly impact on listening
habits in the future.
As far as we can gather there was no or almost no discussion
amongst the big players of quite a few issues.
*First is how advances in wireless technology may significantly
impact on listening habits in the future. As Wi-Fi morphs
into Wi-Max and more and more places make wireless broadband
easily available - such as, for example, university and college
campuses, Mr Hollander - many more people will have a free
and easy way to listen to Internet audio. It takes a particular
kind of imagination to assume this won't have an impact on
listening to radio.
*Add to that the fact that such developments will also enable
more people to put podcasts on to - or download music to -
portable MP3 players and that cell phone technology advances
are also going to combine portable media players with easy
access to the Internet and we suggest that the impact may
be significantly greater than many current radio executives
seem to think.
*Copyright holders' restrictions. This is an issue that seems
to be on the back burner but that should not be. The Recording
Industry Association of America (RIAA) is still pushing
the Federal Communications Commission to restrict
home copying of HD digital signals and the broadcasters are
probably relying on the decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals
for the D.C. Circuit that ruled that the FCC lacks jurisdiction
to impose a "broadcast flag" obligation on television
We hope they're right because the RIAA is pushing for much
tighter restrictions when it comes to radio but in the meantime
this is an area where they should in our view be joining with
other opponents to give the RIAA a really bloody nose.
* And most importantly, we didn't note much discussion on
the life-style of many of today's youngsters, as important
a factor as any in our view of which media will or won't prosper
in the future. Most of them it seems to us exist in a world
where, for the prosperous ones at least, there seems no good
reason in normal circumstances to wait to get what they want.
That is already affecting newspaper sales and also local advertising
since online news sources can now push out advertising that
links to the location or specified or learned preferences
of the consumer.
We see no reason to assume that it won't affect radio, whatever
the current situation. Yes, we would agree, through lobbying
the broadcasters may well ensure that satellite radio continues
to be barred from providing local services and taking local
adverts, but that situation does not apply to Internet audio
services. We would anticipate that as broadband and podcasts
develop, online local sponsorship and advertising will grow,
maybe a significant degree.
It won't matter if nearly everybody still tunes in to terrestrial
radio but if advertisers perceive that they can get much better
results and a significant better targeted audience through
such means, enough money could move from radio budgets to
the Internet ones to cause some serious reduction in profits.
That in our view makes it very important for radio to commission
seem in-depth research into youngsters' listening habits and
also, as far as possible, into how those habits are likely
to change as they settle down: If it turns out that once lost
to alternatives they don't turn back to radio, the future
could be quite bleak in a decade or so.