All the above seems to us a pretty good way
to annoy listeners, the essential requirement for an advertising-funded
industry and unsurprisingly once technology made other options
available, people began taking to them.
As with any other industry, once lost it is much more difficult
to get customers or listeners back than it would have been
to retain them. What has happened in many cases is a very
successful form of asset-stripping but it was asset-stripping
in essence and like any such exercise has its limits.
To us those limits have already been reached in many cases
and the industry needs to woo people back for its long-term
health and to do that it must build on the strengths it has.
The prime strengths of terrestrial commercial
stations in the US seem to us to boil down to variations on
one word - "local."
If it comes to networked content there is no inherent benefit
in getting material from a local station as opposed to satellite
or the Internet.
If it comes down to very specific choices of music, there
is no was a broadcast medium can match the Internet and if
it is a matter of niche genres, satellite - which can aggregate
audiences from a much wider geographical area, has the edge.
What satellite will never be able to do is to compete in local
terms with a broadcaster who is part of a community and so
perceived. Internet broadcasters might eventually be able
to match local stations in this area but they do not in general
seem to be following this path although local sites of various
kinds can certainly take advertising way from local newspapers
The logic to us is clear in all this. Radio needs to tap into
that strength. So, of course, is the corollary. This is that
there will be a need for local staff, that there needs to
be some form of locally-staffed news service if only because
of all the other advantages the very process of gathering
the information fives in terms of being tied into a community.
And of course, already being there with an audience, stations
can cross-promote their web and broadcast services, driving
people to the web sites and using the sites to pull them back
to the broadcasts and also to offer a much wider service to
listeners and advertisers alike.
There is almost always a downside and
in this case it seems to us that stations are going to have
to accept a much lower return on investment and higher costs
for local staff if they are to prosper in the long run.
They can of course continue to asset strip or bury their heads
in the sand but without listeners they have no business and
it matters not a jot to those listeners whether a station
was bought for a thousand dollars or a hundred million: Their
interest is in what they get from the station.
So the prescription has to be to bite the bullet, develop
the local and accept lower returns over a longer run with
a good chance of remaining profitable or blow it, whine to
the government about even less regulation and still lose listeners
and the business.
What it should not be is to devote more effort to stifling
competition such as satellite than to improving the broadcasters'
own offering; to trying to hit at public broadcaster such
as NPR and the BBC because they offer speech-services such
as news that the commercial stations are unable or unwilling
to match rather than accepting that they can play the local
game better if they devote sufficient effort to it.
In other words go for a positive approach - develop local
ties; as regards music back local talent and give it airtime
- if need be co-operate in competitive music events from local
stations that together they can network; and most of all recognize
that if they provide broadcasts people want to listen to and
that other media cannot match they have a business but if
they cut costs and end up with something available elsewhere
they may well not.
And as regards newer technology such as the Internet, stations
shouldn't waste resources in a futile attempt to stem the
tide: instead they should look to see how they can ride the