May 2000
The Internet Bonus?

An unalloyed plus?

As surveys repeatedly start to show that the Internet is, for the moment at least, giving a healthy boost to radio, we felt it was about time to have a quick look at the balance sheet in terms of what is being advanced by the new technology.
Definite audience advantages
There are some undoubted pluses for the audience through the development of Internet audio. You can, for example listen to a local station when away from home or sometimes for a particular reason as when Larry Lujack's return to the Chicago airwaves (RNW May 26) was also put out on the Internet. And then there are people in an office without radio or with poor reception who may benefit. Or those who want a particular type of radio which is on the Internet but isn't available locally.
Will listeners switch?
At the moment, the traditional broadcasters seem to be doing well and they haven't changed much to meet the competition if indeed it is significant competition. Will people forsake their traditional radio listening habits to switch to Intenet-only listening and what might cause them to do so. It shouldn't be technical quality but in some cases it might be as noted above. It may be the niche offerings or "foreign cum distant" stations available on the Internet which are preferred to local off air options. It could be the freedom from too many advertisements (RNW Jan 6 re Cash technology) on some stations although Internet-only advertisers are fairly sure to tap this revenue, maybe even more annoyingly with "personally targeted" advert breaks. It could simply be advances in mobile communications so receivers can "tune-in or log-in" to either off-air or from the Internet stations. Nobody really knows although it does seem strange how many of Silicon Valley's high-tech inhabitants are targeted via Fm or even Am radio by advertisers.
What do we lose and gain from this?.
Certainly at the moment radio- or rather audio - is gaining audiences since you can listen whilst doing other things on the Internet whereas you can't really do this particularly well with a visual medium like television. Indeed a lot of television now seems to be half-listened to rather than watched as audiences walk away but "keep half an an ear open" for when something new comes on. But there may be the rub. It is half an ear and like music, some forms are better listened to with concentration rather as background noise. No apologies here to those of you who regularly have the radio or CD or whatever on in this manner but never really listen to what's on. You're missing something and if the artiste or programme producer is putting out something of real merit, it does deserve a proper listen.
What should we do?
As with all technical advance the most we will be able to do is learn how humans react to the technology and adjust accordingly. To us the logic is to play to the strengths of a medium. And the Internet certainly has some, one of which we'd nominate as by far the most important and ,at the moment, under-used in audio terms. It is on-demand capability. Never mind interactivity (after all what are phone-ins on traditional radio if not interactive?). Never mind the chance to add pretty animations -- after all, apart from cost considerations, television can do all that. No to us, the benefit is that it has now become practicable to have things on tap.
The other day BBC Radio 4 had a fascinating documentary about the Paris metro.It would not have been in a must-listen-to list for me. Being in a car, I lost some of it going through a tunnel. It was interesting and I'd have liked to have been able to listen to all of the programme in a different setting. Even now, if radio stations used the technology now available effectively, I' might have been able to pick it up later from the Internet. The question is when there will be enough resources put in to make this possible. Any rich potential sponsors of a "Masterpiece Library of the air" please contact us. I would object to having the masterpiece interrupted by too many adverts but in this case a sponsor's message at the head would be fair enough if that's what it takes!.

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