December 2005

Highlights, lowlights, high life, low life, and trends of 2005

Highlights, lowlights, high life, low life, and trends of 2005

We end this year with a similar comment to that of a year ago in that technological development has been mainly a matter of scale rather than major innovation and the politics have been along the same lines as a year ago:

Technological cum business developments.

The technological and business development that we'd highlight as not being that visible a year ago is the growth in podcasting - a concept for distributing audio using RSS in 2000, still esoteric two years later and only so-named as a method of automatic downloading of audio in 2004 when trials began by major broadcasters followed by a major leap forward in 2005.

As an example of the scale of its growth technology columnist Doc Searls began keeping track of how many "hits" Google found for the word "podcasts" on September 28, 2004 - there were 24 that day and it had increased to past 100,000 by October 18 and when we checked early on Christmas day the number was 105 million.
The New Oxford American Dictionary named "Podcast" as the word of the year in 2005 and from the early trials in the final quarter of 2004 there has been explosive growth in terms of use of the medium.

So far it's no great shakes in listening terms in comparison with broadcast radio but the combination of the idea with new forms of distribution - it may not be that long before the Internet is readily available not just on home PCs but also on many kinds of mobile devices from portable PCs with wireless to call phones and PDAs - and the situation could easily change.

Certainly as time goes on we see music formats as under threat for a significant portion of their audience, the crucial questions being how much of the audience can be lost before it impacts on the economics of a station and maybe even more importantly before advertisers find sponsorship of podcasts more appealing for some products than advertising on a broadcast medium.

Either way there don't seem to be many pluses for terrestrial radio - apart from the fact maybe that it's easy to find and cheap to listen to, even if it doesn't give as much of what listeners think they want as self-selection or the choice of formats on the satellite stations.

In our view there has already been far too much narrowing in broadcast - particularly in commercial radio where the demographic make-up of the audience is often more important to advertisers than its size - the young with money to spare and little discipline in spending being much more attractive for many advertisers. That narrowing worked to the benefit of radio companies in the past but could now be an influence that weakens them - a truly ironic turn.

Some Ups.

In the ups, not in order of importance we'd include the same factors as last year:

*The growth of podcasts - to which we didn't refer last year - and online on-demand services to which we did and which are, regrettably in our view, still fairly uncommon from commercial broadcasters but are being widely provided by public broadcasters.

* The further growth of satellite radio in the US where it now has 3 million plus subscribers.

* 40 years for WINS-AM, New York's first all-news radio station (From April 1965- Chicago's WNUS had tried all-news for the first time in the US in September 1964).

* The further growth of digital audio broadcasting in the UK where receiver sales are finally taking off and moving into the millions.

*The advancing possibility of improvements to international broadcasting through digital transmissions, primarily through the DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) system but possible also through iBiquity's HD although here we make no secret of the fact that we would like to see the universal system we have now with AM, FM and short-wave continue and the only way we can really see this happening is the failure of HD since we can't see the rest of the world going along with a proprietary US system. The logical conclusion for us is that we'd rather see HD - which seems to have been chosen as much as anything because it's a good system for incumbent broadcasters as it made it harder for new competition to gain ground - fail in the US however much damage this does to terrestrial radio in the US than see incompatible systems throughout the world.

*Co-operation amongst broadcasters as in Radio Aid in the UK for Tsunami victims and the emergency news and information service set up after Hurricane Katrina through The United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans or URBNO if only to illustrate that there are times not only compassion but also for cooperation as well as competition.

* A final realisation as evinced by policies at stations in various countries including Australia, the UK, and the US, that you can overdo adverts to the point that you turn off the audience.

Some downs.

*The continuing swing from the permissive to the over censorious attitudes in the US about "broadcast indecency".

*More decline in international radio services - the year saw cutbacks in BBC international language services to help fund a BBC Arabic TV service albeit to a certain extent- but mainly for the wealthy - this has been countered by the development of Internet services.

*The "Tsunami song" parody on Hot 97 in New York, more for the fact that it revealed a facet of black racism against in the US than for a tasteless parody: We weren't particularly impressed either by the crude abuse by Troi Torain (Star of Star and Buc Wild), now with At Clear Channel rival WWPR-FM (Power FM), of a woman at an Indian call centre.

*Linked with the above, the popularity of hosts who can come out with comments like the following:

1 - "Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society."

2 - Suggesting that a victim of Hurricane Katrina housed in an Atlanta hotel consider prostitution: "I dare say she could walk out of that hotel and walk 100 yards in either direction on Fulton Industrial Boulevard here in Atlanta and have a job. What's that? Well, no, no, no. ... Well, you know what? [laughing] Now that you mention it ... [i]f that's the only way she can take care of herself, it sure beats the hell out of sucking off the taxpayers.

3 - On the kidnapping of peace activists in Iraq: "I'm telling you, folks, there's a part of me that likes this."

4 - "Why do women wear makeup and perfume? Because they're ugly and they stink."

5 - Hang on, let me just tell you what I'm thinking. I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out -- is this wrong?

We would also have included

6 - "What's yellow and got a spare hat? Ken Bigley's widow" but the UK host involved has been fired.

*Identifications of the hosts above:

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