Tue. Aug 21st, 2018

The Similarities Between Star Wars and Radio Benchmarks

Let’s take a lesson from what happened at the box office this weekend. As of the time I’m writing this it looks like Solo, the latest entry into the Star Wars canon, will walk away with about $101 million. For most movies, that is a pretty good weekend. For Solo though, it isn’t good enough.

The Star Wars brand is attached to this film. When last week began, Disney was projecting that Solo would make $150 million. By Thursday, they amended that to $120 million. Still though, financial reality fell short of financial projections.

There are a lot of lessons Disney can learn from that. Speaking for all of us that truly love Star Wars (My wife and I argued about whether our son’s middle name should be Chewie. It’s Lyle now, so you can guess who won the argument.) the lesson I hope the studio takes away is that these characters and this universe is special to us and there really is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

That is a lesson all of radio can stand to learn as well.

Benchmarks are a good thing. They give our listeners something to look forward to and a dependable reason to tune in day after day and week after week. Disney had the same thing going with Star Wars. Every December, they could count on fans coming out in droves and huge opening weekend receipts.

So what did Disney do wrong that we can learn from?

They monkeyed with the proven formula. Instead of new adventures they started giving us the “Star Wars Story” brand that expanded on the stories of characters and events we already knew from years of loving the franchise. Plus, after waiting a decade between Revenge of the Sith and The Force Awakens, we went to a new Star Wars movie every year. Then with Solo, it went to every six months.

Do you have a guest that appears on your show at the same time every week? Does he always deliver good content? You might be tempted to do all you can to get that guy on the show more often. It makes sense. If the listeners are responding favorably, give them more chances to have a positive reaction to you.

Consider the flip side though. More appearances means less time between appearances. Less time between appearances may mean less great material. It may also mean that those same listeners that loved this guy before are now bored with him. This is what I wish Disney would have thought about before changing the timeline on Star Wars movies.

Speaking of growing bored, always take stock of your benchmarks. There is no reason to still be doing a bit in 2018 that you have been doing since 2010. I’m not talking about regular show lingo or the kind of benchmarks that only come up a few times a year. I am talking about your daily and weekly retreads.

Remember, they are always an investment of diminishing returns with your listeners. Those bits will never have the same impact as they did the first time your listeners heard them. For shows I host or produce, I have always tried to keep a cap of about one year on each individual benchmark. A good rule to follow is once you become bored with them, your audience probably has too.

In sports radio, some of our benchmarks are going to have longer life out of necessity, right? A local beat writer coming on the Friday before a big NFL or college football weekend, for example, isn’t necessarily going anywhere from year to year. That means you have to find ways to inject new life into those segments every so often.

Get that guest to respond to audio. “The coach said this about the last game. Does that jive with what you have seen at practice this week?”. Do you do a weekly pick ‘em segment? Mix up the criteria you’re making those picks on.

Take stock of what is working and more importantly why it is working. If you have a regular bit that is working or a regular guest that still gets a big reaction from listeners on the phones or social media, you certainly don’t want to give up on them. The key is that you have to keep the material fresh, so always think about where it makes sense to take the bit next. Once you’ve gotten to the point that you feel like there is nowhere new left to take this material, it may be time to start thinking about that material’s expiration date.

Benchmark segments, like Star Wars movies, can be a tricky field to navigate. You want to give the audience what they want, but still be able to surprise them. Disney can’t keep Star Wars fresh if it floods the market with so-so stories (For the record, Solo is better than so-so, but you get my point). Your show won’t continue to be interesting if you’re doing the same thing over and over again.

Pay attention to what your audience is telling you that it wants. Look for new directions you can take your current material. You don’t have literally billions of dollars invested in your show, so unlike Disney and Star Wars, you have the ability to pull the plug the second what you are doing bores you, so do that and do it regularly. If you can’t get excited about a benchmark anymore, there is no point in putting it on the air again.

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