When change happens, the way you respond is everything. You can try to hang on to the status quo, but the longer you do, eventually you get trampled. Disruption waits for nobody including the radio industry. If your customers and advertisers seek more of something, you either provide it or they find someone else who can.
I spent time last week in Minneapolis at The Conclave, a great event which highlighted the radio industry. Lori Lewis and her team did an excellent job of providing a great mix of speakers and topics. All who attended left with plenty to think about. I enjoyed hearing insights and stories from Bobby Bones, Michelle Tafoya, Jsi-Chavez, Kim Reis and Traug Keller, but there was one session in particular which hasn’t escaped my brain for the past few days. I’ll get to that in a moment.
To set up the point, let me start first by taking you down memory lane.
Remember when the internet exploded in the 1990’s? Websites began popping up everywhere. Overnight it seemed we became fixated on researching and discovering brands, and sharing our lives online. As the business world took notice of where things were shifting, many industries struggled to adapt. Radio was one of them.
I recall logging on to numerous radio station websites and the user experiences were pretty bad. Unfortunately that remained the case for over a decade. Stations relied on poorly built website shells, and assumed that a “Listen Live” button and profile page of their talent was enough to satisfy an audience. Sites were cluttered with banner ads, useless information, and repurposed content from national platforms, exposing the fact that radio wasn’t ready to handle the internet boom.
Then came podcasting, which began to gain steam in the mid 2000’s. Audio on-demand seemed like a niche thing to many when it first started but those who were doing it recall early signs of success. I used to host a wrestling show in upstate NY in the early 2000’s and was blown away by the interest in my website/content. I’d upload the two-hour weekend show, and the online traffic would be triple to quadruple what my former radio station normally generated.
Fast forward a few years later, and Bill Simmons and Adam Carolla began to dabble in the podcast space. By 2009, Simmons was receiving over 25 million downloads per year at ESPN for his audio show. Carolla was named iTunes’ best audio podcast of 2009, and began to lay the foundation for a move from terrestrial radio to digital audio.
Once again, radio adapted slowly. Solid growth was seen between 2007 and 2015, but in the past three years, interest has reached new levels. Revenue projections for podcasting have soared from 90 million in 2014 to 395 million in 2020. The big challenge now is cutting thru the clutter, and delivering a return on investment for clients.
Next came the smart speaker. Amazon’s leap into the space produced immediate interest. Google soon followed, and Apple has taken the plunge too. Between 2016-2020 smart speaker users are expected to increase from 16 million to 76 million, adding billions in revenue as well. As of today, nearly 28% of all Americans use a smart speaker according to eMarketer.
That’s great news for the audio industry right? It is. Except there’s one issue. Have you tried discovering some of your favorite brands on these devices? There are stations which don’t come up by their name, others which transfer to TuneIn, and with Entercom’s recent announcement of moving their stations off TuneIn to Radio.com, Google Home users won’t be able to hear those brands until further adjustments are made since Radio.com isn’t available on the platform yet.
Strategic company moves are a whole other animal, so let’s instead focus on the user experience. Imagine if your station’s name includes The Fan, ESPN or FOX Sports. You’ve pounded this message into your audience’s brain for years, and now when your audience calls for you on a smart speaker, they’re directed somewhere else.
I’ve spent hours calling for brand names on Amazon Alexa and finding them is not exactly a walk in the park. Some require adding a decimal point, some don’t. Some have to be spelled out “One Hundred and Five” instead of saying “105”. Others send their audiences to national partners, and some have done a good job securing specific words and/or terms to make them easy to locate.
Since our industry was slow to respond in each of these cases, are you confident that we’ll be ready when the next big thing comes along? Well, if you were at The Conclave, then you know what that is.
Fred and Paul Jacobs did a brilliant job taking attendees thru their recap of CES (Consumer Electronics Show), the annual industry show in Las Vegas which highlights thousands of inventors and brands, all with an eye on future technology. There were many interesting points made during the session, but the one which I have spent the past few days thinking about is where the world will be in 10 years.
According to the Jacobs brothers, autonomous vehicles are just around the corner. So too are Smart Cities. Electric charging stations will be popping up across the nation in the future, as automobile makers begin transforming the way we operate on the roadways.
Whether you like the idea of giving up control of your vehicle to a computer or not, and whether it’s ten years from now or fifteen, it’s safe to say that things are going to be different. When that happens, how will it affect your listener? How will it change the way you consume content inside your vehicle? What are you doing in the next decade to make sure your brand is ready unlike previous times?
Think about what you do when you’re on an airplane or a train. If you’re similar to me, you might rest for a bit, read a book, and turn on your phone, tap into the wifi, and either browse the internet, watch video or listen to audio. When it comes time to consume content, you gravitate to the brands and personalities you know and trust. There is no button to scan radio stations, and ad consumption is drastically reduced.
Given the way smart speakers are taking over the world, they’ll soon have a dominant presence inside your vehicle. When you want to hear a specific brand, personality or content, you’ll call for it by name, and it’ll appear in your ears. If the steering wheel is removed from your hands, and you can focus solely on your listening or viewing experience, you’ll become more engaged in the content selection process.
One thing that audio hasn’t had to battle inside the vehicle is video. The car has been our safe haven because drivers are forced to focus on the road. Video is a distraction for drivers, whereas audio serves as a companion, allowing the operator to mentally engage with content without losing sight of the road. Even then, distracted driving remains a huge problem.
But what if that driver suddenly had their hands free? Would they continue to listen to audio or use their phone or in-car video screen to watch video? How would that change the way a radio brand measures its audience impact? What happens to the traditional model of advertising when fourteen to sixteen minutes of ads per hour can’t be forced on the consumer?
Just thinking about this requires two Advil’s. If you’re a radio owner, market manager, account executive, or Nielsen representative, I’m guessing it gives you even more cause for concern.
It makes perfect sense though for the auto industry to explore this transformation, even if it creates a threat to the way the radio business operates. If automakers can reduce accidents while assuring a smooth ride, and offer individuals inside the vehicle more time to relax and enjoy their in-car experience, it’s a no-brainer. The cherry on top of the sundae is that it also gives automakers more information on their drivers, and better access to reach them with advertising messages inside the car.
All of these possibilities seem light years away, but so too did the internet, podcasting, and smart speakers. Yet here we are in 2018 and they’re a huge part of our lives. You can try to push things aside, but if you’re not embracing changes, and doing your homework to be ready for them, you’re setting yourself up to be disrupted.
It’s critical for radio stations to brand themselves well, and make sure they’re easily discovered on smart speakers. Similar to looking for results on Google, nobody is going to waste time looking for you on page 5. If you’re not on Page 1, maybe Page 2, you’re not going to be heard.
Brands must also have content strategies for audio, video and print, and different methods for highlighting that content across different platforms. Twitter is not Instagram. Instagram is not Facebook, and Facebook is not SnapChat. More than likely something else will become part of our social media mix in the next few years, and when that next platform pops up, we’ve got to be ready and willing to adjust quickly.
We’re heading towards a future where the automobile experience is going to turn into the equivalent of a flight or train ride. It’s not a question of IF, it’s a question of WHEN. Auto navigation is going to become a computer’s problem. That’ll open the door for us to enjoy more content with lesser distractions, even if the idea of giving up the wheel seems like a foreign concept.
When that day arrives, is your brand tattooed on the listener’s brain? Can you be easily found on all devices? Do you have a visual component to match your audio presentation? Are your personalities larger than life and important enough to be sought out? How are you planning to retain and grow your business while facing the reality of ad times being rapidly decreased?
The work we’re doing today and tomorrow to be ready for this next wave is important. We can standby and wait for the future to arrive at our doorstep, but maybe it’s time we head outside, observe the landscape, and make sure we’re well prepared to handle it, and thrive off of it. The only thing at stake is the future.