Do you remember the scene in the 1951 classic A Christmas Carol, when the Ghost of Christmas Present tells Ebenezer Scrooge that, while he sees Tiny Tim’s chair empty in a corner, “these are visions of things which maybe, not things which will be.”
Here are ten predictions for Radio’s next few years - visions of things which maybe.
1. Radio will recognize that to be more attractive than other sound-alike alternatives - to retain more of its existing audience – it must count on more than habit, convenience, familiarity, ease of use, and the often-proclaimed almost-universal reach of the medium, since all those advantages are transitory.
2. The advantage of “local” will diminish in direct proportion to the disappearance of local content on stations - and here I’m talking about the local content between the songs (the very stuff that makes the PPM meters tank).
3. The formats which rise (to the degree that formats rise) will be the ones catering specifically to audiences who are less tech savvy or the old dogs who don’t wish to be taught new tricks. Look for Spanish language radio to be the big winner here along with anything targeting aging Boomers.
4. Ratings will decline in importance as advertisers make decisions based on accountability and results rather than on how many ears a station reaches. As more dollars that would have gone to radio head to destinations outside Arbitron’s sphere, stations will cancel their Arbitron deals and never look back.
5. FM stations will move in one of two ways: Either stripped of anything but music (low-cost proposition) or stripped of music and focused all Talk or other non-music entertainment (high-value proposition). Radio will function more like movies: Cheap Indies with low costs and lower profit dollars (but higher margins) and expensive blockbusters with high costs and higher profit dollars (and lower margins).
6. There will be a renaissance in national non-music programming, assuming somebody somewhere in or out of radio bothers to look for it and take a chance on it (Jerry Bruckheimer, where are you?). When these shows are launched, they will launch across dozens of stations at once, not be introduced organically one station at a time. The organic approach to talk show growth is over. Success will depend on mass exposure and mass audiences. Introducing a new show in 100 markets at once multiplies the impact that show has in a world where listeners are no longer bound by their Metro Survey Area. NBC will not be launching the new Jay Leno show one market at a time, and neither should you. Further, Non-Music Radio will not be limited to “Talk” exclusively, let alone Conservative Political Talk.
7. Stations will look to their digital strategies for their bread and butter. Broadcasters who can’t keep pace with digital opportunities will be out on the street. The tower will become the marketing tool for the digital strategies, not vice versa. Digital dollars will exceed over-the-air dollars in part because there will no longer be such a thing as dollars which are only “over-the-air.”
8. Power will flow to the talent and to the owners of that talent’s distribution. No longer will we expect a talent to do three or four hours, five days a week. We’ll see shorter, less frequent content – repeated more often. And we’ll see more flavors of content stretched across more distribution channels.
9. Much of the non-music content on TV will be simulcast on radio, thus extending the distribution for TV content at a comparatively low cost and reframing many stations as distribution channels for TV - without pictures. CNN, FOX, MSNBC, E!….It will all be on a radio station near you.
10. Stations will recognize that their primary value is in their audiences - each one with a name, an email address, and specific wants, needs, and behaviors - all of which can be noted and tracked (within the constraints of privacy concerns) such that radio can treat listeners as individuals rather than faceless, nameless “cume.” This way, stations will connect the right listeners with the right marketers and provide value that vastly exceeds anything radio has ever provided before and anything Google or Facebook can match on a local level.
Remember, visions of things that may be.
And God bless us, every one.