Why radio will fail
A music professional tries to tell a radio conference why radio will fail. And, at least partially, succeeds.
First, he took us through the music industry's decline and fall, pointing out that radio stations are exhibiting the same view that the music industry was ten years ago - that "radio is fine, nothing will happen to it, everyone loves the simple product of radio", and comparing it to the music industry's insistence that the tactile feel of CDs were important.
Why do we need radio, he asked? What gap in the market is radio here to fill?
He says that yesterday, radio's strengths were being proposed as:
2. Taste-making/trusted voice
3. Shared experience
4. Access to content and people
5. Giving artists access to their current and their new fans
6. Access to mass audiences for brands
...but he's not sure.
The smartphone is ubiquitous, he claims. That's ubiquitous. "If you ask a teenager today, what would you rather have - a smartphone or a radio?" He says that radio receivers are slowly dying out.
The taste-making stuff: he says that this, too, is now replaced. He discusses an experiment he ran with Spotify's radio services, where he was comparing the quality of the Spotify radio service with humanly-chosen radio services, based on "Katy Perry". He says he couldn't tell the difference. He thinks a machine is perfectly capable, today, of creating playlists of music. We don't need humans, nor radio.
The shared experience doesn't centre around radio and music as much as their own circle of friends (on Facebook, Twitter, et al).
In terms of access to content or people: Lady Gaga deals directly with her audience on Twitter and Facebook. He says he has much more access to Lady Gaga than he gets from any radio station.
Artists couldn't talk directly to their fans in the past without radio: but now they can. "Radio used to be the place where you break an artist - now it's the place where you 'finish' an artist's launch."
And in terms of mass audience for brands, he points out that brands are demanding more now: demanding bespoke messaging, less wastage, and more advertising data for results?
He says people need personalisation. "Explain to someone why they need to sit through the next three minutes of a song they don't like to hear something they might like next."
So - he asks - what business problem, or consumer problem, is radio going to solve in future?
He says the greatest strength that radio has today is audience. Currently radio has mass audience. It might go away quickly, he says, like MySpace, but currently, you have it. If we lose the audience, he says, we can't get it back. "How's that MySpace relaunch going for you?"
He says that those in radio has passion. But if we want to be relevant, we need to sort out what problem radio has to solve now, not later.
I don't hold with Scott's views in their entirety, naturally; but much of what he says is on the button. I think that part of the problem that radio tries to solve is in the user interface - a simple button that, when pressed, makes a pleasing noise; and when pressed again, stops. Given that, on average, people listen to only two radio stations a week (yet 90% of people tune into the radio every week), that would tend to point to the simple user interface being very much part of the deal: and why users demand rather more when they get to a more interactive device like a mobile phone or a computer. I do have a quite interesting product that goes some way towards fixing much of Scott's points, but no, I'll not quite publish my ideas here. Happy to talk though.
In discussion afterwards, almost every delegate agreed that mainstream music radio, of the type that plays lots of non-stop music, has a limited time left. And almost every delegate worked within radio. Worried yet?
James Cridland is the Managing Director of Media UK, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business.
E-mail James Cridland | Visit James Cridland's website
Great article, I totally agree and thanks for sharing. No need to ‘worry’ though. No technology has a divine right to exist. All the good, useful stuff that radio delivered is more readily available in other places, and there’s still a fair bit of good radio around.
The sad part is, radio has changed in the last 5 years. I’m sure lots of people can tell you why they think that is. But I have never known a time when so many people are leaving the industry due to and un sure future, Radio really needs to pull its socks up and get with the times. We are only just stepping into the world of smart phones and new forms of media. It will be interesting to see what the next stage will be …
I’m not so sure about radio failing as such. Where as it may well change and evolve to suit the modern day I’m not sure it will fail. Stations need to embrace the use of online more, other than sending us a tweet or give us a like on facebook. Brands like Amazing Radio make great use of the internet. As an internet station they focus on new music by allowing artists to upload tracks and then the playlists are generated by which track receives the most listens in a week. This interactivity is what radio needs to change to.
I think the dynamic will change but it will adapt with the times. People need a reason to listen to the radio. Discovering music and company. A continous spotify list doesn’t introduce new tracks, nor does it give any entertainment factor other than listen to music. Radio as a product is much more than just music, that’s why the audience is so high.
Absolutely. Dovetails with all my recent comments on your blogs James.
There is a point being missed here. Everyone seems to be defining radio as Lady Gaga playing toss. It isn’t. Part of the stimulus of growth in DAB has been variety along the dial. Classic FM cannot be defined by Facebook likes for BACH. Radio 4 would be fools to think The Archers Facebook page defined their audience. Facebook and Twitter and all social media are tools for the radio industry. Not threats. If used wisely. It’s only 10 years ago radio stations asked to be faxed by listeners. And the thing about new technologies is they can be developed quicker with every new gadget. Radio doesn’t fill gaps in markets. That is not why it’s there at all. If the argument is Lady Gaga (insert name of artist here) is better because of her SM following. I don’t think that is quite as well presented as it could be.
Couldn’t agree more. Although it is going to eventually cost the industry if they want to connect with the listener in a relatable way again.
Hiring talent that converses in an interesting or funny way costs money – the more audience they gain, the more they want recompensing as they then become a commodity.
Wobble-head jocks are cheap…don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy to do tight forward progression formats…but I find it incredibly dull to listen to.
A huge investment into talent (not just monetary but creatively)is needed for the industry to evolve.
Commercial radio is a victim of it’s previous successes. Let me explain. Decades ago, they found a cash cow in music research and playing non-stop music, and beating Radio 1 when it was down. Share prices rose, revenue was (relative to now) high and they cashed in.
Then came along more stations and recession and businesses stripped out costs and streamlined. For many stations, the trend appears to be more reliant on music formats. Understandably, they are running a business, so the bottom line is king. So it makes sense right?
To win the listeners of tomorrow I feel Commercial Radio needs to invest in content that compels listeners to tune in. In much the same way that Apple is the “must-have” phone/pad/computer despite it’s premium cost. That doesn’t necessarily mean packing it full of personality DJ’s but, in my view, mainstream commercial radio must do the one thing it appears petrified to do for a while…. take a few risks.
A continous Spotify list doesn’t introduce new tracks, nor does it give any entertainment factor other than listen to music.
a) it does introduce new tracks (using Spotify ‘radio’)
b) it could give entertainment factors other than music… indeed, there are some ‘radio shows’ on Spotify if you know where to look already.
Everyone seems to be defining radio as Lady Gaga playing toss. It isn’t.
I think Scott’s point is that “Lady Gaga playing toss” is destined to fail. Which was agreed with by most people in the room.
in my view, mainstream commercial radio must do the one thing it appears petrified to do for a while…. take a few risks.
(Readers with a good memory might remember a bit of a moan about Free Radio’s marketing campaign which might be relevant to this thread).
Really glad this broader question is being explored by James’ post. I love radio, like so many others of my generation it was the lifeblood of new exciting music and intelligent, informed debate.
Now there are far more places to get those things. So radio station content is just one of many choices and can’t rely on the easier mechanisms to get listeners tuned in. As mentioned, music exclusives, access to people, access to a wide choice of music and the feeling of being in a community are not as unique to radio stations these days.
This means radio stations have to play to other strengths: crafting unique moments that can be syndicated, developing compelling djs and the feeling of ‘liveness’ on the broadcast channel. In order to survive, radio stations must think outside the device and ready themselves for 4g’s elevation of the phone as the primary listening device for all audio.