Two Ways In Which Pandora Is More Radio Than Radio

Written Apr. 8, 2011 by Sean Ross in Content + Internet Radio + Terrestrial Radio with 0 Comments

The release of Tuesday's Infinite Dial report from Edison Research and Arbitron showing that 10% of respondents nationally had listened to Pandora in the previous week, may prompt some extra cognative dissonance for those who feel that time spent with Pandora is coming from the iPod or its predecessors, not from traditional listening to music radio.

I've written recently that trying to separate the time that listeners give to their own music vs. somebody else's is increasingly a fool's errand. If radio TSL is down, it is cold comfort that an iPod might conceivably have lost even more listening. But a few things have convinced me recently that Pandora, for whom Edison does several research projects, belongs in the radio stack, not the "successor to 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, and iPod" pile.

1) In recent years, those discovering and using Pandora have very much had a shared experience of the sort that radio used to specialize in providing. This was driven home at a recent Country Radio Seminar panel -- a live focus group of "real" radio listeners. It wasn't a very talkative bunch. But when moderator Charlie Cook asked the Pandora listener on the panel to describe it, she snapped to attention, describing it in detail, and in pretty much identical words to anybody else you've ever heard describe the service. With the increased amount of national radio programming, I've been waiting for radio to ramp up its shared experience quotient, creating an Infinite Dial of Musicradio 89 WLS and 77 WABCs for our age. But, clearly, that isn't the only sort of shared experience radio can offer.

2) It's been the case for a while that if your Pandora listening starts with a mainstream music choice, it will continue among those lines and may even be a little more conservative and gold-based than what you would hear on a comparable terrestrial radio station. While Pandora's personalization and the ability to skip songs leads some people to think of it as "the other," it's actually the culmination of what many radio programmers have been trying to do for the last 35 years, since listener music research took hold on a large scale: progressively eliminate more and more of the "bad songs." It's just that Pandora users have the advantage of deciding for themselves what the "bad songs" are, even if their own tastes aren't all that different from what 100 respondents typically decide.

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Streaming Stopsets ... Four Years Later!

Written Apr. 1, 2011 by Sean Ross in Advertising + Internet Radio + Terrestrial Radio with 0 Comments

The issue of how radio stations fill their stopsets on their Webstreams has gotten a lot of trade press this week as an increasing number of industry observers take up our call of the last four years. Some of that, undoubtedly, is because the issue is being put in sharper relief -- hearing six minutes of dire-sounding PSAs and bad fill music never sounded good, but it sounds worse now that radio is competing with pureplays that typically run only a few units an hour.

As an avid consumer of terrestrial radio online, the stopset issue has gotten better over the last four years. The worst practices of today are about equivalent to the best practices of four years ago and everybody has improved proportionately. If you were running the same two pieces of fill music over and over four years ago, now you are probably filling with PSAs. If you were interrupting the "stress free workday" to remind listeners repeatedly that their children are at risk, you've may have upgraded to a paid spot or two and a fill song.

That doesn't solve some of the larger issues, of course. If you fill up a six-minute Web-stop with twelve :30s, as I recently heard on one station that seemed to be running a mix of paid spots and promos for co-owned Websites, it's still 12 units (perhaps 24 an hour) vs. a pureplay's three. But it's not actively exacerbating the problem as we were a few years ago.

One possible solution? I still feel that we will utimately have to re-open the issue of selling sponsorships, not spots, as a way of sporting a competitive spotload. But if that's easier said than done today, would it at least be possible to fill with music or other station content and sell it to one sponsor. After all, it's unlikely that all the units in a six-minute Webstop are sold anyway. And any advertiser who bought an entire stop would get the sort of share-of-mind among streamies that now goes to McGruff the Crime Dog and the Red Defender.

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No Time To Lose

Written Mar. 2, 2011 by Sean Ross in Content + Internet Radio + Technology + Terrestrial Radio with 0 Comments

So whose time, if anybody's, is Pandora beating?

One talking point that often seems to emerge in any discussion of radio's future on new platforms and its future viability is that Pandora is merely the most recent delivery system for people to listen to their own music. It's the argument of those who, nearly a decade ago, would have told you, "We survived the 8-Track and the cassette deck and we'll survive the iPod, too."

But even as somebody who loves the "real radio" experience that I grew up with, I've never been able to break it down that neatly. My first iPod in 2002 certainly replaced dubbing mix CDs for a CD Walkman, itself a successor to cassette mixes. But building and maintaining my iTunes library certainly cut into desk time that might have been otherwise accompanied by Internet or FM radio. When I got a car with an iPod plug, it certainly replaced radio listening--or more precisely, it replaced a half hour of punching among stations looking for music in the morning. When I got my iPhone, streaming radio replaced listening to the iPod. But recently, my attempts to stream in the car have been so erratic that I've been returning to the iPod and even CDs.

If that distinction is fluid to somebody who grew up with the shared radio experience and plans to do everything in his power to help carry it forward on any platform necessary, how much more specious must it seem to a 16-year-old. And more important, if radio's TSL among today's 16 year olds is not what it was a decade ago, it doesn't do much good to argue that a new platform is biting into somebody else's time, because something is still cutting into AM/FM's time.

So with yesterday's announced purchase of Thumbplay, you have to respect Clear Channel for taking a logical step in being able to offer both "our music" and "your music," just as CBS Radio did with Last.fm. That makes a lot more sense than trying to teach that distinction to a new generation. Or waiting around arguing about who the competition is.

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A Call To Help New Zealand

Written Feb. 26, 2011 by Tom Webster in with 0 Comments

PodcastThis is not my typical post.

A very close friend of mine, Ande, is the head of programming for a group of radio stations in New Zealand. The recent earthquake has taken an enormous toll on the people of Christchurch and indeed, an entire country. More bodies have been recovered today as I write this, and hundreds are still unaccounted for.

Needless to say, New Zealand could use a lift.

Here's what you can do - and it won't cost you a cent. Ande and the rest of his team aren't playing commercials right now - no one wants to hear about fast food or shoe sales when so many are homeless, missing and lost. Instead, they'd like to hear you. So I'm collecting your voices - your words of support - to send him, to play on radio stations throughout New Zealand.

All you need to do is record a quick MP3 file that gives your name, where you are from, and a short (5-10 seconds) message of hope, to tell the people of New Zealand that we are thinking of them during this very dark time. Please email those .MP3 files to me at a special email address I've set up at help_nz_audio at fastmail.fm (heck, spammers be darned - here it is: help_nz_audio@fastmail.fm) I'll make sure he gets them, and that your voices ring out across the Land Of The Long White Cloud.

Words are powerful. Imagine what hearing the voices of hundreds - even thousands - of people on the air, giving words of support, comfort and hope would sound like, right when you needed it the most. I'd like to share all those voices with my friend, his family, the people of Christchurch and anyone else from his beautiful country who needs to hear them.

Thank you, friends.

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The Call Of The Ostrich: The "Suckers Bet" of Pandora

Written Feb. 16, 2011 by Tom Webster in Internet Radio + Terrestrial Radio with 5 Comments

OstrichHead

I've worked alongside radio broadcasters for nearly 20 years, helping them understand their audiences by researching and anticipating their wants, needs and desires. You don't do that unless you have a deep love for the medium - and I truly do. That's why articles like this one, "Radio Exec Says Suckers Invest In Pandora" don't make me laugh, elicit a snide remark, or turn on my generally dormant inner cynic. No, they make me sad - genuinely sad.

Read the article. I have no interest in engaging the arguer here, so I'll deal solely with the argument, as presented: Pandora is a "sucker's bet," for two reasons:

1. Pandora isn't available in cars.

2. Pandora has no localized human connection.

Proponents of this argument - the "Pandora as fad" argument - are clinging desperately to the ephemeral nature of #1 and drastically overstating the importance of #2, especially with listeners under 40.

We have plenty of research that shows the lengths to which people will go already to listen to Internet radio in their cars - this stat isn't limited by the availability of car-based Internet, it's only limited by (at this point) feature phone penetration (not even "smartphone" penetration) and a cheap patch cord. More importantly, however, is the stat that is right under everyone's noses - even with Pandora's car "disadvantage," they currently enjoy somewhere between 40 and 50% of all internet radio listening. Even if you only look at the AndoMedia rankings, which, though not comprehensive, do at least include the largest radio companies (Clear Channel, CBS, Citadel, Cumulus, etc.), Pandora is as big as the rest of the top 20 combined.

When you superimpose the enormous Internet listening Pandora enjoys today with the significantly smaller penetration of in-car Internet radio capability, you do NOT get a "sucker's bet." You get pent-up demand, just waiting to be unleashed by technical developments that aren't 5 years away, or even one year away. They are happening now. Ignoring that, putting your head in the sand, is the real sucker's bet.

The "local" advantage is similarly a "sucker's bet." Presumably, all of those Internet radio listeners (and they are legion) already live in cities and towns that offer "localized" broadcast media. Half of them have demonstrably voted with their mice, keyboards, phones and tablets that they don't care about #2. In most cases, they don't care about radio's local advantage because most of what passes for local on broadcast radio are the ads and the weather. Ask your neighborhood repeater for Rush Limbaugh or Ryan Seacrest if they are winning on "local."

I rarely, if ever, sound so strident in this space - it's generally unhelpful, and distracts from my arguments. But broadcasters simply have to do better. No longer can you rest on the deteriorating advantage of your towers. On the Internet - and believe this - you are David, and pure-play streamers like Pandora are Goliath. David didn't beat Goliath by underestimating him. Goliath figured out what Internet consumers really want from a music radio service in 2011, and provided it, pure and simple. It is now David's turn to learn, and not to denigrate Goliath with ineffective taunts.

If terrestrial broadcasters are going to survive in the next several years - and some of them will, don't get me wrong - it won't be by dismissing Pandora. It will be by studying Pandora and offering meaningful improvements that offer value to today's listeners. So many broadcasters are resolutely incurious as to the reasons for Pandora's success, and it is that lack of curiosity that some broadcasters may not live to regret.

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'90s/Gen X Formats And The "Impossible Segue"

Written Jan. 28, 2011 by Sean Ross in Content + Terrestrial Radio with 0 Comments

One of the challenges for the '90s/Gen-X formats that have proliferated over the last year is trying to put together a wide variety of music that was never played together at the time. CHR in the '90s--what there was of it--changed direction every few years, only returning to all-the-hits for a few years around 1997. So is all-'90s an hour of "Impossible Segues"? What about other gold-based formats?

I was looking through this sample hour of an all-'90s station from last year and began thinking about whether any of the segues could have actually happened on Top 40 radio at the time of the newest song. And the answer was almost always no:

Sublime, "Santeria" into Johnny Gill, "Rub You The Right Way" - Gill and his New Edition colleagues were long gone by the time "Santeria" came out. And, of course, that song got most of its exposure at Modern Rock, not CHR, at the time. Followed by . . .

Sheryl Crow, "My Favorite Mistake" - Again, Gill was long gone in 1999;

311, "Down" - Could have happened: not on CHR, but perhaps on a harder rockin' Modern AC that hadn't yet cleared out 311 by the time Crow was out;

Arrested Development, "People Everyday" - "Ease My Mind," the first single from their second album, was a career killer, but this song and "Mr. Wendell" actually did pop up in a number of Mainstream CHR libraries throughout the '90s. But generally not the same rock-leaning stations that would have played "Down";

OMC, "How Bizarre" - This, however, could have happened, probably on a more mainstream/smaller market CHR;

Stone Temple Pilots, "Interstate Love Song" - Probably gone from most CHRs by the time of OMC. Could have still happened at the right Modern AC;

En Vogue, "Hold On" - Could have played next to STP at the right pop-leaning, medium/small-market CHR in 1994.

Santana, "Smooth" - En Vogue was still in play through the late '90s when "Smooth" came out, thanks to "Don't Let Go (Love)," but "Hold On" had pretty much disappeared.

Alanis Morissette, "You Learn" - Santana/Alanis is the most likely segue here. Probably happened at CHR and all the time at Modern AC.

Notorious BIG, "Hypnotize" - In Canada, where "Hypnotize" was a pop hit, and Alanis was Cancon, it probably happened all the time. In the U.S., despite the songs being only a few years away from each other, probably not at all.

Tom Petty, "Mary Jane's Last Dance" - Probably gone from CHR by the time "Hypnotize" was out, but wouldn't have happened for the same reasons as Alanis/Biggie.

Sarah McLaughln, "I Will Remember You" - Again, Petty was pretty much gone from CHR by now. Could have happened at the right Modern AC.

So were all these records really not meant to be played together, as some contend?

Well, now consider this 2 p.m.hour of very successful Greatest Hits outlet KLUV Dallas, courtesy of BDSRadio.com.

Three Dog Night, "An Old Fashioned Love Song" into KC & the Sunshine Band's "Boogie Shoes" - Limited by the relatively small number of stations that actually played "Boogie Shoes" as a "Saturday Night Fever"-era current. And Three Dog Night was rarely a CHR act by 1978.

Mamas & Papas, "California Dreaming" - Same issue

Elton John, "Daniel" - Mamas & Papas was very much still in many Top 40 libraries in 1972, so probably;

Pat Benatar, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" - Elton was also likely to still be in certain Top 40 libraries in that almost-Hot-AC period for the format in 1980;

Eagles, "Peaceful Easy Feeling" - Same as Elton/Pat Benatar, could have happened at the same type of station.

Climax Blues Band, "Couldn't Get It Right" - Eagles were at the height of their "Hotel California" popularity when this was out in early '77. Would have certainly happened.

Beatles, "Get Back" --- Would have still been in certain types of Top 40 libraries in 1977, it was actually a few more years before anybody dared suggest that the Beatles were not the No. 1 image artist, even at Top 40;

Jimmy Buffett, "Margaritaville" - From a few months after Climax Blues Band, so would have happened for the same reasons;

Carole King, "I Feel The Earth Move" - Finally a little less present at Top 40 in 1977, would have still happened at AC, of course;

Bee Gees, "How Deep Is Your Love" - Another 1977 song. Yes at AC. Probably not at Top 40;

Rolling Stones, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" - Hung in as a CHR gold until the Mike Joseph early '80s era where most older songs finally went away;

Stevie Wonder, "Part Time Lover" - Would have been unlikely in 1985-86, since libraries had been gutted by that time.

Loggins & Messina, "Danny's Song" - Wouldn't have happened in 1985-86 on CHR. Loggins was still hot, post-"Footloose," but '70s soft rock was in short supply and research hadn't brought this version (as opposed to the long-exiled Anne Murray hit) back to the fore yet.

Okay, one more, the 2 p.m. hour of Mainstream AC standard bearer WBEB (B101) Philadelphia:

Prince, "Little Red Corvette" into Deep Blue Something, "Breakfast At Tiffany's" - Prince's "When Doves Cry" was one of the handful of '80s songs that still popped up at CHR in the late '90s but "Corvette" wasn't.

America, "Sister Golden Hair" - Long exiled to AC by the late '90s . . .

Daughtry, "Home" - . . . so wouldn't have played next to Daughtry as a current on any other format either;

Gloria Estefan, "Everlasting Love" - Never that big a CHR hit at the time and never lasted in CHR libraries. Its utility was allowing AC to play a newer version of this perrenial than Carl Carlton;

Maroon 5, "This Love" - Gloria/Maroon wouldn't have happened at CHR for the same reason as Gloria/Daughtry'

Lionel Richie, "All Night Long" - Lionel's current hitmaker status faded out after the late '80s;

Eddie Money, "Take Me Home Tonight" - These two would have just made it on the CHR format together, however, being about three years apart;

Rob Thomas, "Someday" - Minor CHR hit and Eddie was, of course, long gone;

Madonna, "Into The Groove" - Probably hung in at CHR until the early '90s. Now her representation is, if anything, the Madhouse remake of "Like A Prayer";

Train, "Calling All Angels" - Again, "Into The Groove" was gone by 2003;

Pat Benatar, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" - One of the few early '80s oldies that endured for a few extra years when CHR PDs cleared the deck of all gold in the Hot Hits years, but disappeared after her career faded in the late '80s;

Huey Lewis & the News, "If This Is It" - But when this was a current, Benatar was at her peak as well and "Hit Me" was still represented at Top 40;

Taio Cruz, "Dynamite" - Huey, however, fell off CHR by the early '90s and, of course, was long gone by last year. This is an "only on AC" segue.

So, to review, Oldies/Greatest Hits stations have the "shared experience" that CHR represented even in the '70s on their side, along with the tendency of most CHR stations in the '70s to play some gold. Some stations had a three year rule on libraries, as the '70s went on and CHR softened, those rules were relaxed considerably.

AC stations cover such a wide swath that it would have been impossible for most of it to play next to each other at CHR. In fact, if you have impossible segues, you're probably delivering on the variety front. The strength and durability then becomes the unifying factor.

'90s/Gen-X stations have an interesting job in trying to create a coalition that existed mostly on MTV and in some listeners' music collections at the time. CHR in 1997 should, of course, have played "Hypnotize" and "You Learn" together. It's a format that probably wouldn't have been possible in the pre-Bob/Jack-FM era when the diversity of listeners' own collections hadn't been proven. But it is interesting to see that segueing a '90s one-shot like Deep Blue Something into an '80s or '70s song is easier, so far, than playing it next to a song from a few years away.

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Content Creation, Local Media And 'Settling For The Bottom'

Written Jan. 24, 2011 by Tom Webster in Content + Marketing with 0 Comments

iStock_000005617196XSmall.jpgI fly a lot, and have done so for the better part of two decades. I remember the days when the domestic carriers used to provide meals as a standard practice. Today, food on short-haul flights has disappeared completely (I suppose peanuts are "food," technically) and are increasingly only offered as a paid option on longer flights. We have grown to accept this, because the airlines have largely chosen to compete on price, not value. We have a new "floor" for service - and today, when an airline chooses to offer what would have been considered barely adequate 15 years ago, we are pleasantly surprised. We are, however, literally a captive audience. The airlines maintain control over a scarce asset - rapid transit over long distances - and we have little choice but to accept the each new low as a necessary evil; the status quo to which we are resigned.

This is not necessarily what the market desires. It is, however, what the market has become accustomed to. Therein lie the seeds of opportunity. Conventional wisdom dictates that the domestic carriers, as they are currently structured, cannot be competitive if they both meet price expectations AND serve an edible meal on flights. The airlines, saddled with enormous capital overhead, accept this conventional wisdom. The airports, on the other hand, jump the gate, so to speak. Airports all over the U.S. are gradually upgrading their food offerings to include gourmet box lunches, upscale eateries and healthy grab-and-go snacks. These are opportunities lost by the airlines, but gained by airports and other savvy entrepreneurs. Nature abhors a vacuum.

The same is true with the media. This month, broadcast radio giant Clear Channel began quietly laying off local news journalists. I say "quietly" only because the news hasn't made the headlines as much as some of their previous bloodlettings, but it appears to be the first move in yet another round of consolidation, centralization and cost-cutting for America's largest radio company.

It's easy to criticize Clear Channel, as well as a host of other radio, TV and print "institutions" that have been rapidly abandoning local content in favor of centralized content factories. Indeed, when traditional media began to rapidly consolidate in the mid-1990's, the FCC held a series of public hearings for communities to voice their discontent over the failure of local broadcasters to adequately serve their communities of license (and, in case you didn't know this, radio stations don't "own" their frequencies. We do.) If you'd like to make your vocabulary more colorful, you could do worse than study some of the more passionate comments in the transcripts of those hearings.

Today, there is very little local content on radio. Local news coverage (especially in markets out of the Top 20) is nonexistent, and as a percentage of content, the overwhelming majority of what passes for 'local' on these stations are the advertisements and the weather. The FCC never really did finish what they started with the localism initiative, but a good clue can be found in this editorial from last week by FCC Commissioner McDowell, in which he noted:

...all of us should be asking why the [FCC] needs to devote scarce time and resources to reviving any old localism rules at all. Broadcasters today face a level of competition for audiences that was unimaginable 40, 20 or even 10 years ago. They must adapt to meet the needs and desires of their communities if they want to stay alive...The Internet alone makes a mockery of the notion broadcasters have power to act as “gatekeepers” to wield “bottleneck control” over news, information or entertainment programming. That old notion is the premise upon which the original localism rules stood, but a fondness for history is not a good enough reason to steer the FCC’s rules back in time – and in the wrong direction.
In other words, don't look for the FCC to 'enforce' localism. Broadcasters will provide it if and only if it makes good business sense. Today, it does not make good business sense. When traditional media companies served as the gatekeepers for local news and information, that information had a certain value driven by scarcity. The Internet has thrown a significant spanner into that works, and the ability to distribute and access this information cheaply has inspired an entire generation of gate-jumpers and obviated the need for printing presses and broadcast towers.

NewImage.jpgToday, according to Pew, the Internet has jumped Radio and Print as the main source of news for Americans, and TV's #1 position is in jeopardy. Indeed, while TV is number one overall, the Internet is essentially tied with TV amongst college grads, and both cable and broadcast news programming have seen sharp declines.

Because the costs for disseminating information have plummeted, the tower-and-printing-press models for news and information are now operating at a competitive disadvantage. Indeed, when corporate lobbyists for traditional broadcasters go before Congress and argue that they can't remain competitive AND provide a full suite of local news and information services, I believe them. Their towers, and their debt service, hang about their necks like Coleridge's albatross.

So local media has settled to a new bottom. They cannot make money with local content, so we have grown accustomed to non-local content - music, NPR, Rush Limbaugh, whatever. It's the new floor. An empirical view of this would lead you to believe that one cannot make money providing local news and information. I don't believe this. What I do believe is that existing terrestrial broadcasters cannot make money providing local news and information. This is not the same thing as saying that local news and information cannot be monetized. To the contrary, the appetite for local news - in markets from Kaline, Texas to Wichita, Kansas - remains as strong as ever. What is needed, more than ever before, are the gate-jumpers. If you saw the existing market as the potential market for a local news/information media outlet, you would convince yourself that there was no such market - after all, your newspaper is failing, your TV station rebroadcasts Friends, and your radio station is nearly 100% non-local.

What many local broadcasters are today, in fact, are middlemen. Whether they rebroadcast music, Sean Hannity or All Things Considered, the vast majority of radio properties (public and commercial) in this country are in the business of rebroadcasting other people's content. They are, to be blunt, middlemen. The Internet punishes middlemen - ask anyone who worked as a stockbroker or a travel agent in the '90s. There's no future in this.

What this might lead you to believe is that local content is not lucrative. You can't make money staffing a local news service, with reporters and competent editors. You can't make money focusing on local music. You can't make money with content provided from local sources. For traditional media, as long as they constrain their thinking to their presses and towers, this is true. And, since so many of the inputs we have in local markets come from these sources, it's tempting to believe that local programming is a dead end. I don't believe this is true. The fact that your local radio station, with its enormous infrastructure costs, onerous debt service and crippling overhead can't make it work, doesn't mean that you can't make it work (or, frankly, that they couldn't, if they thought more like entrepreneurs and less like broadcasters.)

In short, we've settled for the bottom in local media. We've grown comfortable with the received wisdom that local news and information are not lucrative. After all, we have all of this data that local media sources are failing. What I would suggest, however, is that empirical data is not the whole story. This is what thinking outside of the box really means. Gate-jumpers focus on the problem - the fact that the desire for local content remains strong, even as the providers of that content continue to weaken - and recognize that the diminishing amount of local content is not a result of weak demand, but weak suppliers.

This is what restauranteurs and entrepreneurs recognized in the airline industry - just because the carriers can't make money serving food doesn't mean that people aren't hungry. They jumped the gate. There is still a tremendous demand for mass appeal local content - music, news, information, etc - and I'm not even talking about niche content. As traditional media sources abandon even the lowest common denominator local content, there is a natural tendency to think that it can't be lucrative - otherwise, they'd be doing it, right? But the reasons why they can't do it (physical capital, bad debt, overextension, and unimaginative management) are not good reasons. Now is a wonderful time for new media content creators to fill that gap - again, a gap created by fiscal irresponsibility, not by lack of demand - and create mass appeal content. Empirical evidence would have you settling for niches. Thinking things through, however, might open up other possibilities for gate-jumping that might not have been possible even 5 years ago.

Remember - data isn't evidence until you pass judgement. Prior to that, it's information. If you avoid making assumptions about what empirical data suggests, your mind is open to what it does not suggest. Gate-jumpers look at the constraints of airlines - and media companies - as opportunities. Go and do likewise.

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The Rise Of The "Perceived" Hit

Written Dec. 3, 2010 by Sean Ross in Content with 0 Comments

It's been a while since the Beach Boys' "Sloop John B" was a staple of Oldies playlists. These days it gets only a handful of spins at Oldies/Greatest Hits FMs, well behind "Wouldn't It Be Nice" or "Good Vibrations," the Beach Boys songs that endure (and endure year-round) at the format.

If another programmer--at least one with access to research and a reasonable knowledge of what the hits were in the format--were streaming a Greatest Hits station and heard "Sloop John B," it would probably raise an eyebrow. If a 25-year-old who just happened to listen to Oldies heard it, they might or might not recognize it. But if a longtime Oldies listener stumbled on it, they would just think it was one of those songs that they always hear on the format.

Such is the perceived hit--the once mainstay title that has faded from the radio over the years, but not in such a way that its absence has become conspicuous to the naked ear. It doesn't mean that listeners still have passion for it--we know they don't and that's why it's not on the radio much anymore. It just means that they wouldn't look up at the radio and say, "I wonder why the hell they're playing that."

Play "Sloop John B" in between "Bennie & the Jets" and "Evil Woman," or any two records that remain mainstays of the Oldies/Greatest Hits format, and it almost reads as if a station played three hits in a row. Play it in between 10cc's "I'm Not In Love" and the Shocking Blue's "Venus" and it might seem like you haven't played any hits. But either of those songs would slip as innocuously between the real hits themselves.

Songs by "name" artists who had a long string of hits, and have multiple enduring songs in the Greatest Hits format, can become perceived hits. Phil Collins' playable titles for many stations are down to a handful--"In The Air Tonight," "Against All Odds," and maybe one or two others, varying from station to station. But it would probably surprise listeners to know that they don't hear "One More Night" or "Don't Forget My Number" very much anymore.

Conversely, songs by one-hit wonders (or artists who never contributed more than one enduring song to a gold library) tend to read the other way--even if they're legitimate research hits. "Dancing in the Moonlight" by King Harvest seems like less of a hit than it still is. So, perhaps, does "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" by Rupert Holmes. It always comes as a surprise, even to radio station program directors, that those are still enduring records for any Greatest Hits or Mainstream AC station that will test them.

One sees the power of the perceived hit in this business when you work with programmers who try to come up with a montage that represents a format other than their own. A Classic Rock PD asked to come up with songs for, say, an AC station will throw in Madonna's "Material Girl" or Wham's "Everything She Wants." After all, it's not their business to know most of the time.

When the Adult Hits format came along, the perceived hit was returned to the radio with gusto. It was a commonly repeated suggestion 4-5 years ago, in the heat of Bob- and Jack-mania, that one no longer needed to worry as much about strength as familiarity. Then the Oldies/Greatest Hits format returned from its near-death experience and playlists were longer. Songs that had been heading for perceived hit status became "hits" again because the bar was now being set lower. And even the PD with a 300 song playlist who digs for otherwise unplayable songs to fill a category is relying on perceived hits.

The perceived hit isn't nearly as exciting as the stealth hit. The stealth hit is the song that was never a big radio record at the time that isn't tested everywhere, but almost always performs well when it does. Marshall Tucker Band's "Can't You See" was a good example of a stealth hit for a while - never a big chart hit, but somehow a song that a large percentage of the audience knew and loved (perhaps because they haven't heard it pounded for 35 years). Same goes for KC & the Sunshine Band's "Boogie Shoes," a surprise hit in many places. Most PDs would feel more comfortable with a perceived hit--but there's not the same excitement. It's hard to know if, say, "Don't Forget My Number" would even combat the "you only play one or two songs from the album" perception that so many listeners carry around, because they perhaps already count that among the 'one or two songs.'

Got any good examples of perceived hits? (Or stealth hits?)

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Broadcast Media's Failure To Communicate

Written Nov. 18, 2010 by Tom Webster in Mobile Media + Social Networking with 1 Comment

Larry Rosin posted an interesting factoid on the Edison blog about the decline in teen phone usage - for actually talking. As the graph below illustrates, the amount of time teens reported talking on the telephone has declined 40 minutes per day since 2000 - a drop of 38%.

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Why this is so should be obvious. Today, over 80% of 12-24s have their own mobile phone. According to the same study referenced above (the Edison Research American Youth Study 2010), texting is by far the dominant mobile activity among young Americans, with Internet browsing, games and social network usage also widespread:

phonebehaviors.png

The fact that mobile social network usage is so high, by the way, should also come as no surprise, given the fact that the vast majority of younger Americans are using social media to connect with their friends - in this study, three-quarters of all 12-24 year olds use Facebook alone.

Some of this shift is attributable to the economics of mobile usage - as younger Americans cut the cord, they find their talk minutes rationed, but today's smart- and feature-phones allow 12-24s to send potentially hundreds of texts and dozens of social networking updates every day at minimal cost. Increasingly, however, the sense of real-time connection is what is truly driving this behavior - witness the physical manifestations of anxiety that withdrawal from constant, ubiquitous contact with peers can cause (ever left your phone behind and felt the panic?)

All of which leads me to this finding. Take a look at this data, showing the percentage of 12-24s who have communicated with a radio station using various means of contact:

phonecontact.png

Here, when we asked 12-24 year-olds if they had ever communicated with an AM/FM radio station (or one of its DJs) using various communication platforms, we see that the number one answer by far is the telephone at 22%, with texting, Facebook and Email well behind at 7-8%. If you saw this graph in isolation, you might conclude that AM/FM radio should continue to focus on phone interaction - call-ins, request lines, etc. If you look at this in the larger context of how young people want to communicate in 2010, however, there is only one way to read this data: broadcast radio isn't communicating with its younger listeners they way they'd rather be reached.

Given the ubiquity of text messaging in this demographic, the fact that texting isn't number one by a significant margin is nothing short of a communications failure by broadcast media in this country. If you are in the radio industry, and you are attempting to cater to younger demographics, it isn't enough to simply talk about SMS, or add Facebook as another channel. Radio stations - and their personalities - have to live in these channels, authentically, to reach mainstream 12-24s in America.

Of course, radio stations will continue to run phone promotions, and listeners will continue to call in - but the 12-24s who are calling in are becoming increasingly less representative of the middle of the bell curve. The next time a DJ plays a song and reports that "the phones are going crazy," they might be closer to the truth than they realize.

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Half-Off Couponing: Radio's Great Cheap Hope

Written Oct. 17, 2010 by Sean Ross in Advertising + Internet Radio + Marketing with 0 Comments

Until this week, I'd never gone to a radio station's half-off page.

It wasn't that I hadn't been asked. Half-off couponing is a big part of radio's Website and sales strategies these days, and is getting more on air-time accordingly. Listen to a station's Webstream and if you're lucky enough to hear anything other than hardsell PSAs inserted in the stopsets, it will likely be for the half-off page.

Half-off couponing seemed like a slight vehicle for so many of radio's hopes. But was that only because I had never looked? So I went to the half-off pages on our local stations. The exercise was complicated by the limited number of stations directly targeting Northern New Jersey, several of which (like our non-comm Jazz outlet or Christian AC) don't seem to do couponing at all.

The first station was a local AC outlet. I clicked through to the restaurant deal of the week. It was a new Mexican restaurant one town over from me. We'd actually been looking for a new Mexican restaurant. This one sounded worth trying. I didn't buy the coupon because it was $50 for a $100 certificate - more than we usually spend at a Mexican restaurant (and more than the mostly $25 for $50 deals I saw elsewhere).

An area Rock station's site had a neighborhood Italian restaurant an hour away. It also had a lot of retail that was too far away or not of interest. And for a Rock station, it also had a lot of day spas and nail salons and not many "guy" sponsors - there was one gaming option, however.

Another area AC station: There are a lot of Websites where the deals are probably too prominent, but here the deals require a lot of scrolling down the homepage. The restaurant deal comes from the same provider as the separately owned stations I'd already looked at. Another neighborhood Italian place that was too far out of range.

Finally, another Hot AC from about 45 minutes away: There were a bigger selection of deals here - comparable in variety (if not quite in depth) to a Val-Pak coupon mailer with the same sort of hit-or-miss ratio of things that you might actually use to things that weren't relevant at the moment. There were tubing passes and tuxedo rental. The one I would have used was the two-for-one certificate at a dry cleaner - if it had been in the area.

I also looked at the Websites of my New York P1 and P2 stations. One didn't seem to do couponing. One had a big cluster-wide program, but most of it was local restaurants and retail. There were some unusual offerings here: botox, plastic surgery, tattoos, and $500 worth of rent at a rent-an-office suite for $250. None of the cluster's many national and regional sponsors were represented, making me wonder if stations are only thinking of these deals as a way to sell something to the local retailer who can't afford a traditional campaign, or if larger advertisers have been asked and have no interest.

The good news here is that going through the coupons wasn't quite as overwhelming as, say, paging through an envelope full of Val-Pak where, even if some of the categories are of interest, it's easy to glaze over before you're halfway through. But, so far, the payoff ratio was lower. But I did get a new Mexican restaurant, maybe, out of it. And I will be telling them how I found them.


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Waiting For Deals

Written Sep. 30, 2010 by Tom Webster in Terrestrial Radio with 1 Comment

I missed the RAB/NAB Radio Show's group heads panel, but a little birdie told me that a great deal of time was spent lamenting the fact that "no deals are getting done," or speculating that "more deals" (specifically, more consolidation) would jump-start the industry and wake it from its doldrums.

I don't know much about this side of the business, to be honest - I assume that stations are currently trading at a multiple of "x", and for deals to start happening, they have to trade at "Z," where Z<X. I am glad to see the captains of the radio industry hungry for deals, but I am afraid that the "deals" they are waiting for represent a pretty myopic view of the opportunities that are out there.

Consider: for the price of a few major market radio stations, some enterprising radio group could have closed a "deal" for TechCrunch, which AOL just snapped up for a reported $25 Million. TechCrunch is one of the biggest blogs in the business and generates tons of content every day. Furthermore, it's possible that some empire building radio group could make a deal for Gawker Media, which operates top-ranked blogs on topics that include gadgets, sports, cars and gossip - the mainstays of many a radio morning show. Presumably Gawker would fetch a higher price than TechCrunch, but it's exactly the kind of deal that radio groups should be making - content deals.

Too rich for radio's blood? There are other, potentially attractive partners out there, from RawVoice to Wizzard to Revision3. Want to make a credible claim on music discovery/curation? Why not snap up IndieFeed or The Hype Machine? Self help/advice is another great category, and there are players like Quick and Dirty Tips or Personal Life Media throwing off loads of content every day.

Now, I have no specific knowledge that any of these properties would even entertain a sale - but maybe they would. In any case, an investment in any one of these properties would be a content investment, and it's ownership of original content that the radio industry desperately needs - not more towers.

Besides: what happens if radio's lust for consolidation reaches its natural conclusion - all programming centralized in one location and syndicated worldwide via the web with no local jocks? Well, you'd have Pandora - and they are already there.

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One In Five 12-24s Listened To Pandora In The Past Month

Written Sep. 28, 2010 by Tom Webster in Internet Radio with 0 Comments

Tomorrow will see the first release of Edison's new American Youth Study: 2010, a look at the media and technology consumption habits of teens and young adults. The debut presentation of this project, which was sponsored by Radio-Info.com, will be at the NAB/RAB Radio Show in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, September 29th, but we'll be pulling nuggets from this study throughout the rest of this year. We've got some great new findings about how young Americans discover, consume and obtain new music, as well as some potentially surprising findings about social networking in this demographic, so do stay tuned.

One finding that has already been talked about is this datapoint about Pandora and other online radio listening among 12-24s:

Edison_Research_Pandora_12_24_Listening.001.png

These are some staggering figures - not only have 20% of 12-24 year-olds listened to Pandora in the past month, but 13% have done so in the past week - and this is nationally representative, projectable research data (see our methodology statement, below). While we have seen server-based metrics that have demonstrated Pandora's incredible growth over the past few years, this level of recalled listening amongst 12-24 year olds is truly a significant finding.

Yet, I can't help but be drawn to another, more subtle point from this graph. If you examine weekly online radio listening, you can't avoid the fact that more than twice as many young Americans have listened to Pandora lately than have listened to the online streams of terrestrial AM/FM stations. Equally significant, however, is the figure for listening to other (i.e., NOT Pandora) online-only radio streams, which among 12-24s is almost the same number as the AM/FM online number (5% vs. 6%).

Even taking Pandora out of the equation, the reach of online-only radio from services such as Slacker, Accuradio, Last.FM and others is nearly equivalent to the online reach of their tower-laden cousins. The "long tail" of independent online radio in other words, is nearly the same size as the dog in terms of reach. If you are an independent webcaster, this of course means that the youth market is as available to you as it is to terrestrial broadcasters. And if you are a terrestrial broadcaster, it's equally good news - with your production, programming and branding expertise applied to your own online-only efforts, these no longer need to be viewed as "side channels." They are channels, pure and simple - and are limited not by geography or Internet penetration, but by your imagination, and the size of your ambition.

Methodology: A total of 1,533 respondents were interviewed to investigate interest in, and consumption of, traditional and new media among American youth. From September 8 to September 13, 2010, interviews were conducted online with respondents age 12 to 34 chosen at random from a national sample of Knowledge Networks' "KnowledgePanel," an online panel that is representative of the entire U.S. population through its use of dual-frame sample recruitment and a known published sampling frame. Data from this year's study is tracked with the 2000 Edison Research study, "Radio's Future: Today's 12 to 24 Year-Olds," which was conducted via telephone.

This post originally appeared on the Edison Research blog.

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The Talent Gap

Written Sep. 14, 2010 by Tom Webster in Terrestrial Radio with 4 Comments

I was saddened yesterday to learn that Global Radio has scrapped the Galaxy Network (and a few other local stations) in order to consolidate the programming to a new, nine-station "Capital Network" originating in London. I used to provide audience and marketing research for several of the Galaxy stations when they were owned by Chrysalis, and, as a big fan of the music, these ranked amongst some of my most satisfying projects back in the 90s.

I have no specific knowledge with which to second-guess this decision, and I assume it's at least partially rooted in the economic realities of the business. I do, however, want to point out this quote from Ashley Tabor, Global Radio's founder and CEO, from today's Guardian:

[O]n the decision to syndicate programming across the network, Tabor said: "I'm afraid to say there are not 33 good mid-morning presenters in this country and there are not another 33 good afternoon presenters. I wish there were, but there aren't."

You've heard this before, surely - I know I've heard it from a variety of radio clients over the years. Every time an airshift is voice tracked, or a local show is replaced by a syndicated one, the decision is often justified with some version of Tabor's sentiment - Tabor simply had the courage to state it publicly.

We've encountered this piece of received wisdom - the lack of available talent - so often over the past decade that we no longer question it. We simply nod our heads, and commiserate with Global's predicament. From all appearances, the fact that there aren't enough talented and skilled radio personalities is as firmly grounded in reality as PPM, performance royalties and every other perceived constraint of 21st century terrestrial radio. I have no reason to doubt Tabor or anyone else who states that there isn't enough available talent to go around.

And yet, if you take this statement out of the context of the radio industry, and apply it to any other business, you're left with one inescapable conclusion: it's patently absurd.

It's completely ludicrous to think that there couldn't be 33 good morning presenters in the UK, or 12 good afternoon jocks in Milwaukee or even five talented salespeople in Raleigh-Durham. Talent is everywhere. What is in short supply, however, is imagination, and any sense of an HR strategy for the radio industry.

When I began my career in research, I was super fortunate to have been nurtured by some outstanding managers. I made loads of mistakes (still do, don't you?), often rushed to judgement without wisdom, and occasionally told truth to power in a style that did more to hinder my arguments than promote them. In short, I was rough around the edges. I am enormously grateful to the people in my life who made me better at what I do, and patiently worked to develop my talent, passion and style so that I could start to realize my potential. It would have been very easy to look at the Tom Webster of 20 years ago and say that "there isn't enough young research talent to go around." Tom took some work, believe me, and is still a work in progress.

Today, in the radio industry, that work isn't being done on a corporate scale. At the local level, managers are being stripped of time, resources, and yes, airshifts that could be used to nurture and develop tomorrow's Howard Sterns, Scott Munis, Pierre Roberts and Charles Laquideras. Without a strategic reinvention of radio's HR strategy, the systems simply aren't there to attract, develop and retain the talent radio needs to thrive in the 21st century. Look around at all the innovation happening in Internet radio, location-based services/networks, social media and online video. Talent is everywhere. The long-term issue is not the scarcity of talent - it's radio's inability to provide an exciting, entrepreneurial environment to attract the talent that is already there, and a lack of HR resources to develop that talent and create what Radio desperately needs: stars.

The bottom line on the "talent gap" is this: short investment horizons, quarterly strategies and "just give me three good years" are the real strategic problems, not a lack of talent. The difference between coal and diamonds is simply pressure and time. There's plenty of the former in the radio industry, but precious little of the latter.

UPDATE: My friend Nik Goodman has another, eminently sensible take on Capital's move.

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Investing In Yourself

Written Sep. 9, 2010 by Tom Webster in Blogging + Podcasting + Social Networking with 0 Comments

Next month, I will again be attending Blogworld in Las Vegas (Oct. 14-16), which is now the largest gathering of new media content creators and social media practitioners in the world. If you have ever wanted to learn more about getting your station's blog up and running, effective Facebook strategies, or what the heck to Twitter about, there simply is no better one-stop education than attending all three days of Blogworld, for FAR less than a consultant would charge you :)

I'll be making a special presentation at Blogworld this year on Podcasting, which will go a bit beyond the scope of our traditional consumer research presentations. I'll be presenting some updated figures on Podcast usage, but also taking a look back through five years of trended data, advertising research and best practices to give attendees a comprehensive, analysts-eye view of where Podcasting is today, and more importantly where it's going.

Pretty much anyone I could recommend to you as a new media/social media resource is going to be at Blogworld. Even if the conference fee comes out of your own pocket (likely the case, for our readers here), it's a damn good investment. It's a great chance to get out of your silo, clear your head, and come home with dozens of actionable ideas. And, if you do come as a result of reading this post, hunt me down. I'll gladly buy you a beer (or suitable beverage of your choice).

See you there?

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Labor Day Weekend Format Changes, Part II

Written Sep. 7, 2010 by Sean Ross in Content + Terrestrial Radio with 0 Comments

Okay, the Labor Day Weekend format changes continued and we also got:

* A Rhythmic AC simulcast replacing Country Oldies in Atlanta;

* A new Rhythmic Top 40 in California's Inland Empire;

* An AC to Classic Hits transition in Green Bay, Wis., and a related switch from Classic Rock to a Classic Rock That Really Rocks;

That brings our tally to 12 launches of gold-based formats, five launches of something more contemporary. And a number of gold-based formats giving way to other gold-based formats, sometimes adjacent ones.

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