Written Apr. 22, 2009 by Tom Webster in Content + Internet Radio with 4 Comments
I just got back from speaking at the RAIN Internet Radio Summit in Las Vegas, and have to say that Kurt, Paul and Jennifer really did a great job putting together an exciting, content-rich program on the future of online radio. Highlights for me included David Goodman's update on all of the digital irons CBS has in the fire right now (and the enormous amount of content they are serving) and Pandora CEO Joe Kennedy's inspirational talk on entrepreneurship and seeing opportunities.
I was there to open the day with my usual bucket o' numbers, in this case some very good news for webcasters in the form of significantly increased weekly usage numbers for online radio as well as some eye opening numbers on social networking (you can see for yourself--download the complete Edison/Arbitron Infinite Dial 2009 Report here.) For the most part, the day was a celebration of how far online radio has come, and a compelling glimpse of where it can (and must) go in the future, capped off by Kurt Hanson's rapid fire, Pecha Kucha take on the state of the industry.
As I reflected on the summit during my long flight back to Tarheel country, I was struck most by a question one attendee asked at the end of the day that received some remarkably inadequate responses from the panel that fielded it. The question sounds innocent enough: "What are your companies doing to create new content suitable for digital formats?" The answers, however, generally danced around web site features designed to allow listeners to interact with each other, learn more about artists/songs, and other applications that are really just metadata, not original content.
Radio, and especially music radio, have to take this question a lot more seriously in the near term if the industry is to have a digital future. It is not enough to simply package up metadata and call it online content--a lot of other non-radio websites already beat you to it. This is serious. There are a quadrillion sites that suck data from an API and spit it back out again--but there aren't that many sites creating the unique, original web content that this metadata wraps around. Radio has to be in the content creation business, not the "value-added metadata" business. Repurposing on-air content is a start, but is only step one out of a hundred. As Pandora's Joe Kennedy succinctly put it during the summit, online radio is a unicast, one-to-one format, not a broadcast medium. Repurposing broadcast content is table stakes, but to raise the ante radio needs to get serious about creating new, original web content that they own (and don't have to pay SoundExchange for). This means audio content, yes--but also video content and...my favorite...text content (which is the ONLY way radio can compete in the local search game).
Original content designed from the ground up for a unicast medium will be radio's strategic moat in the future. Metadata content can be mimicked and even radically improved by a guy in a garage. Radio has to think bigger about its online future--we should and must create tools that allow listeners the ability to share, comment on and remix content, but so can the rest of the world. The key is to make the original stuff first, then give those tools away to others. Only then will radio own its future.