A Closer Look At The Future Of Radio

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(By Stacey Lynn Schulman)

Earlier this week, Nielsen released its latest Total Audience Report, revealing significant increases in time spent with media. The media day has now expanded to 10h 39m on average, a +10% year-over-year growth rate. Comparatively speaking, Americans are spending more time with media than with most any other daily activity – including working or sleeping. Our lives have become increasingly “mediated,” enhanced by apps, social connectivity, and on-demand entertainment.

So where is radio in this new mediated existence? Still as strong as ever, radio continues to confound competitive naysayers by expanding its connection to analog listeners despite the proliferation of pureplay alternatives like Pandora and commercial-free experiences like satellite radio. In fact, radio was the only analog medium to show growth year-over-year in Nielsen’s analysis (+1% in time spent listening) and it is the only medium to command a consistent share of daily media activity (17%), no matter the demographic. Take a well-deserved moment to savor these statistics.

To be sure, digital consumption is leading the growth of the expanded media day – and that includes streaming media via Web and mobile apps (60%+ depending on the platform). But what is also “sure” is that digital growth is not coming at the expense of AM/FM radio. In fact, although TV suffered a slight loss (-1%), it’s fair to say the increase in digital behavior is barely impacting traditional broadcasters at all. Consumers are simply becoming better multi-taskers, availing themselves of technology that allows them to simultaneously consume various forms of content. As we navigate these new waters, richer studies on the prevalence of foreground and background media will become more important to advertisers – and, consequently, programmers.

Which brings me to my final point – the power of programming. The better part of this new century has been spent extolling the new “consumer in control” – getting what they want, when and where they want it. But herein lies the rub, as Barry Schwartz (The Paradox of Choice) has warned us. Yes, consumers want both choice and control – but choice is a double-edged sword that can have the opposite intended effect, paralyzing listeners with the task of selecting among too many options. The key is in providing right-sized customization. Radio is truly best positioned for this future because it has always been the ultimate “programmer” – directing listeners to both discover new music or points of view, and ease the burden of building our own personal listener experiences. We know how to do this. We telegraph to listeners what they can expect from us with our formatted stations. Radio DJs are trusted guides who cultivate our audio palate while allowing us to collectively consume content within a living and breathing, live community. While the world waxes poetic on the virtues of digital life, radio offers a powerful antidote to the emptiness of virtual existence and the constant pressure of selection that comes with infinite choice.

On the digital side of our business we will continue to grow as we learn more about our audiences and their behaviors through new measurement. AM/FM radio has already begun rising to the occasion, making its content available on any and all platforms in both long-form and snack-able varieties, in live and time-shifted/podcasting modes. This will continue to serve our industry well – particularly as Nielsen rolls out its Digital Audio Ratings product and begins dimensioning the degree to which all that digital time spent is actually engagement with our very own radio content.

And the future of America’s largest medium? Our industry would be wise to take a clue from Nielsen’s latest Total Audience Report and spend time innovating around the consumer’s media multi-tasking experience. The most successful audio programmers will find ways to marry the best of what analog radio offers with the portability and personalization of the digital environment. Recommendation engines that layer DJs as digital guides on top of smart content algorithms may be a welcome, human interface for choice-weary listeners. However we iterate, experimentation is the key. The multi-platform data has begun rolling in, and radio is poised to only get bigger in the media landscape.

By Stacey Lynn Schulman, EVP, Strategy, Analytics & Research, Katz Media Group and can be reached at [email protected] 212.424.6512

2 COMMENTS

  1. No disrespect to the author, but her points could have been written more directly and concisely–and thus more powerfully. The “flowery” sentence constructions gets in the way of the content.

  2. Better have a look at the qualitative on that 17% before you break out the booze, because you’re probably looking at unemployed welfare moms as a base. No wait, they have Obama phones, so it would be employed lower-income moms.

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