The Perils Of Predictability


(By Randy Lane) In the latest addition of AdAge, M.T. Fletcher states that cable TV is dying, broadcast TV is on life support, and traditional sports like NFL football viewership have been declining.

Fletcher believes the culprits are predictability and lack of surprise. In the NFL’s case, it rebounded this year because all playoff games and the Super Bowl came down to last-minute miracles. Fletcher says, “A sport that had become ponderous in its predictability managed to surprise us.”

Radio and podcast shows that become predictable eventually fail. What are the primary causes of predictability?

Scheduling all features and benchmarks in fixed time positions
People listen to radio at the same time daily (particularly in both drives) based on their schedule and their time spent listening per occasion is brief. Many listeners will hear the same feature every tune-in.

  • Air only A-level benchmarks at specific times. Repeat them at other times to expose them to a larger percentage of the audience.
  • Float B-level features at various times to help give your show an element of surprise and unpredictability.
  • Tweak long-running benchmarks to keep them fresh and surprising.

Inconsistent and weak teasing
Shows that lack captivating teases lack drama and suspense. In our world of short attention spans and multiple entertainment options, teasing not only maintains listenership but also makes the audience feel like they’ll miss something if they don’t continue listening.

  • Take the time to craft teases that set up a mystery your show will resolve in the upcoming segment. That means including enough detail without giving away the payoff.

No serial/episodic content
Why do we get hooked on Ozark or Succession? Because they’re original and we want to know what happens next. Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. thrive on serial content. Radio and podcast shows with multiple segment benchmarks and topics that move listeners from one segment to the next, enjoy higher time spent listening.

  • Storylines that pay off on one show and have a new payoff on the next episode boost daily tune-ins resulting in higher Nielsen ratings.

Predictable setups
Starting every content segment with the station and show name, slogan, weather and time is a recipe for predictability and losing listeners.

  • Start every segment with a headline that immediately grabs the attention of button pushers.

Lack of original content
Innovative original content is the opposite of predictability. It surprises, delights, and adds spontaneity. Originality, surprise, and social relevancy are the keys to modern entertainment. That doesn’t happen on the fly. It requires meticulous planning.

Contact Randy Lane by e-mail at [email protected].


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