(By Mike McVay) If you made it to Radio Ink’s Forecast 2023 last week, you know that it was well attended, packed with amazing guests and full of great information for radio & television executives to walk away with and take advantage of for their companies. This was one of those days when you sit down at 8:00am and suddenly it’s 5:30pm. The sessions were that engaging.
The perspective of most of the speakers was positive for radio. They’re not looking at a company’s debt structure. They’re looking at revenue forecasts, indications from advertisers, the economy and a return to a world that existed before the pandemic. The future, despite the “R Word” being mentioned, appears to be promising. It will be what we make of it and what we’re willing to accept.
My memorable moments may not align with yours, but I looked at most things through the filter of “what does it mean for content creators, programming, and the economy that enables growth.” What I am sharing are those things that resonated with me. Which was much of what I saw, but not all of what was presented. I will say that, as I wrote in last Monday’s weekly Radio Ink, this is the conference that I attend to learn about where to focus for the next year. I was not disappointed.
It was special to hear the amazing Jeff Smulyan speak about his career and share excerpts from his forthcoming book, Never Ride a Roller Coaster Upside Down, as he was interviewed by celebrity journalist Juliet Huddy. Where else can you see the likes of Angela Yee and Ryan Seacrest share a stage? The leaders of media, both Television and Radio, Network and Local, were all there … and more.
Hearst Television President Jordan Wertlieb and iHeart Media CEO Multiplatform Group Greg Ashlock opened the session with projections and predictions. It is their belief that those companies that are focused on growth will need reach and scale to continue to grow. It is true that during every recession we’ve seen, the business that continue to invest often overtake those who do not.
An indication of what could help buoy radio was highlighted by Scott Painter of Autonomy. He refers to himself as a serial gamechanger. His business leases automobiles, or as he refers to it, sell subscriptions. He’s very focused on the Electric Vehicle. He shared that the automotive category, historically big for radio and television, should be in a position to rebound in a dramatic fashion. Given states like California, and others to follow, making it a law that autos be electric within ten years, manufacturers will need to hustle to build them and dealers will have to market to sell them.
Tesla is aggressively working on building out the electric auto. They’re leading the category in a significant fashion. Tesla built 300,000 cars this year. All other auto builders who have electric vehicles built 30,000. There are 300 million cars on road. Only 1 million of them are electric. Electric auto manufacturing will be a huge boom. Americans WILL be driving an electric car. That means that dealerships will be competing to get buyers into their stores.
Mister Painter echoed what I’ve been saying in regard to the best air talent being able to tell stories and sell product. He said “Radio personalities are the best messengers to make a message memorable and to break through.” Scott added “Radio has been an excellent way for us to tell our story.” Several years ago, there were ad agencies that specialized in working with products that wanted on-air talent to tell their story. That’s an area for growth. If done properly, and sold at a premium, maybe we could play fewer commercials overall without losing billing.
Andrew Rosen from Miller Kaplan led the Economic Forecasting panel. It featured the RAB CEO/President Erica Farber, Leo Kivijarv of EVP/Research at PQ Media, Steve Lanzano, CEO/President TVB, and Vincent Le Tang who is EVP/Managing Partner at Global Market Intelligence, Magna Global. Vincent projected radio to be flat for 2023. Which means it remains below 2019. Although he projects the medium to grow by 5% in the next five years.
This session underscored the advertising communities’ interest in audio. Sports betting, cannabis, recruitment and the arrival of electric cars at a high level. These were all mentioned as potential drivers for advertisers. Podcasting can over deliver for a niche advertiser because of the targeting, while OTA Radio still has the greatest reach. Erica said “The days of General Market are over. The term is All Market.”
The group agreed that cannabis will eventually be a big advertising category. It is already being sold legally in 35 states. Some radio stations are accepting advertising from cannabis growers and selling paraphernalia and CBD products. Cannabis remains under federal law. Once that is addressed it will open the coffers for media.
Dan Day, Research Analyst at B. Riley Securities made a memorable comment when he said “Smaller broadcasters are gushing cash flow. Larger broadcasters struggle because they are over leveraged.” He added “Despite that, it’s a good business.” Patrick Communications Managing Partner, Larry Patrick, added that “living on local revenue is the future.” A memorable phrase that is likely somewhat based on what we saw during the pandemic. When National business dried up, Local business saw less erosion.
This session also touched on the financial headwinds that many companies are facing, but the experts also talked about the competitive headwinds being kicked up by streaming for both radio and TV. Patrick on Streaming “They want television sports and they will pay for the big sports.” Which leads me to compare the approach of the streamers back to what’s been said about Cannabis. It’s a gateway drug to attracting an audience to streaming television away from the competition of OTA TV, Cable TV or Satellite TV.
NAB President and CEO of the NAB, Curtis LeGeyt, was interviewed by Jordan Wertlieb. LeGeyt is open, appears to be truly honest, is assessable and very much engaged as he continues the learning process of his new role. He is everywhere and is being seen everywhere. No offense to previous CEOs, but I appreciate his everyman approach to meeting with leadership as well as rank and file. The most memorable quote was Curtis saying “This is an industry that needs to succeed.” He added “The card to play for Washington DC is Local and Trusted.”
Personalities would line-up to buy the video of Angela Yee and Ryan Seacrest in the session titled “Secrets to successful Brand Building.” The two legendary national personalities were interviewed by iHeart EVP/CMO Gayle Troberman. Their secrets to success; start with creating a connection with the audience. Be everywhere you can be and be seen everywhere. Take advantage of social media, podcasting and personal appearances. Seacrest noted that when you’re live you can “watch the dashboard of social media to see how people are reacting to what you’re doing on-air.” He added “React to that.”
When asked about their Forecast for 2023 and trends to watch, Ryan suggested to focus on the frequency of live events and build on what you’re doing. Angela believes the Metaverse is going to open the world for personalities. Creators are able to create new events. One example mentioned was that Charlie Puth appears as a part of the iHeart Metaverse “iHeartland” by performing in Roblox. It makes sense that virtual reality can be used to transport listeners to concerts, events, put them into movies and shows, and bring them into the studio with them
Dan Mason, who has done everything in broadcasting including Sports Play-by-Play and is the former President/CEO of CBS Radio, interviewed Wayne Kimmel. The guest is Managing Partner of SeventySix Capital and Founder SeventySix Capital Sports Advisory. This session was all about Sports Betting and News Sports as a part of radio’s future. The financial upside for the genre has been much lauded. This session added more depth to the category. Learning moment; I had no idea that there are 36 colleges that award scholarships in E-sports. Mason suggested that, much like Beasley does, radio stations could own E-Sports teams. Sports Gambling and Gaming is a growth area for broadcasters and one to be explored.
Forecast 2023 closed out as it usually does with the Executive Super Session. Moderated by Gordon Borrell, CEO Borrell Associates, CEO Beasley Media Group’s Caroline Beasley, CEO Standard Media Group’s Deb McDermott and the aforementioned Greg Ashlock, Jordan Wertlieb made up the panel for this session. Gordon suggested that a bright spot for media is that there are twice as many advertisers as there once was. Television and Radio need to go after those advertisers. Digital is outdistancing all other media in ad dollars generated. Broadcasters should be diligent in utilizing digital targeted marketing and offering digital and microtargeting as a part of the marketing we sell.
It was clear that localism is important and will become more so in the future. Reach matters. Given the number of cars that will be sold in the next several years, car dealers will need to market to attract what they believe is their fair share of people who buy cars. Auto is the category expected to show the greatest growth. Radio will be selling more video advertising as a part of their digital programs. That will be another way to grow budgets.
Greg Ashlock closed out the session noting that on-demand radio and podcasting fools some listeners into thinking that they’re listening to the radio. Ashlock suggested that “we should be taking a lead from online retailers and use the angle of “If You Like.” He continued “If you like storytelling podcasts about sports, then you’ll like Collin Cowherd.” A memorable moment and an easily applied tactic. Which is the type of gold you expect to mine at Forecast.
Suggestion: Print this article. Grab a highlighter. Mark those things that have value to your situation, be it as a station operator or advertising marketer, and apply the experience from these highly successful individuals. You can always discount the wisdom of others, but to ignore it is akin to looking away when gifted something extraordinaire, without any consideration of its value.