(By Mike McVay) Earlier this year, I assembled a group of some of the industry’s most powerful PDs for Radio Ink to ask them about the industry’s future, short and long-term. Before the year’s end, let’s check in.
Chad Rufer, Group Director of Programming for Bonneville Sacramento, Kenny Smoov, VP/Urban Formats Cumulus & Westwood One and Program Director for WQQK/Nashville, and Colby “Colb” Tyner, SVP, Programming Radio One/Reach Media all revisited their original predictions and offered what they expect for 2024.
When it comes to predicting the future, we have to accept that predictions are based on historical events and past experiences. We don’t know what we don’t know. Change is more rapid than ever. There are still only 24 hours in a day. The amount of time someone has to spend on entertainment or information is static. The level of competition is higher than ever for media.
Legacy media has long been defined as Radio, TV, and Print, but it now includes the first wave of DSPs (Spotify), video streamers (Netflix), and direct to consumer audio content (Podcasting, Satellite Radio, Streaming Stations), who are also competing for the limited time of the consumer. The more options there are, the more likely it is that legacy media will see continuing audience erosion.
Rufer shared his concern that, “It is more important than ever for radio stations to have a diverse revenue stream. While digital revenue opportunities will continue to grow those opportunities will come with an expense associated with them.” He added, “The same can be said for concerts and events. Companies need to invest in the right people at the helm of those departments because while they can be lucrative, they are not without risk.” He encourages Program Directors/Brand Managers to educate their personalities so that they are aware of the financial and personal growth opportunities that exist in both digital content and concerts and live events.
Acknowledging and echoing the importance of the digital platform, Kenny Smoov shared his belief that, “Our industry committed fully to the digital effort this year. There was more hiring of digital assets in the form of personnel and equipment across formats and companies. AI was all the rage this year and we focused on how to use it to our advantage.” He also cautioned that analysis and patience are needed when anything touted as new and unique is first presented. He said, “Remember THREADS. Big boom… then it settled down.”
Colby reflected on 2023 as a very interesting year: “We saw some improvement in the quality of music released. We still aren’t creating a steady amount of ‘stars’ in the (Urban) format. Still dealing with a lot of one-off artists, but it is slowly getting better. I’m excited about some of the moves labels have been making in their approach regarding artist development. We are also seeing a lot of small, independent labels thriving with projects that will last longer than one song.”
Tyner foresees continued opportunity for radio to shine locally given that 2024 is an election year. He says. “The things we do in between the songs will be even more important. Building on local talent and finding ways to expose new talent through features and podcasting will be crucial. There are also some revenue challenges as we navigate this roller coaster economy, programming being able to play their part creating NTR revenue opportunities will lay the ground for the future of our business. I continue to be very optimistic about where we are and where we are going.”
The optimism for the new year is not without concern. “The one thing I hope radio companies avoid is once again trying to cut their way to the promised land,” voiced Chad Ruffer. “You can cut all of the talent off of a brand and try to out-music the DSPs to save money, but you can’t count on that as a solution. Radio can no longer hang its hat on the most music. We need to create unique experiences with stellar personalities that others cannot replicate – and, yes, that requires a financial investment.”
Smoov put a bow on our journey into radio’s future by saying, “We’re learning. We’re morphing. We’ll see more of this in 2024. Some will lean in even harder in an attempt to gain a better footing. But steady positive accumulation and education is the way to go into the new year.”
“In the long term, after all the merging and transitioning, radio comes out the most practical, human-to-human interface in the digital matrix. We will lean into our ability to bring joy, deal with tragedy, and share in happiness as no AI or chat box could ever do. Our talents are the best at connecting and will continue to do it gracefully. We will continue to serve the communities in which we live in real-time. We are a part of the audience’s lives. In the long term, we will master our strengths even as we become part of the digital plexus. We remain free, portable, adaptable, and inclusive. In the end, it will be radio and the roaches!”