It wasn’t so long ago that the radio industry was collectively shuffling its feet as in-car listening—AM/FM’s bread and butter—was subsiding amid a threatening new technology called “streaming,” as at-home and at-home tune-in were also declining. Well, look at us now. While traditional over the air AM/FM remains the mothership, broadcasters at the 2018 NAB Show this month made clear that the industry has now created its own digital revolution.
During the National Association of Broadcasters convention last week in Las Vegas—which brought together 94,000 attendees from 161 countries and 1,800+ exhibitors—station streaming has become a given. Add proprietary websites and social media, and the likes of mobile apps, smart speaker skills, podcasting, ROI and geo-fencing.
Indeed, all of this dizzying change is, in fact, prompting broadcasters to reimagine what business they’re in, Entercom senior VP, Corporate Business Development Tim Murphy said during one session. “We have to broaden how we view the marketplace and who we’re competing with.” That requires deciding what is radio’s “unfair advantage,” the thing it does in a “uniquely differentiated way” that it wants to “build a moat around” to protect.
For Entercom, that’s scaling “great local programming,” Murphy explained, something none of the big platform companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook have done. “We have to make sure our programming continues to connect with people and we have to control the distribution. We can’t hand it over to others.”
In another panel, Jacobs Media’s Fred Jacobs asked participants what platforms they believe offer broadcasters the most potential. All pointed to voice-activated smart speakers, which are now in 20% of Wi-Fi-enabled homes. Big data was next, as one of the convention’s big buzz phrases. Since launching its Alexa strategy two months ago, Beasley Media Group CEO Caroline Beasley told session attendees that her company has seen increased listening, “not just moving from one platform to the other but incremental listening.” NAB executive VP, Strategic Planning Steve Newberry added that the devices have become “a new replacement for radio in the home.”
Developing proprietary skills for the likes of Amazon Alexa is just the beginning: Discerning how listeners want to engage with a station’s brand is the crucial second step, as Echo’s overall “persona” is regarded as a media consumption tool, which includes one of its most popular skills, playing music and in particular, AM/FM radio. For broadcasters, this is nothing but a positive. An audio stream is a given; now stations should consider a local “Flash Briefing” with news in their markets and snippet replays of beloved morning shows. The key, said Bob Kernen, COO of jācapps: “Identify what makes your on-air brand unique as you develop your Alexa skills.”
Digital, Digital, Digital
For any broadcaster who may not yet believe digital is an essential component for over-the-air advertisers, take it from Michael Reath, president of Off Road Media Group: “We would be in the negative in the last five years if not for digital.” A case in point: Stalwart advertiser Porter Auto Group’s contract shrank, from $24,000 to $8,000 a year, “because the sales rep wasn’t ready to sell digital,” he said during a panel discussion.
Fast forward from 2016 to 2017: With the engagement of digital into the mix, the client dedicated $105,000 to the station. “Shame on us,” Reath says. “By selling digital with traditional advertising and entering the universe of mobile it was obvious—if we weren’t putting our advertisers on this device, someone else would. Radio plus mobile is peanut butter and jelly. It’s a marriage made in heaven.”
As essential today are proprietary radio station mobile apps, which are unlocking newfound potential to connect with radio audiences, while potentially plumping stations’ bottom lines. The challenge now for broadcasters is trying to keep up with these rapidly evolving platforms, even when that sometimes means starting from scratch—again.
Steve Meyers, Executive VP of Digital for Beasley, explained to NAB Show attendees that his company has made the leap to a new mobile app platform for each of the company’s 63 stations in 15 markets, with a focus on next-generation features—which he admits continue to evolve. The media company began the design phase six years ago, working with jācappps.
Recognizing that more than 70% of its audience interacts with Beasley stations via mobile devices—and then finding that 25% of its audience sessions were focused on live streaming, with the other 75% on other digital content—the company refocused on creating relevant content targeted and more personalized to its listeners.
“To think that 75% were coming to see all the things we create other than streams… that’s a significant number for something that started life as a ‘Play’ button,” Meyers said. “We had no choice but to (explore) the next generation of mobile applications. Our brands need to be accessible where, when, how and even if our audience wants to consume and engage with them.”
That includes an astonishing 93 new pieces of digital content each day. “With FM, we were pushing one stream of content. Digital opens this whole new ability for us to provide different opportunities and different methods of engagement for our brands.”
Today, Beasley’s station apps are “consumer-centric instead of brand-centric,” he said.
“The home screen of the station app is like the home screen of your smartphone,” in which content can be moved, added and even erased. “You can get rid of contests if you want, add in all of the streams from our country stations, see news about rock artists from all of those stations… we’re really excited about the methodology here,” Meyers said.
And for the Beasley stations, there are significant advantages, as well: “What if our brands knew each audience member by name? What if we provided concierge level service to each of those audience members, making them feel special and unique? What if we provided content and advertising to our audience where, when, if and how they want it?”
The biggest lesson learned, according to Meyers: “We can’t just push stuff at people anymore. They’re going to consume it when and how they want to consume it. They are creating their own personal media ecosystems, and we have to be as flexible as possible.”