Driving listeners to radio on any platform and at any time has never been more challenging, even as digital technology has afforded a host of new opportunities.
How do you cut through the clutter and generate relevance in today’s “crowd culture”? How can the digital options consumed today be measured and monetized successfully?
These were just some of the questions addressed across two panels at the exclusive Forecast 2019 conference in New York.
The conversation began with a Futuri-sponsored discussion of tech trends radio needs to know that go beyond the Amazon Alexa-powered device or Google Home. Leading the chat: Beasley Media Group EVP/Strategy & Innovation Buzz Knight, who led a one-on-one interview with CTA Senior Director of Innovation and Trends Ben Arnold on what’s down the technology pipeline.
Arnold shared his inside knowledge of new audio and imaging developments that can impact listening and numbers.
A session immediately following the chat between Arnold and Knight offered much commentary on the content and delivery systems that can help bring new riches to the radio business. This panel saw iHeartMedia Networks Group President Darren Davis moderate a discussion in which Zena Burns, Futuri’s SVP of Strategic Marketing & Brand Development, noted it was “absolutely critical” for radio station owners to understand the multiple dynamics of smart speakers.
“We’ve only scratched the surface,” Burns says of how AM and FM stations have embraced the Smart Speaker. “On-demand audio is one of the skills.”
In fact, a lot of the discussion positioned the growth of the radio industry to that of “over-the-top” television, with “snackable” and “consume when you want” audio content the possible hallmark of radio’s reinvention as an audio content and distribution industry.
For Burns, owner growth is directly tied to learning about each and every skill that the smart speaker can provide for radio. “The experience is broken if you don’t lean in,” she warns. “Radio needs to fix that, and build skills, and hope Amazon doesn’t cut us off at the pass.”
What does she mean by this? As the Alexa-powered Echo device is presently the preferred Smart Speaker of Americans, what would happen if Amazon were to change the dynamics behind how voice-activated skills benefit radio stations and its advertisers?
Further, radio companies need to be forward-thinking in how to bring content to the consumer, lessening the need for a listener to discover how to consume everything your station does for the smart speaker user. “You can’t expect to have the listener do all of the work,” Burns says.
THE IMPORTANCE OF A PORTAL
If Smart Speakers and Apps are the preferred method of consuming audio content via digital technology, does a radio station even need a website anymore?
It may sound like a silly question, but Davis asked it to generate various responses from the panelists with respect to monetization. Burns tackled the question first, noting that the very existence of a website aids the “perception of relevance.” Then, she adds, there is the “practical value of SEO.”
Of course, getting the biggest ROI from radio’s bread and butter — content — comes down to using the industry’s programming expertise to put it in a class by itself, elevating it beyond the podcast that seems monotonous, lengthy and at times esoteric.
Taking this approach can help when shifts in platforms the radio company does not control could prove vexing. Take, for instance, Facebook — when algorithm changes made life difficult for many a marketer, they had no choice but to live with them and adapt accordingly.
TOMORROW’S TOP CONTENT
Who are the types of people that should be recruited to help radio into the digital audio business? Burns believes recruiting people from outside the radio industry can aid in the adoption and wholesale understanding of audio’s digital capabilities. But, at the same time, continuing education of radio’s brightest stars and seasoned veterans will go far in bringing understanding to all.
But, what should a company do when all of the steps are taken to bring audio content to the digital realm? Rob Walch, VP of Podcaster Relations at podcast giant Libsyn, advises all to understand what makes a podcast, well, a podcast.
“A link on a website does not make it a podcast,” Walch says. “If you’re not on Apple podcast, you’re not a podcast.”
Furthermore, if your podcast sounds too much like a radio show, you’re doomed.
“If there are more than three spots in a podcast, you will get slaughtered in your audience reviews on iTunes,” Walch warns.
Then, there is the question of how to create a podcast with unique, original programming.
Owen Grover, CEO of Pocket Casts/Podcast Media LLC, comments, “It is not easy to execute a podcast if you are a song-to-song radio station. You need to have a plan.”
This plan should focus on the things that make your station local.
“The key here is to demonstrate how to use your core assets to generate interest and engagement,” Grover says.
For iHeartRadio Chief Product Officer Chris Williams, re-purposing on-air content versus creating an original podcast is an imperative question to ask before taking a giant promotional and financial leap into digital content delivery.
“Podcasts are a shiny object,” he says. “Radio broadcasters want a toe in, but still want reach. Broadcast snippets get that reach.”
As such, iHeart will take bits of a podcast and bring it to its radio stations — a demonstration of the company’s breadth and depth, and how it is unique in bring audio to consumers across as many platforms as possible today.
For Walch, taking these steps today will provide the tools needed for radio to make a multitude of money tomorrow.
“It’s a long game,” he says. “Commit to it, and release podcasts on a regular basis.”
And, for that morning host who can’t stop talking about such topics as woodworking on the morning, the podcast provides an outlet for fans of this subject, a new ROI product … and, perhaps, a solution for the PD who has had way too many conversations with the host about his excessive discussions on the subject.
“With a podcast, maybe he’ll stop talking about it on-air,” Williams joked.
Yet, podcasts as a business aren’t a joke, and with the right technology and C-Suite smarts, capturing audio listeners beyond AM and FM will help usher in a new wave of business for radio — a business that can’t wait for change to simply occur on its own.