There is a clear understanding among minority broadcasters that new technologies must be incorporated into business plans for broadcast radio going forward. However, the difficulties presented by simple survival in the perfect storm that the industry is currently grappling with are hindering efforts to move in that direction.
The elements of the storm are by now well-known. There is decrease in advertising revenue thanks both to the recession and new competition, and the devaluation of broadcast properties, all of which has combined to create problems with creditors. There is a lack of access to capital. These problems affect all broadcasters.
In the minority community, they are exacerbated by the perception of audience loss that has come with the controversial introduction of Arbitron’s PPM measurement methodology.
Still, radio retains strength. If done right, it has credibility with local audiences that few other media can match. And that includes the younger demographics that supposedly are ignoring the medium. The key is to use the internet as another platform upon which to market that credibility, and for the youthful crowd, to provide options for sharing, repurposing and time shifting that they have come to expect.
Still, as Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth attorney Frank Montero put it, investors and kids have something in common right now – both find radio to be very uncool.
Nevertheless, he noted that his own daughters – a teen and a tween – have a favorite radio station and use it to inform their iPod music selections. His conclusion is that there is still a role for radio going forward, particularly as long as it retains its prominent position on the automobile dashboard.
Frank Flores of Spanish Broadcasting System said that his company is trying to use as many avenues to reach its audience as possible – including television, radio and the internet – and sells that access to advertisers who otherwise would have no idea how to penetrate the Hispanic community.
NABOB Executive Director Jim Winston noted that the importance of the internet is understood, but that it is difficult if not impossible to put a lot of effort into developing it currently because it just isn’t yet paying its way – to do it properly, it requires an investment in tech-savvy staff, and investment cash is lacking.
Flores agreed, saying, “It’s difficult to drain the swamp when you’re up to your ass in alligators.”
Geoffrey Blackwell, representing Native American broadcasters (Native Public Media) said that internet use was still important, particularly in the case of his organization, which keeps community members who have moved to urban or suburban locations in touch with their communities of origin.
Candida Mobley-Wright of Voices Inc. noted how instrumental minority radio could be in promoting the 2010 Census, not only through broadcast messages, but also via local stations going out into the community via remote broadcasts and actively engaging with their audience.
Flores indicated that his company was prepared to go the extra mile in promoting an accurate count, which he views as particularly important. The Hispanic population is wary of the government, but needs an accurate accounting of its economic power.
Zemira Jones, President /CEO, All American Management Group Inc., said radio was a legacy medium that draws extremely dedicated practitioners, and said that its spectrum must be protected, no matter how hungry some get for extra frequency to repurpose for high-tech applications. Jones added later that radio could be a champion of broadband adoption even while it is increasing its presence there.
Many noted the importance of finding out where younger listeners were going for content, and how they access it, and making sure that radio is there – that includes internet and mobile outlets. Broadcast radio will need to mimic what internet broadcaster Cleveland Spears, Producer/Radio Host/General Manager, iM4radio Broadcasting Network, aims for, which is the ability to follow his audience wherever they happen to go.
Winston reminded that broadcasters have fixed costs, which are part of the business model. When the industry changes, and the value of the “pipe” goes down and advertisers are paying less, that’s a problem. It’s one thing to create a new platform for content, but if they don’t bring in enough revenue to sustain the pipe, they are not the answer.
The value that advertisers place on the addition of website add-ons is minimal, so far, said Winston, because they do not see it driving traffic. He said it is one thing to invest in new technology, but it is impossible without revenue to justify it.
Jones said he believed the economic climate will change positively for radio – he said the question is, will it turn in time to save existing radio companies, or will they wind up being sold to new owners who benefit from better times in the future.
Mario Armstrong of XM suggested that broadcast radio needs to restaff, and it should start by finding a way to bring in as many of the excellent talent that has been laid off. Further, he thinks it is possible to recoup more cash from internet investments – he said that radio sales people need to learn the value of their station website and learn how to properly sell its value – he said currently they are selling it as an afterthought.
RBR-TVBR observation: This panel focused on minority stations, but most of the discussion, particularly on the relationship between broadcast and the internet applies to all broadcasters. We suggest that even stations that can’t afford a major investment on an internet presence should establish whatever presence they can, experiment and make mistakes now, learn from them, and ramp it up at the earliest opportunity.