Sometimes the way they do things in television amazes me. There’s a much greater tendency in TV land to make sure that every season has something that’s new and different. When they run those "new fall season" promos, they'd better have something to sell.
TV executives and producers realize the fickle factor that guides tastes and habits. There is constant pressure to innovate, to try new ideas, and introduce new cast members.
In contrast, radio almost always wants to stay the course, reluctant to change cast, crew, features, or bits. Hey, “If it ain’t broke…”
This stubbornness (fear?) to try new things has to be in some way – subtle or not – part of the reason why consumers might take us for granted. Of course, radio – especially in morning drive – is habitual. Most people get up at the same time, eat breakfast at the same time, and commute to work at the same time - day in and day out. Thus, the need to be consistent, familiar, and steady.
But that doesn’t mean they want everyday to be the same. And it doesn’t mean that whatever worked in 2004 is going to be successful today. Radio’s “stability” also translates to “lethargy.” That's when people start to lose interest.
Despite how well they’ve sold since they were first introduced, new iPods are introduced every year. Sometimes it’s new colors. Sometimes it’s new features. Sometimes they get smaller. Or have radios built in. But there’s always something different and innovative to capture the consumer’s imagination. That’s baked into the DNA of companies like Apple.
Water cooler talk isn’t just about your show discussing a big topic in the news. It’s important to remember it also has to do with the audience talking about you – your show, an internal controversy, some drama, and even some rumors.
It is amazing how Howard Stern is the most copied jock in the history of morning radio, and yet most shows don’t get the part about how he stirs it up with intra-show buzz and talk. Is Howard really pissed at Gary? How much longer is Robin going to take this? Will there be a new cast member this fall? Will the show still be on Sirius? That's part of the viral recipe that keeps Howard vital and top-of-mind.
But in terrestrial radio, we’re still debating whether we should use the word “new” in slogans for stations and formats that are a year old – or older.
A good example of freshening and energizing is American Idol, one of the most successful shows in the history of television (and music). Since its full-time arrival on Fox in 2002, AI’s producers have shaken up the content with different musical themes and other tactical twists. But for many years, the cast remained intact as the American public formed relationships with Simon, Paula, and Randy.
But as the Paula Abdul story started to get weird and wiggy (all the while making for higher ratings and more buzz), Kara DioGuardi was introduced in ’09. And then to try for a totally different approach (nice, not mean), Ellen DeGeneres was signed for ’10 to replace the erratic Abdul (only to “resign” for this coming season).
Now it’s Steven Tyler, as the rumors go, and a whole new soap opera has already ensued. And of course, all the while, there has also been lots of chatter about Howard Stern (the master), Jennifer Lopez, and other potential celebrities to replace the outgoing Simon Cowell.
That’s what new partners, teammates, and cast members do for shows. They amp up talk and speculation. In Idol's case, they make fans wonder how Tyler will get along with Randy Jackson (or Ryan Seacrest for that matter). Will Joe Perry show up? Will the show take on a more rock ‘n roll vibe? Will men start watching because they want to, and not just to please their significant others?
Who cares about why consumers watch the show? The fact is, people are talking about AI, and the audience for at least that first show should be pretty damn big. Where they go from there is the art part of the programming equation.
Now you can make the case that AI has ratings and momentum problems, and while still immensely popular, the show is vulnerable to new competition and may be stumbling under its own weight. But the producers may be looking at it differently. Every TV show has a lifespan or in business and marketing circles, an “S Curve.” The question is whether a legacy show (or radio station) has the ability and the guts to step up and try to achieve a breakthrough - thus creating a new growth spurt.
With other products, there is a realization that innovation and experimentation are critical to keeping a brand vital. Radio shows would do well to be on the lookout for fresh content, a new team member, buzzworthy benchmark features, a new setting, or a webcam - all factors necessary to keep a show heading in an upward direction. And given the PPM reality that morning drive is no longer the daypart behemoth it was in the diary, it would serve radio, its personalities, and its management teams well to start thinking more about the “S Curve” and less about giving away tactical cash in morning drive.
Consultants, researchers, talent coaches, PDs, and producers often miss the bigger boat when it comes to guiding shows that have been on the air on the same stations for years – and even decades.
It’s not about changing the clocks. It’s not about more concise breaks. It’s not about shorter news stories. It’s not about time checks.
Watch your “S Curve.”