While reading The New York Times last weekend, I ran across the story about Jeff Zucker leaving NBC – in the “Business Day” section. And it caught me because Zucker is the guy who’s been at NBC since he was 26 years-old, produced the Today show, and was a big force behind the network’s success with the Olympics. He garnered the kind of visibility he didn’t want during the Leno/Conan mess.
And that’s when it occurred to me that so much news these days has blurred the lines and is not easily sorted in convenient sections – or silos.
That same problem will irk all those editors when the next version of the iPad comes out later this year. Is it a business story because of Apple’s meteoric stock prize and its effects on the markets? Is it an arts and entertainment story because of the content this device brings to its owners? Is it a "lifestyle" story because the whole family clamors for the iPad? Or is the story so important in our world that it will end up in the front “news” section of many papers?
Blurred lines are what is happening with technology and media, too. Smartphones have crossed the lines, and while we first used them as simple phones, and later texting devices, they now provide us with games, maps, music, and a myriad of other functions that are becoming indispensable in our daily lives.
That’s part of what we learned from watching 18 Americans in four cities this past spring in the “Goin’ Mobile” project that we put together with Arbitron. We’ll be presenting it on Thursday at “The Radio Show” and I will be very interested to see how you respond to it.
On the one hand, you’ve seen some of this before because if you have a BlackBerry, iPhone, or Droid (or a similar device), you are living the reality of smartphones changing your life. But as media professionals – and as radio operators, managers, and owners – the importance of these devices to consumers is creating an altered reality about gadget usage and entertainment sources.
Those same lines that are blurring decision-making at The New York Times and are changing the way you do business, spend time with your family, consume sports, and inform yourselves with mobile devices is all part of silos breaking down.
And the same phenomenon should be happening inside radio stations. Instead, there is the programming team, the sales staff, an engineer or IT person, and hopefully something called a digital group or individual.
But are these various departments working in sync to create a unified product that is delivered on multi-platforms, all of which support the umbrella brand?
Or is it still about the traditional ways we radio stations have always operated, and the terrestrial way in which consumers get the content? A number of studies have recently affirmed radio’s healthy cume penetration. And there are more smiles coming from the sales cubicles than we’ve seen in some time.
But this myopia about transmitters and towers at the expense of a station’s streaming assets and reliability is a head-in-the-sand trap that is already sowing signs of trouble as radio often fails to grasp the changing entertainment lives of consumers everywhere.
You can look up Pandora’s engagement and ratings data – and its up, up, up trajectory for yourself. As we have been pointing out in this space for a long time now, they are a serious player. And Pandora makes a guest star appearance in “Goin’ Mobile” as an application that is reaching critical mass on the smartphone desktop and in the hearts of consumers.
When the transmitter goes down, there’s a palpable mini-panic that careens through radio stations as frantic engineers race around to diagnose and fix the problem, programmers start having anxiety attacks, and sales managers start figuring out where to make up that lost inventory.
But when the stream goes down, there’s no sense of urgency or intensity. In fact, it’s usually a listener who informs a PD that it’s happened. Most of the time, the GM doesn't even know. If we’re not making much money from it, it just doesn’t matter.
When we think in terms of silos, of departments, and of platforms, we miss the bigger picture of how digital integration is changing everything – branding, content delivery, and revenue generation. We need to look at our world through a different filter, without the silos, and the notions of radio past.
To quote Valerie Geller, who we spent time with at last weekend’s PRPD conference in Denver, creating “powerful radio” is a universal, whether it was back in the ‘80s or today, diary or PPM, or Walkmans or iPhones.
But understanding the challenges of this new environment, and altering job descriptions, research priorities, and digital strategies to adjust and adapt to where consumers are moving is the big need right now.
We hope to open up some eyes and ears on Thursday at “The Radio Show.” We'll see you there.