One of the most important sections of our new Tech Poll III points to the growing importance of the cell phone. Every way you look at it, mobile phone technology continues to have an increasing influence on lifestyle and culture - and of course, radio has both opportunities and challenges to consider.
Here are a few nuggets - and a few things to think about moving forward...
First, cell phones are becoming ubiquitous. Our poll shows ownership at 92%. When I give speeches around the country about technology, I often do a little "research" right there in the room. First, I ask whether anyone has a radio on their person. (Most don't.) Then I ask whether anyone has an iPod-like device with them. (Maybe a couple of people.) Finally, I ask whether anyone brought a cell phone to the presentation, and of course, all hands are raised. It's a great illustration of where radio - and every content medium - is going to need to be. (If anyone knows who first did this exercise, please let me know.)
Secondly, texting is major league. One of the fastest growing tech activities, and the leading feature on cell phones (second only to talking). While we see online IMing going backwards, text messaging continues to skyrocket. A few months ago, I picked up my son and a friend at a high school dance. When they got in the car, I asked how everything went, and received one-word responses. The next thing I know, my son is texting in the front seat while his friend in the back seat is quiet. When I asked him who he was texting with, and why he wasn't talking to his friend (or me), he tells me they're texting with each other - even though they're inches away in the car! Why? So, I won't overhear their "conversation." The percentage of young people texting on an hourly basis in our study is stunning. And it's going to do nothing but grow.
Third, there are huge opportunities to capitalize on text messaging relationships with listeners. The vast majority of those who text are open to this type of communication - whether it means receiving texts from stations about contests and concerts OR texting stations to vote, enter contests, etc. And of course, that leads to revenue-generating activities, too.
Fourth, while listening to mp3s and streams on phones is not as common an activity as texting or using the calculator, you can see the potential. And for radio, television, and every other content generator, making your product available so that listeners can stream it is important. Obviously, the convergence of the iPod and cell phone is what the Apple iPhone is all about. Ralph recently replaced his Treo with a new cell phone, and was walking around the office this week, listening to various station streams with his new toy. The potential is obvious, but so is the downside if radio doesn't continue to improve its streams and figures out how to best market them to listeners.
Finally, the "cell phone only" situation continues to be an issue. This was the "aha finding" of the '05 study, and the numbers continue to rise - especially in the world of Alternative radio. Our study shows that half of 18-29s now fall into this group. And a new study by Telephia reinforces that finding, and adds that among those who have changed residences in the past year, half have opted for a non-traditional phone choice (mobile, cable, VoIP). Of course, recent movers tend to be young. Arbitron will begin to address this issue in '08, and "cell phone onlies" are included in the PPM sample frame. But this changing nature of phone service has implications for more than just rating companies. It goes right to the fabric of how businesses, politicians, and fundraisers are going to communicate with their constituencies and customers.
Tech Poll III is loaded with great information, designed to help radio better understand the larger media environment. Competing with it and against it, and realizing opportunities and threats, can only be accomplished with knowledge and information. Check out the newest cell phone findings, as well as archived sections on satellite radio, iPods, and social networking sites.