Monday, April 15, 2019

If Audio Is So Hot, Why Isn't Radio Partying?

Earlier this month, iHeartMedia CO Bob Pittman was interviewed by NBC News' Claire Atkinson.  Pittman extolled the virtues of radio, of course, but also addressed the broader audio platform, including smart speakers, his company's purchase of Stuff Works, as well as streaming audio.His money quote?

“Audio is hot for the first time in decades.”

Fred Jacobs
And, Jacobs Media Strategies President Fred Jacobs, blogs that  he's right.  But Jacobs writes it's notable he's talking about audio.  Radio, to be sure, is under that umbrella.  But in this case, it's part of the larger tech family that includes all the other components of audio.

What's hot?  It's Podcasting, writes Jacobs.

Study after study show that more people are discovering podcasts.  And podcast listeners are spending more and more time with audio on-demand.

But as James Cridland accurately pointed out in “Fast Tracking Radio's Future," session last week at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, podcasting in the U.S. is very much “a public radio thing.”  He would know – you'd be hard-pressed to think of anyone in the industry with a better global perspective than futurist Cridland.

Public radio has been at the ground level of podcasts, and its various networks, its sensational talent, and its great storytelling abilities explain why this iis so.  We see it in our Techsurveys – public radio fans in our PRTS study (35%) are much more likely to be weekly podcast listeners, compared to those who favor commercial radio (21%).

From the commercial radio side of the street, audience demography (specifically, education) account for some of commercial radio's ability to cash in on podcasting by creating appealing content at the station/cluster level.  But you might also make a case that after a decade of PPM rules being seared into the brains of programmers and talent – “Keep it short,” “Be brief,” “Focus, focus, focus” – making the leap to longform audio is a tough putt.

Another speed bump revolves around monetization.  As radio broadcasters are learning, podcasting isn't like radio back in the 70s, when a strong AQH and market share was a guarantee of revenue.  Nor is it as simply as launching a new format in a marketplace where there are a couple dozen competitors.

There are now north of 700,000 podcasts in this expanding media flea market, making it increasingly more difficult to be discovered.  In much the same way broadcasters had to learn patience and discipline when launching a Classic Rock or Country format, so do they need to tap the brakes when their podcast ventures don't reap a quick windfall.

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