We believe that the best way to judge a futurist’s ability to see the future is to have him explain the present. If a person doesn’t understand the present, what chance does he have to understand the future?
We wrote those words just a few days ago, so we didn’t expect to find the perfect example to illustrate our point so quickly. But we did.
Mark Ramsey in a challenge to our recent ratings analysis used this analogy to explain why radio listening has to decline as listeners embrace new alternatives:
Ask your friends in television - they'll tell you that erosion in time spent consuming a media product is GUARANTEED to occur when consumers are confronted with new options worth embracing. Yes, guaranteed. So let's stop pretending, okay?
So we have a radio critic building his case about the inevitability of radio’s erosion on his belief that it is happening in television.
Not only that, he GUARANTEES it!
Sorry to disappoint, but despite the guarantee, it isn’t true...not even close.
Here’s what Nielsen has to say on the subject:
Nielsen data shows that time spent on each of the three screens-TV, PC and Mobile-is increasing. In particular, the consumption of video content is on the rise across all platforms. Since the mainstreaming of the Internet about 10 years ago, TV viewing is up by about 20%.
Not only is Mr. Ramsey wrong, he is spectacularly wrong. Time spent on all three screens including traditional television is increasing. The impact of new media on television is just the opposite of what he says is happening. Traditional TV viewing is up eight hours in two years.
If a pundit doesn’t bother to understand the present, how on earth can he predict the future?
Back in November 2008 we noted Nielsen’s discovery that traditional television viewership was growing, not declining because of the Internet. We felt the same could be happening with radio. We wrote:
There is no convincing independent evidence that radio listenership is declining. Listenership as measured by Arbitron is declining, but it has been declining for decades--long before new media could be the cause. Methodological changes by Arbitron are a more likely explanation of reported declines.
Which brings us back to our original question: What about radio? Since Internet use doesn't hurt TV viewership, why should we assume that Internet use hurts radio listenership?
Two years after we wrote these words, we have a radio critic declaring flatly that radio must be declining because television must be declining. And neither is true.
Which brings us back to our original point. If someone makes false assumptions about the present with such confidence that he GUARANTEES them, then it is likely he will be as wrong about the future too.
So let's stop pretending otherwise, okay?