There was talk of a re-energized industry. There was talk of wondrous wealth for radio stations that embrace digital. And there was talk about the necessary investments to monetize those efforts.
"Video can help you compete in a lot of areas that you couldn't compete in before. Tapping into video-pre-rolls and other online video ad units will be one of the keys to future revenue growth."
"You need a graphic designer in order for the client to see the value you're producing. You may not have the right people in place to succeed. The van driver can't be the person who's in charge of the website."
All very exciting stuff.
But a recent reader’s poll by Inside Radio paints a somewhat different image of radio, that of an industry that is barely prepared for the present, let alone mobilizing for the future.
The recession may be technically over and radio revenue is growing again, but a majority of Inside Radio readers say their station isn't doing any external marketing. Nearly six-in-ten (59%) say they rely exclusively on their own properties for marketing.
The recession is over, revenues are trending up, but fattening the bottom line seems to be the focus of too many groups, not preparing for the future.
As one participant observed, “I doubt ownership will ever restore our budget to pre-recession levels.”
It isn’t just marketing budgets that have been cut at many stations. As anyone in radio knows, the cuts have been across the board.
Radio's new normal is GMs managing markets hundreds of miles apart, program directors over-seeing three or more stations, and voice-tracked robo-radio even in key dayparts.
Does this sound like an industry preparing for a challenging future?
Consider the difference between how radio and television are preparing for the future. We recently noted the investment Viacom is making to strengthen their brands. Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman believes the company's commitment to research has helped resuscitate networks such as MTV:
"We've increase our investment in research-market research on our viewers, brand research. In turn, study insight has hopefully led to smarter content investments-focusing the programming around what the research tells us."
Viacom is not alone. The networks realize that creating compelling programming is the key to continued success. They are investing heavily in research and marketing, creating new shows (twenty this year alone) and retooling the old ones.
And it is paying off.
Despite mobile and internet video, television viewing continues to grow, nearly 159 hours a month.
Television spot revenues grew by 24% in 2010 compared to radio’s 7%. This year’s network upfront is expected to surpass $10 billion, with double digit CPM rate hikes.
Television understands that nothing else matters if the content isn’t there.
Compelling content is also the key to radio’s survival in the digital age.
Not video prerolls. Not in-house graphics designers. Not fancy web sites. Not a brilliant social media strategy. Not “the ability to engage audience in all locations where they have a mobile device.”
Content. None of this matters if the content sucks.
But how many groups are investing in content? How many groups are recruiting and grooming the next generation of local air personalities?
Which companies are creating the formats of tomorrow?
Does it make sense for so many broadcast groups to gut their products while expanding the platforms on which people can listen to their gutted products?
As we wrote just the other day, radio remains relevant and strong. However, short-sighted financial decisions can still hobble radio's digital transition. At this critical point, failure to invest in content will have long lasting negative implications.
In the midst of the soaring rhetoric about a fantasy world where radio's investments in the future are limitless, one lone voice at NAB tried to remind radio about content.
John Gehron, perhaps one of the few people in new-media that understands content warned that local radio has to mean more than music.
If it's only for music, that's only going to help you for five years. The challenge is how do you reattach yourself to the community in a way that's good for the community and sets you apart from everybody.
It is a good question, and one that too few radio groups are asking.
Robo-radio delivered on a new platform is still robo-radio. And it sucks.