Digital pundits now admit that local radio is far from dead. And you won’t believe what they think will save internet radio.
Writing at Engadget.com, Brad Hill, former VP of AOL, admits that American use of local AM/FM radio hardly budged between 2001 and 2011:
So it’s evident that people are dipping their toes into various forms of internet radio without abandoning their terrestrial stations.
Dipping their toes?
Mr. Hill is way too kind to internet radio.
As we have repeatedly shown here at Radio Insights, large numbers of people have sampled various streaming services, but the numbers are tiny compared to American consumption of local radio.
But in the digital world, hope springs eternal.
In the digital world, pundits believe a major disruption is always just around the corner, just one gadget, one line of code, one algorithm short of a major breakthrough.
The latest digital straw pundits are grasping at is Apple’s iRadio.
While admitting that internet radio hadn’t hurt local radio much yet, he notes that Michael Robertson CEO of DAR.fm, feels that Apple’s recently announced iTunes radio service will accelerate consumer adoption of internet radio:
There’s no question that it will change from 10/90 (digital/analog) to 90/10 because FM cannot compete with the benefits of internet-delivered music.
What’s odd about quoting Robertson is that DAR.fm is a broadcast radio time-shifter. According to the website:
DAR.fm is a service that lets you record radio stations and shows so you can listen whenever you like. Please browse the site to find some radio to record.
The home page lists suggestions that include Rush Limbaugh, Rachel Maddow, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Stephanie Miller, and many other broadcast talk shows.
Noticeably absent are internet originated shows.
Apparently Robertson hasn’t found any internet content worth recording, so he has built a business model around recording AM and FM shows.
After declaring Internet radio flawed, flailing, and failing, Hill finally gets around to the point of his piece. Internet radio can succeed only if it has compelling content!
Yes, Internet radio needs content!
After a decade of watching Internet radio sputter and stall, at least one digital pundit has finally admitted the problem: Internet radio doesn’t have compelling original content! Local radio continues to succeed because of it does.
And Hill has a solution:
It is up to Apple, or Google, or Rhapsody, or Spotify, or Pandora, or Amazon, or another internet player to break down the perceptual walls within which internet radio is trapped, developing content or importing stars that will compel users to commit more of their attention to the platform.
Well that’s simple enough.
Of course, internet radio is now twenty years old. Internet radio isn’t new. It’s not novel any longer.
If any major internet company knew how to create compelling content, it would have already tried.
Remember how Google was going to create original content for YouTube? How’s that going?
Hill’s alma mater, AOL, has been trying to create compelling product for years. So has Yahoo.
Internet companies are brilliant at creating new technologies to steal and repurpose content created by others (like DAR.fm), but they are really lousy at creating original content.
Amazon create original content? Not likely. Apple? Forget about it. iRadio is about selling more tunes on iTunes, not creating original content.
Hill reveals the depth of his naivete when he closes with this:
Technology alone might not be enough to disrupt the nearly 100-year-old technology of terrestrial radio. But technology plus killer content can do it.
Technology has nothing to do with success. It's all about content.
The continuing success of local radio proves that compelling content trumps technology.
The danger is that local radio is starting to pay more attention to delivery systems than content. Radio is distracted and somewhat intimidated by digital competitors, and is responding in the wrong way.
Too much energy and attention is focusing on platforms. Meanwhile, product innovation is lagging. Radio hasn’t created a new format in decades.
In that sense, Hill has a point. If local radio stops innovating and creating compelling programming, it opens the door for internet radio.
If local radio falls into this trap, broadcast will have lost a tremendous advantage.