Social media, web sites, mobile apps and streaming might seem important, but in truth they are worthless unless the product is right.
Radio today sounds pretty much as it did in the 1990s.Yet today’s listener isn’t anything like a listener from the 1990s.
A 1990s listener didn’t have many audio entertainment options. She listened to a handful of AM and FM stations, could play a CD, and now and then maybe watch an MTV music video.
Today’s listener has a seemingly infinite number of options from streaming stations to on-demand services, iPods, satellite, Vevo, social networks, and maybe a couple of HD stations in addition to the same dozen or so AM and FM stations.
As a result of the explosion of audio options from iPods to Pandora, today’s listener has much higher expectations than yesterday’s listener.
With more options than ever, today’s listener has much less patience for a radio station that falls short of her expectations.
This is radio's greatest challenge preparing for the future. While today's radio station is little changed, today's listener has changed a lot.
Radio’s failure to adapt the product to today’s listener is a far greater issue than worrying about Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other issues that seem to preoccupy the industry.
A 1990s listener grew up with radio organized around music formats. Stations stayed within a format “lane” playing only songs that fit the format.
This rather cloistered arrangement meant that the 1990s listener heard a pretty small body of similarly sounding songs. Because of this, a listener accepted predictability and repetition as inevitable and perhaps even felt comforted by it.
Formats have all but disappeared for today’s listener. The ability to hear millions of songs with the click of a mouse has expanded the musical horizon of today’s listener.
Today’s listener downloads a little country, some pop, maybe hard rock, and maybe even a little international, for no other reason than she liked each song at the time and it cost virtually nothing.
Programming her own music she effortlessly segues between country, pop, and rock songs without giving any thought to whether they “fit.”
This means that when she tunes to a radio station, she isn’t looking for a format. She’s looking for songs she wants to hear.
Surprise and variety now share the stage with familiarity and comfort. She wants to hear something familiar, but at the same time wants to hear something different.
We can no longer refuse to play a popular song because it doesn’t fit the format. Today’s listener expects us to break format.
This even has implications for rotations and how songs move on and off the playlist.
When a listener could only hear a new song on one or two radio stations, we might power a song for weeks. However, today’s multimedia exposure to music means that today’s listener will grow tired of music much faster.
Today, a listener might first hear about a new song from friends on a social website, listen to it on Rhapsody, and then see the video on YouTube, all before radio adds it.
As a result of multimedia exposure, the velocity of a new hit is greater today. Radio is often the last place today’s listener hears about new music.
Music research today is more about measuring the trajectory of a song rather than determining the right moment to add a song.
We can no longer power a top testing song for eight or ten weeks even if it keeps testing. Today’s hits are far more perishable. At the speed of digital, a radio hit can quickly become yesterday’s news.
What we test has to change too. With today’s listeners exposed to a much wider range of songs, music tests have to test a wider range of music, songs that stretch the boundaries of a format.
Adapting our approach to music is just the start. Every other programming element has to change too. We’ll get to those in future posts.