Radio's Future Explained: A Call To Arms
Satellite radio is dead. So proclaimed Gizmodo Tuesday after the world's first internet car radio, from Blaupunkt and miRoamer was introduced to deliver thousands of internet stations integrated with a standard AM/FM/CD dash console. This coupled with news that Pandora is planning on a March launch to unveil its service to cars alongside Pioneer leads us to the conclusion that streaming terrestrial radio has gone beyond an option for groups nationwide; it is now integral to radio's survival. Of course, stations will maintain their presence in cars via our traditional AM & FM broadcasts but what does this new platform mean for local radio?
In a world where local radio stations in, say, Waterloo, IA are now competing with local radio stations in New York for ears in Lexington, KY, what is the future for programming? What will differentiate these stations from each others in a listener's mind? Now, before you quickly suggest that "localism" is the key...while we don't disagree with you, the inevitable next question becomes: how many "hyper-local" stations can you have in one cluster? Many operators today boast 5 or 6 properties in each market. Within the new paradigm (to borrow a phrase, on the infinite dial), how many high school football games and local bands can we possibly air before only all but a select small percentage of our traditional audience loses interest? We all know that staffing at most stations has become an issue. Where will the salaries for the employees needed to activate the hyper local strategy come from? Especially in small markets.
One thing is for certain, "corporate playlists" and, for that matter, syndicated programming airing on local stations are a thing of the past (why would a listener tune in to your local station to hear Glenn Beck when they could simply tune to the official Beck stream in their car?).
Lest we forget the new sales challenges. While local direct will always be our bread and butter, are we prepared to react when local clients begin to expect the same advertising opportunities afforded to Pepsi and Burger King, for example? Do our sales staffs understand the coming changes or are they still struggling to think beyond the :30 and :60 spot? Can they even sell your websites? And what of national business? How will we sell our new network of broadcasts/streams/mobile content?
And, then there's management. Perhaps one of the most alarming hurdles radio faces at the moment is an executive staff that is truly clueless as to their industry's impending evolution. Do we have the right leaders in place to guide our teams into the oncoming storm? For every Peter Smyth, how many empty suits do we have in place? Of course, this is not limited to CEO and COOs. The same must be examined of VPs, Regional Managers, GMs, Ops Managers and Program Directors. Do our management teams consist of forward-thinking, tech-savvy innovators or stay-the-course obsessed managers secretly panicking that they haven't a single idea to contribute when the inevitable meeting of the media minds converges.
Are the right people in place to face these challenges?
If the answer is 'no', we must change course immediately.
These are questions that traditional radio must answer quickly. For, while we're still years away from this technology being adopted by the majority of our audience (no one is going to trade in their perfectly fine 2001 GM vehicle for a new one simply for the new media opportunities), radio is already behind the eight ball when it comes to our swing to new technology adaptation. Certainly, some companies are more ready than others (Entercom comes to mind and Clear Channel gets props for embracing the new wave of technology but gets a failing mark for the generic nature of its implementation).
Before you scramble to assemble your team of Digital Content Managers and Internet PDs (and we can recommend a bunch of cool people you can hire!), it's time first to understand the sea change radio is facing.
First, let's take a look at the forthcoming internet car radio from miRoamer and Blaupunkt. As a user, all of your preferences, providers and searches are customized on miRoamer's site, and you can instantly flip back and forth between internet or terrestrial radio stations in the console. The secret sauce is 3G GSM. Since it's just a plug-n-play SIM, it theoretically means you could get the Australia-based service working in the States on AT&T, once it goes from being built-in equipment to a setup you can buy separately.
Even if it's not available over here immediately, just because it's the first doesn't mean it'll be the only one like this - it's just the beginning of car internet radio, for sure. Plus, we're pretty sure someone will find a way to hack the 3G to use it, tether it to your laptop over the system's built-in Bluetooth (as long as it has the right protocols built-in, anyway).
Regardless, drivers will have access to the world's largest and most diverse selection of Internet radio content through their car stereo.
"The beauty of Internet car radio is the customized user experience," said George Parthimos, Founder and CEO, miRoamer. "Today, users want to jump in their car and go � no pulling out third-party devices or plugging in cords to access their music and information. miRoamer's development with Blaupunkt is the first seamless Internet radio solution. Now, with the simple push of a button, users can access AM/FM stations or Internet radio's thousands of music, entertainment, news and talk stations from around the world, all from the same car stereo."
Users' favorite Internet radio stations can be chosen via clearly arranged information on a large screen display, enriched by state-of-the art performance in terms of car multimedia and consumer electronics connectivity.
"The move to develop an Internet car radio solution is a new paradigm and a real starting point for in-car digital media," said Robert Demian, Head of Global Sales, miRoamer. "miRoamer was the first and remains the only true digital media platform. By partnering with Blaupunkt, who has always been recognized as the first to introduce new and innovative products to the car audio markets, consumers now have access to all of the great benefits of Internet radio in their car, while experiencing unparalleled sound quality and reliability that is far superior to what they are accustomed."
"Integrating Blaupunkt stereos with miRoamer technology was a logical step in creating a truly multimedia driving experience," said Dr. Gerhard Pitz, Head of Product Center, Car Radio, Blaupunkt. "Drivers will be able to use all the features they're familiar with, such as phone, address book, Bluetooth and navigation, but with the first Internet radio, driven by miRoamer, we are able to offer them the ability to tune into the world."
miRoamer also offers the ability to browse genres or stations and customize preferences, providers and search options online at miroamer.com. The Internet portal also allows users to add media that is not currently offered on miRoamer, by simply providing the URL and adding it to their favorites.
That's miRoamer. Now what about Pandora?
If you're not already familiar with the service, get an account (and join LastFM while you're at it). Play with the service and discover why so many younger radio listeners are embracing the concept. The success of both platforms is quite simple: each offer a customized listening experience. However, unlike traditional radio's prior (comparitively minor) in-car threats, the iPod and Satellite Radio, users not only listen to music they have told the site they like but LastFM and Pandora offer new music choices for the listener. Once the service has "learned" your preferred music tastes, it's somewhat creepy how accurate its recommendations for new music can be. Essentially, both LastFM and Pandora offer a personal jukebox that recommends new music to its users (something radio does as well, let's not forget).
Clearly, both Pandora and MiRoamer, coupled with satellite radio present new challenges for traditional radio. At RadioStats, we have never been alarmists about the state of radio and we will continue to have a steady hand on the subject of radio's future and viability. The radio industry still has distinct advantages over our new competition. Let us never forget that we possess knowledge and expertise in the world of programming, marketing and creativity that the vast majority of competitors lack. However, radio must eclipse any arrogance at this stage and admit that we must reach out to the digital sectors for an assist. In a perfect world, all radio groups would tomorrow hire an entire team to focus on its growth (and potential dominance) of the streaming, online and mobile segment of entertainment. However, in the real world, our industry is facing bankruptcy, a shrinking talent pool and an exhausted, overworked team of dedicated believers.
What is next? In 2010, RadioStats pledges to urge the industry forward into this new world and continue to champion our medium in all of its forms. We'll report...but it is YOU who must make the news. Therefore, we challenge YOU: the most creative and enduring force in American media to unravel this puzzle. To those who have thrown their hands up in frustration and resigned themselves to hopelessness, to those who continue to live in the past and crave that radio return to a long-gone era, to those ineffective leaders who simply do not understand the critical nature of this crossroads...we urge you to move out of the way. Please step aside and allow a new generation, an army of all-ages, veterans and newcomers alike who understand the way forward to lead. And for those who we have called upon to lead...your time is now. The future of our beloved industry is counting on you.
Begin by sharing this article with other, likeminded radio employees and fans in other sectors.
Now, get out there and do something, friends. Figure this out. Together, we can do it.