I recently presented a webinar to a group of radio broadcasters. Entitled The Social Hour: Joining the Online Conversation, it was designed as a general overview of social media and it’s ability to allow radio, a medium that has mastered the art of talking, to start listening to and participating with it’s audience.
I’m happy to say that those that joined the webinar stayed for the duration and asked some good questions at the end, one of the best of which came from a public broadcaster in Wisconsin. He asked if I thought radio would have to change the content of their programming to better serve a population that has increasingly more choice and control of what they hear.
Though I hope I diplomatically answered the question during the session (After all, this was a webinar about social media not radio programming), the answer would have to be a resounding yes. To think that any business model can continue to function as it always has in light of growing user control and competition would be folly. And, though the question was raised by a group of radio folks, it could just as easily be raised by retailers, service providers, or any number of businesses. If we were to simply look at the history of electronic media we’d see that this is not a new phenomenon.
Lives were changed when the radio was first invented. Here was a medium that could reach many with the human voice, not just with words on a page.The medium was all about long form programming. From news, to live music, to serial programming, there was suddenly another outlet other than newspaper to get information. When television joined the fray, radio and movie theaters for that matter, adjusted what they were providing. Serials gave way to short form programming and focused music formats.
In addition, the rise of localized content became paramount. The large networks that provided programming for the individual stations was slowly replaced with locally focused content. You could still count on national information, but depending on where you were, you were provided information that catered to your local area. Being a midwesterner, the example that leaps to mind is the proliferation of agricultural information. (I still don’t know what the hell a pork belly is?)
Only recently (the last 12 years) has radio moved back to a national model. Not because of the need of the listener but because of the requirements of the business plan to consolidate costs.
Therein lies the trap. In a time where user control is reaching new heights, the need to provide a more tailored, focused, and unique product continues to grow. In a time where the generic can be easily avoided some businesses, radio included, look to provide the opposite of what is being sought. Even on the web, which is after all “world-wide”, content producers are finding that localization and specialization are where it’s at.
Just like community relations and customer service has been impacted by the rise of the online generation, the way we provide goods and services, as well as the business models that drive them, will need to adapt. Traditional media will be with us for years to come, the business of that traditional media will continue to change…and we all have ideas of what the change should look like. But that’s another discussion…or discussions.