By Holland Cooke
LAS VEGAS — Even before 90,000 attendees step into the sprawling Convention Center, they expect change. The Las Vegas Monorail robo-voice invites them to visit The Cloud Computing Pavilion.
Atop the escalator, more evidence of the “Metamorphosis” that is this year’s NAB Show theme: Publication bins stacked with hard copies are being replaced by a wall-o-magazine covers. Scan the QR code, and you get the digital version.
“Radio was once known as delivering-content-through-a-speaker.”
Keynoting Sunday’s RAIN Summit West, Radio Advertising Bureau president/CEO Erica Farber urged that we define “radio” broadly: “Now listeners expect what-they-want, where-they-want-it,” and smart stations will become multi-platform audio – and video — publishers.
Ditto that, NAB president/CEO Gordon Smith offered in his convention opener Monday:
“Even in a world of tablets, smartphones and digital dashboards, broadcast radio and television are as relevant today as ever…some might say more relevant, as Americans become dependent on new technologies, radio and television continue to thrive and prove time and again their dependability when all else fails.”
Yet, other than during hurricanes and other atypical times, who needs a transmitter? For years, TALKERS publisher Michael Harrison has spoken of talent self-publishing via a “media station” that delivers various content formats to various devices. Doing-so might have sounded leading-edge even just several years ago. Now legacy media are playing catch-up, following users to the new platform.
You could’ve heard a pin drop when MVY Radio’s Joe Gallagher explained to RAIN attendees why his company sold its FM station on Martha’s Vineyard, and how he raised $600,000 in 60 days to fund its popular streams.
Recent controversial predictions about AM/FM’s dashboard future seem naïve
Competition for what used to be an in-car media monopoly isn’t a future threat. What’s now being called “the center stack” is already crowded: “21% of wireless phone users say they’ve used their phone to listen to Internet radio in-car,” stated Larry Rosin, Edison Research, quoting the recently-released Arbitron/Edison “Infinite Dial” study, which you can download at HollandCooke.com.
“It’s all about producing compelling content,” Gallagher reckons. To-which ABC News Radio VP Steve Jones added: “Every time a user comes — invests their time — we need to give them a return on that investment.”
Keeping pace with jarring change doesn’t just challenge the programming department. Three Monday afternoon sessions concerned sales and technical metamorphosis; and there’s good news and bad news.
If they can hear it, we can sell it
I was scribbling-as-fast-as-I-could (after exhausting my laptop battery, yet-another tech challenge) during the Radio Advertising Bureau session “Radio’s Alternative Revenue Is No Longer Alternative.” Spots-and-dots isn’t a business any more. Just TRY bringing an agency a pitch without a digital or event component.
Neuhoff Media VP/sales Danielle Outlaw, whose company covers and monetizes high school sports aggressively, described a “What Drives You?” video feature, interviews with high school athletes, which she sold to a car dealer.
Advance planning is key, according to fellow panelist CBS Radio/Houston’s Michelle Giroir, who plans lots of events, creates a coming-year calendar, and throws an advertiser Preview Party like TV’s upfronts.
Another RAB session is always among the convention’s most worthwhile: The “Small and Medium Market Idea Exchange” was one-money-making-idea-after-another, imaginative concepts and packages that fuel radio’s minor leagues and seem to elude stations in the majors. Space here doesn’t permit the detailed notes I’ll post on the sales page at HollandCooke.com
“AM Band Revitalization:” Too late?
Nobody in this standing-room-only session could remember if a sitting FCC commissioner had ever moderated a NAB Show panel before, but affable Ajit Pai seemed as comfortable in that role as he seems committed to addressing AM radio’s technical challenges.
“I’m just a big fan of AM radio. I grew up in Parsons, Kansas, out in the middle of nowhere. When you talk about AM radio, you evoke a lot of memories.” Yet now, Pai reminded us, only 17% of Time Spent Listening is to AM.
Among the challenges facing AM radio:
- It’s generational. Most of 25-54 grew up without an AM radio habit; and some of them control advertising dollars.
- Instead of the old whip antenna that’s more AM-efficient, automakers prefer to hide the radio antenna in the windshield, or are installing stylish fin antennas optimized for FM and satellite radio. And new composite body materials are hostile to AM reception.
- Digital devices which listeners are adopting so rabidly play hob with AM reception. Thus the imperative that broadcasters also occupy the new platform.
- Simply increasing AM transmitter power won’t help. That’s the short version of math panelists detailed.
- FCC turnaround time and FM translator rules are slowing-down AM broadcasters’ efforts to line-extend to FM. Commissioner Pai wants to make the FCC “as nimble as the industry it regulates.”
- And there’s night time sky wave. Panelist Ben Downs is a Texas broadcaster who owns “one of each” kind of FM and AM stations, including a daytimer which has to kiss-off its audience to protect a distant station “that isn’t serving my market.” His and hundreds of other AMs have to sign-off at sunset “to protect 47 stations.” Ben reckons “[FM] translators are the answer.”
Melody Virtue, with Washington law firm Garvey Schubert Barer, announced that “I’ve had two clients turn in licenses in the 1st quarter due to interference.”
Is it time for AM radio to go-digital cold-turkey, and obsolete some billion receivers now in use? Maybe, if listeners are only using them for 17% of the time. CBS Radio SVP Engineering Glynn Walden oversees some of AM’s bigger sticks, and sounded resigned: “AM band is a hostile environment for transmission and reception, and AM receivers are cheap and bad.”
He figures “It’s time for the FCC to set dates for a digital sunrise and analog sunset.”
But how many new car model years would it take for new digital AM receivers to proliferate? And the elephant in the crowded room which nobody addressed is programming. Will simply improving the delivery of what’s now on AM increase listening? Howard Stern drove satellite radio adoption. HD Radio is stalled without “a Rush Limbaugh.” What must-have content would motivate listeners to buy a new-tech AM radio?
Bookmark Talkers.com for more from the NAB Show, and follow HC on Twitter @HollandCooke. Meet Holland Cooke at Talkers New York 2013.