#Conclave42

| July 28, 2017

By Holland Cooke
Media Consultant

 

MINNEAPOLIS — Each year, “The Conclave Summer Learning Conference” draws a largely Midwest crowd; so – with all the great radio in the region – it’s an opportunity to talk shop with genuinely enthused broadcasters.  Applause to Cumulus/Westwood One VP/social Lori Lewis, this year’s conference chair.

Opening Session: “Ask Me Almost Anything”

Did I say “enthused?”  Sound bites from the suits:

Greg Strassell, SVP/programming, Hubbard Radio

  • “There’s nothing better than being the program director of a radio station. I think that’s the best job ever.  You get out of radio what you put into it.”
  • “The smaller the market, the more we in bigger markets can learn.”
  • “There’s a sea of choices for music. The radio audience wants to be entertained.”
  • “Audio on-demand is always going to be there. It’ll get bigger and bigger and bigger.”

Bill Hendrich, EVP/radio, Cox Media Group

  • “Develop talent and great things are going to happen.”
  • “We have the ability to make our communities act. Newspapers cannot move a community.”
  • When the rep brings a digital person on a sales call, “the prospect will turn toward the digital person and away from the rep.”
  • “The language will change. We’ll be selling ‘audience’ {not ‘radio’].”
  • Compensation plans now bonus on social media engagement. So “you become very hard to let go” if you do social well, and voicetrack-to-other-markets well. “That’s just smart business on your part.”

Peter Bowen, VP/market manager, Cumulus/Chicago

  • “Make sure the team has what it needs to win.”
  • “Are they fulfilled? Do they like being here?  Are they challenged?  What are they doing?  What are they thinking?  Are we talking enough?”
  • “Radio has been ‘going out of business’ since they put 8-tracks in woody station wagons.”
  • “2 things make a great day in my world: empty email box;.and visiting our markets,” where he says he “blocks out other problems” and “commits to being present.”

Kevin Legrett, president/Southwest Region, iHeartMedia

  • “People consume more audio now than ever. The #1 consumer electronics purchase is headphones.”
  • “Listeners are fueled by personalities. It’s the people, the people, the people.” He says he gets jazzed just walking into the building in Los Angeles, where “350 people milling around every day.”
  • When evaluating talent: “What is their social following? This is really, really important;”and factors into casting decisions: “Do we continue investing in that person or don’t we?”
  • Apropos radio’s big story, the Entercom/CBS merger: “The passion that [Entercom CEO] David [Field] has for radio is going to help us all.”

Inevitable topic: PPM:

  • Greg Strassell: Nielsen adding to sample size is “a step in the right direction.” Still, he urges programmers to look at quarterly trends, rather than reacting to wobbles.
  • Ditto Bill Hendrich, who has “concerns about the anomalies in many, many markets.”
  • Peter Bowen confessed that “I feel for the programmers and on-air talent,” who are compensated on ratings performance, when sample size produces inconsistent results. And his experience dictates that “when you have something nobody else has, you see it.  Example: When the White Sox get hot, and WLS benefits from play-by-play.
  • Like other panelists, Kevin Legrett praised Nielsen’s responsiveness to station concerns, but “I would rather be performing surgeries than autopsies.”

During Q+A, an attendee who does station imaging asked what stations are looking for.  Consensus: Authenticity.

“Alexa is The New Radio in Homes”

So-called smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo, Tap, and Dot (“Alexa”) and Google’s Home – and Apple’s forthcoming digital concierge – could cure a big problem: No AM/FM receivers in my homes.

  • 6 million Americans have a smart speaker, and use it at least monthly (eMarketer)
  • Forecast: By 2018, 60% of homes will have one or more ( Radioplayer research)
  • By 2020: 75% of homes (Gartner Research)

What’s more, Cumulus/San Francisco VP/digital Justin Hach reminds, “the geographic insulation you have with radio is gone with digital.”  So don’t just think “transmitter” as you execute.  “Have a road map of everywhere listeners are going to touch your brand, understand how the user is going to come into contact,” and message accordingly.

To that point, here’s something Alexa taught me: She might not call your station the same thing you do.

  • Hach played us a YouTube video explaining that listeners need to ask for “K-F-O-G,:” because Alexa doesn’t know “K-fog.” I’ve learned to ask for client WXDE as “Delaware One Hundred Five Point Nine,” because she doesn’t think of us as “Delaware One Oh Five Nine.”  But kudos to the station for good meta data.  When I say “Play The Susan Monday Show,” Alexa finds the WXDE stream on TuneIn.
  • TuneIn chief content office Kevin Straley – a former radio PD – says “We’re working with Amazon on a weekly basis, sending them reams of data, i.e., ‘You’re getting these station names wrong;’” and explaining to Alexa how how “Point” in FM stations’ spoken dial position =  “dot” in meta data she’s fed..
  • And like Internet domain names, whoever gets there first wins. For instance, Alexa only knows one “Z100,” and it’s not the one in New York.

Admittedly, much of what was offered in this session was too complicated for attendees to fully digest.  This technology is that new.

  • Takeaway #1 seemed to be: Learn how to do “Flash Briefings,” which Straley described as “a short piece of content that a listener self-selects” (what we think of as short “newscast”). Listeners might subscribe to BBC’s version, but we have local news, so we need to get up to speed on this.
  • Because smart speaker innards are outside of broadcasters’ skill set, various vendors want to sell you what they call “skills” (how to help smart speakers find you easily). But panelists concurred with what I’ve learned from Alexa: She can probably find you via TuneIn and/or iHeart.  When I ask her to “play WPRO on TuneIn,” she tells me it isn’t there and that she’s “searching iHeart,” where she quickly finds it.  So you owe it to yourself to get one of these devices and get a feel for it.

Straley figures it’s sure worth the effort, calling this “an incredibly exciting time to be in audio programming,” and that smart speaker owners who might not use AM/FM in-home are “a new audience.”

“Podcasting: Everybody’s Doing It”

We live in an on-demand culture, enabled by DVR, Netflix, etc.  “In a digital world, people are really driven by convenience,” per 93X/Minneapolis PD Derek Madden.  “They want what they want, when they want it, on any device they want.”  The medium is still growing, because, as Matt Cundill, host of The Sound Off Podcast put it: “If you have a smartphone, you can listen to a podcast right now, but a lot of people aren’t making that connection.”

And fellow panelist Bob Greenlee, head of content, Spreaker.com, sees podcasting as a cume opportunity, because it’s “a word-of-mouth medium.  People share podcasts.”

And with advertising dollars moving from legacy media to digital, radio stations are getting serious about podcasting,  Madden says staff buy-in is critical: “Podcasting shouldn’t be top-down [assigned by management].”  It should be something that you want to do, ideally a topic that’s a personal passion.

Greenlee suggests “look at the talent at your radio station, you may have talent there that you don’t know about,” staffers who “can go into niche topics.” Cudhill quipped “This where all the overnight talent went;” and he observes that opportune topics “like those ‘Sunday Night Specials’ are reappearing in podcast form.”

“DO repurposing of content [airchecks on demand] to have it in that space,’ Madden told us, but “it’s also important to have original content.  Try things!”  Cudhill shared “I love to talk about wrestling.  Turn THAT into a podcast.”  Your topic “doesn’t have to be on-brand with what’s on-air.  If you have a passion, do a podcast.”

Other tips:

  • Greenlee: “Pacing is much slower” than typical broadcast delivery. “The listening experience is headphones,” so change mic technique accordingly.  “It’s a real one-on-one feel.”
  • Great conversations click.
  • And “we’re seeing lots of growth around story-telling.”
  • “Music is mostly a no-no in podcasting,” unless it’s your own music., or you have specific permission.
  • Panelist consensus: Don’t over-estimate listeners’ attention. Get-right-to-the-point.
  • Still, Cundill reminds, “There’s no format clock”

Four Big Questions Facing the Radio Industry

Paul Jacobs, president, jacApps asked, and answered:

1.  What is “radio?”  It includes what AM/FM listeners also consume via smartphones, smart TV & in-car apps, smart watches, Alexa, whatever.  Broadcasters can either “lay back and let it happen, or climb-on it.”

2. What are the metrics that matter? On-air programming has ratings, estimates at best.  Now, “how do we bonus our talent if 24% of the audience is accessing us digitally?”  That’s not just a curiosity any more.  “Where is the revenue growth coming from?  Digital!”

But “How do you measure Facebook other than by Likes?”  Jacobs quoted Ford Motor Company’s Dave DiMeo, who disperses all his company’s co-op money: “I don’t want to pay for ears.  I want to pay for actions.”  The Ford exec likes digital’s perceived accountability: “We now have the ability to correlate the message with action at the dealership.  We now have the ability to justify the spend.”

3.  What is content? “Will a morning show be 4 hours?” Jacobs asked, “or a collection of segments?”  And our work “is no longer just a 24/7 stream,” by virtue of podcasting; and “smart speakers enable us to create a whole new layer of content that is consumed in-home. We are in a time of shorter segments and different distribution,” all sponsorable.

4.  What is Radio’s Place in the Car? “It’s radio’s #1 listening location;” but “when listeners get in the car and plug in their phone, the radio disappears.”  So ensure that your app is encoded for Apple & Android dashboard use.

Bottom line in Paul Jacobs’ view: “We are no longer in the ‘radio’ business.”

Over lunch, Paul’s brother, Jacobs Media president Fred Jacobs offered that broadcasters face what he termed “the challenge of the 21st Century, with disruption in the air.  Your competition isn’t just the other country station.”  Yet, in his view, “there is no better time to make an impact in radio than right now.”  The key, he says is “learning how to manage these new arts & crafts,”which, he says “will set you apart.”

Beyond edition #42 of The Conclave fulfilling its “Learning Conference” moniker, it delivered what worthwhile conventions do, an opportunity to…convene, and do what radio people find most useful, to think aloud.  As Fred put it: “The smartest person in the room is the room.

Holland Cooke (HollandCooke.com) is a media consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet; and he covers industry conferences for Talkers.  Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke.

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Category: Analysis