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Peek Inside: NAB Futures 2013

| November 7, 2013

By Holland Cooke
Radio Consultant


LAGUNA BEACH, CA — You’re more familiar with the National Association of Broadcasters’ other conventions.  Its April show in Las Vegas attracts 90,000+ from around the world.  And The Radio Show, co-produced with the Radio Advertising Bureau, recently wrapped in Orlando.

You may have attended either or both.  But odds are you’ve not been to – or even heard of – the annual NAB Futures conference…until now.  Futures is an invitation-only event for TV and radio CEO types, and attendance is limited to 65.  And, as its name implies, this is a think tank about how broadcasters can embrace and exploit the “disruption” that has changed how consumers consume media.

The enigma of this elite event has always intrigued me; so imagine how flattered I was to be invited to keynote NAB Futures 2013.  You can see video of my presentation at, where you’ll also have dibs on multimedia handouts I included.

“Free is better than a fee, and that architecture is fundamentally better than wireless.”

With new-tech delivery challenging transmitters for listeners’/viewers’ attention, NAB President & CEO Gordon Smith opened Futures2013 by reminding attendees that AM/FM/TV is an enduring, robust platform:  “I’ll bet every gadget you saw [at the Consumer Electronics Show 10 years ago] is in a junk pile now.”

Smith served two terms in the United States Senate, and admits that members of Congress ask him, “Isn’t broadcasting in decline?”  He grinned, “People keep coming back to us.”

  • He told radio attendees: “I don’t think the phone companies have as good content as you do.”
  • And Smith cautioned TV broadcasters that their mission should be “How to monetize mobility. Otherwise, you’re relegated to the living room.”

Highlights & Sound Bites

Even typing as fast as I could, I couldn’t capture all of Futures2013 in my notes.  And I don’t say so to be coy, or because NAB asked me to embargo what transpired at this executive gathering.  Like any convention, much of the value of being there is…convening.  We attend conferences to…confer.  So, as you can imagine, agenda aside, conversations at this level are darn thought provoking.

That said, fundamentals outlined by three speakers do translate well in the re-telling: 

“When companies adopt technology, they do old things in new ways.  When companies internalize technology, they find disruptive new things to do.”

James McQuivey is VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research and the author of Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation, highly recommended reading for broadcasters (Amazon Publishing).

  • Netflix now has more subscribers than HBO, “and Netflix knows each one by name.”
  • “iPad Nation would be 7th largest country in the world.”  Projections: #5 in a year.

“30 years ago is not today.  When distribution was king, radio had a special place in the car.”

Scott Burnell is Global Lead, Business Development & Partner Management, Ford Motor Company.

    • “‘Mobile’ has changed everything, regardless of what industry you’re in.”
    • “There is NOT gonna be a Ford without AM/FM radio.”
    • New-tech dashboard “personalization is gonna be HUGE.”
    • Making drivers want to select radio “is your problem” as broadcasters.
    • Radio enters the new-tech dashboard advantaged by existing listener cred.  Tell listeners “This is where you find us now.”
    • “Your content should be everywhere,” for “discoverability” AND use.

“We don’t think we’re part of a generation. We think we’re special and unique.”

You may have seen Jason Dorsey, “The Gen Y Guy”, on “60 Minutes” or other shows and on cable news channels.  He’s introduced as “an expert in Millennials strategy, and a Gen Y’er who texts his mom every day” [].

Jason laughed aloud when, over dinner the night before his presentation, I recalled how, in 1985 at WTOP, Washington, we were herded into the business manager’s office and shown how to use the new fax machine.  “Technology is only new if you remember a time before,” Dorsey reckons.  And he disputes the common perception that Millennials are “tech savvy.”  “They’re tech-DEPENDENT.”

And media courting Gen Y attention need to meet the test other devices they use pass: “How simple can you make it so it just works?”

      • As someone who writes lots of station promos, I regard that prescription as not just hardware-related.  Dorsey recommends-against “award-winning” and other boastful station imaging.
      • The #1 thing Gen Y looks for in news: “It HAS to feel authentic.”  They don’t trust “packaged,” and “expect interaction.  News is a shared experience.  We expect it to be unique & local to us.”

Why the fuss over Millennials?

      • This year in the USA, they’ll spend $1.2 trillion.  By 2017 Gen Y will out-spend Baby Boomers.
      • This is the generation most likely to refer products/services to friends.

“For the first time ever, there are 4 generations in the workplace, and 5 in the marketplace.”
Because he was addressing a room full of your boss’ boss types, Dorsey spoke to Human Resources implications, how management can handshake a generation wired differently:

        • They have more college degrees than any other generation in USA history.
        • Gen Y-ers start work 4 years older than Boomers and X-ers now running companies they work for.  Many live in a “Delayed Adulthood” mode, enjoying the freedom of being an adult without the accompanying responsibilities. Gen Y pegs “adulthood” at 30.

What’s with The Attitude?

        • Guilty as typecast.  “Gen Y often feels entitled.”  But, Jason was quick to note: “You are not born entitled, you’re raised that way.”  Boomer parents awarded trophies to all players, not just the winners.
        • As much as older folk disapprove of this attitude, Dorsey says that the generation most-offended by it is Gen Y-ers who don’t act entitled.
        • Before, as an employer, you ask Gen Y-ers “Don’t you know better?” than showing-up-late and other slacker behavior, think “Maybe not.”

Communication Breakdown

“A person’s relationship with technology only surfaces when you encounter a person who has a different relationship with technology.”  So employers/employees have to adjust to each other’s generational preferences.

        • Far-and-away, Millennials’ “default method” is texting.  “Real friends don’t call,” because many in Gen Y regard phone calls as “an invasion of our privacy.”
        • Email at work?   “Gen Y only reads the Subject line.”

If you hire or manage, you will find useful insight in Jason’s book Y-Size Your Business: How Gen Y Employees Can Save You Money and Grow Your Business (Wiley).


Holland Cooke (@HollandCooke) is a media consultant working at the intersection of Talk Radio and the Internet, and covers industry conferences for Talkers and RadioInfo 


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Category: Analysis