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CES2021: Technology Is Merely the Plumbing

| January 14, 2021

By Holland Cooke


BLOCK ISLAND, RI — Today wraps the (virtual) convention reporters are scolded for calling “the Consumer Electronics Show.” Years ago, the Consumer Electronics Association changed its name to Consumer Technology Association, as tech things became mere vessels for user experiences.

Radio first-timers I’ve nagged-into attending CES were, at first, intimidated. Even before the pandemic turned life upside-down, technology was changing our lives, every day, in almost every way. Then came 2020, and while many industries took a brutal hit, tech sales grew 5% last year, to $442 billion in retail value.

Trends already in motion have accelerated.

31% of that do-re-mi was spent on “services” i.e., video streaming ($41 billion), and gaming ($47B), and various audio sources other than AM/FM radio. Legacy TV is also challenged, even as 2020 TV sales were best-ever while we were in #StayHome mode.

  • We’re hearing broadcast radio and TV station content pigeonholed as “linear,” meaning real-time; as opposed to the on-demand mode which was finding such traction even before all the sampling listeners and viewers are doing during the shutdown.
  • And broadcasters are abetting the migration. Turn on your NBC affiliate and you’ll see its network inviting viewers to watch Peacock instead. Your radio station is clearing network spots for iHeart and other podcast platforms.
  • Scramble-as-we-do to invite station listening via digital devices, they’re in-cahoots too. In-car, I can hear client stations via iTunes through the dashboard. Listening to a station in Texas, I heard spots for advertisers here in Rhode Island plugged-into the stream. And lots of ads for iTunes podcasts.
  • Expect more. While we were cooped-up in 2020, smartphone sales plateaued. Consumer Technology Association research forecasts 2021 sales +5% as 5G proliferates (and will enable apps not yet imagined that will compete for Time Spent Listening).

Silver bullet: Solid local

None of this happened overnight. A dozen years ago, as I sat there with the GM at WDAY TV and radio in Fargo, we learned – not from his network, but on his own TV air – that then-megahit “Desperate Housewives” would be available morning-after on iTunes. Irksome? You bet. But it didn’t cost him a dime, because his ABC6 is one of those stations whose local news Share equals all-the-other-stations-combined. Do TV stations wish Netflix didn’t exist? Sure, but there’s no local news on Netflix.

Meanwhile, FAQ #1 that rings my phone is anxious Rush Limbaugh affiliates asking “Who next???” (https://www.talkers.com/2021/01/04/monday-memo-who-will-replace-rush/).

  • When, logically, I suggest going-local in those hours, FAQ #2 is “Who?” It’s a daunting question after decades of syndication clobbered radio’s farm team.
  • Done right, local content sure will define and distinguish your station among all the audio choices that crowd listeners’ and advertisers’ choice set.
  • Admittedly this is stretch goal, but aim this high, and it will ROI like crazy: https://www.talkers.com/2020/10/07/2020-radio-show-what-business-are-you-in-now/

Dubious: Radio’s comfort with business-as-usual in such unusual times  

In a CES2021 session, Jeff Schwartz from Deloitte consulting reported a 13% INCREASE in productivity — almost an extra day of output per week — from employees working at home, where many will continue to, rather than spending TSL in-car commuting.

Even before grim history we witnessed last week at the U.S. Capitol, angry old white guys was not a demographic growth cell. And while talk radio’s grievance/resentment format persists as President Trump exits, cheerful Tom Hanks will emcee live star-studded virtual Inauguration night festivities on ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, MSNBC, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, Amazon Prime Video, Microsoft Bing, NewsNOW, DirectTV and U-verse. Fox News Channel? As Trump would say, “We’ll see what happens.”

Morning in America? Fingers crossed. In his CES session, Deloitte’s Schwartz cited Google data: “Twice as many people in 2020 searched ‘How to make the world better’ than searched ‘How to get back to normal.’”

Stay safe.

Holland Cooke is the author of the E-book “Multiply Your Podcast Subscribers, Without Buying Clicks,” available from Talkers books (click the banner on this page). He is a consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet.  And HC hosts “The Big Picture” TV show Friday nights at 7ET on RT America.  Follow HC on Twitter @HollandCooke

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Category: Analysis