By Holland Cooke
NBC uses affiliates’ air to ask viewers to watch Peacock instead. They even cannibalize their own linear channels. As President Trump recently addressed Congress, Lester Holt anchored on NBC, while MSNBC “Morning Joe” stars anchored coverage on Peacock. As if Brian Williams + talking-heads on MSNBC and Shepard Smith + talking-heads on CNBC weren’t splintering viewership already.
Weekend cable home-makeover and food shows are hawking the Discovery+ pay-walled app. And “America is Streaming Fox Nation, a service of Fox News” where specials like “The Collapse of Cuomo” and “Tucker Carlson Today” episodes are among on-demand fare for as little as $5.99 a month (or less, if you commit to “Patriot” or “Silver Patriot” packages).
Some baseball games are now seen only on YouTube; as the teams’ own TV channels tell viewers during the previous game.
Back when satellite radio first launched, there was controversy about radio selling them commercials. You might recall Saga dropping “The Sean Hannity Show” because it was also on the bird.
But there was no such hullabaloo when Rush installed the Dittocam and hawked it aplenty. Because its audio was asynchronous to the radio feed, viewers tuned-out affiliates. Stations should have been livid. But by then, “general manager” had devolved into “market manager,” of more stations than any manager could possibly manage, and he or she paid little attention to those three hours on “the AM.” Why bother? Rush was baby-sitting the transmitter.
Fast-forward to present day: Network spots airing on AM/FM stations tout iHeart podcasts. I hear traffic reports “sponsored by The Ben Ferguson Podcast,” among other offerings luring listeners away from transmitters.
This didn’t happen overnight.
Fifteen years ago, sitting in the corner office at WDAY, Fargo, I saw the GM (of radio and TV) blindsided. ON HIS OWN AIR he and I learned that ABC-TV would begin posting “Desperate Housewives,” the morning after, on iTunes for $1.99. His own network hadn’t told him.
A decade ago, as the digital tsunami approached, radio convention keynoters trying not to sound defensive hypothesized: “WHAT IF the Internet came first, THEN broadcast radio came along? It’s FREE, there’s no connection necessary, no buffering, it’s in the car,” etc. “IMAGINE??? Listeners would FLOCK to radio!”
IMAGINE IF, a decade ago, radio wasn’t savaging local programming, which will always be broadcasters’ silver bullet against digital interlopers. Otherwise, why flock? The four words never spoken: “Alexa, play six commercials.” I’m Amazon Prime, so she’ll play me some 2 million songs, no commercials.
Ride the horse in the direction he’s facing
Even before this became one of those trends-already-in-motion which accelerated during the pandemic shutdown, consumption preferences were shifting from real-time/analog content (our on-air program schedule, lately referred to as “the linear feed”) to on-demand/digital (i.e., Netflix, podcasting, etc.). Why wait for “on-the-8s” when traffic and weather are on your phone and in your dashboard?
What’s a station to do? Milk it. At the TALKERS New York conference 20 years ago, Michael Harrison spoke of “the media station.” More recently he and I and Jerry Del Colliano and others have theorized using transmitters to – in movie parlance – “show trailers” of podcasts on what we used to call “the station’s website.” On-air shortform promoting longer-form digital audio/video/text/whatever.
Smart stations are already dabbling, some more intuitively than intentionally. Local advertisers – particularly retail service businesses – tell their stories in ways that don’t fit-into 30- or 60-second audio spots. Those on-air spots invite those-interested to see/hear/read more.
Got a great idea for a weekend show?
Don’t get me wrong. Two of my clients are major syndicated weekend ask-the-expert shows — one on 300-plus stations, the other airing in all 50 states — neither siloed as “a radio show;” both with robust digital architecture, sponsored as such.
Talk stations do continue to be an opportune platform for attorneys and other local service professionals to drum-up leads. On Saturdays, WPRO, Providence has an exterminator! And the guy’s a rock star.
But here’s the problem: Those shows are only heard by those who happen to be listening in real-time, unless that live performance is part of a broader array that includes ROS on-air promos, and Tweets to short topic-specific audio or YouTube links, etc.
Which is the dog and which is the tail is the wrong question.
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