Tuesday, June 26, 2007

HD Radio - Hindsight is 20/20

We all know the saying Hindsight is 20/20 all too well. As I keep looking at HD Radio there are so many things that we, as an industry and Ibiquity as a producer, could have improved on. Here's some thoughts:
  • The Name - HD Radio: HD is quickly becoming all about TV. With all the new flat screens and more and more programming being rolled out and all the marketing on TV that's going on for HDTV it's really confusing the consumer. Imagine if we'd decided to market FM Stereo as - Color Radio. We'd probably still be on AM and the FM band would have been set aside for something else. We could have called it Digital Radio or even better yet we could have built the model around surround sound (digital 360) and instead of just improving the quality in terms of frequency range we could have build a system that would have made the ultimate in car audio and maybe brought back more in-home listening.

  • The Boxes - Does this look Hi-Tech in any way? While there are some other models most are not ground breaking. The satellite radios are a bit more interesting and different looking. After we all saw the 'glow' of the I-Pods it should have been a wake up call that the radio makers needed to at least try for some innovation in the design. We should have and could have focused a lot more on the visual display here. Having pics of the artists, logos, trivia, maybe even some artist history or gossip. But the display is not much more than time/channel and maybe song title if it was programmed in right.

  • The Programming - The rush seemed to be all about variety and the number of channels being offered. Instead of focusing on building unique products hundreds of HD channels in a box were created and a coalition of owners 'issued' the formats out to the member stations so there wouldn't be any 'in-fighting.' Why didn't we focus on building unique products. What if all the efforts were put into some unique offerings like regional/local indie channels aimed at the new indie rock movement and 16-24 year olds that we'd pretty much written off on our main signals? Instead of just a few imaging pieces and a bunch of mp3 files spinning on a computer we could have made a full effort with real jocks, some feature programming, flashy web sites, and had a real radio station here. We've all heard Live365 home brew web stations that sounded better than many of the HD offerings. Getting 1 hit channel would have been worth a lot more than launching 300 channels no one cared about.

  • Marketing - Radio's done a lot here with tons of promo spots all over the bigger markets. The flaws noted in the 'Name' section above are holding back the effort and causing confusion, but at least we have put a message out there. Think about how much stronger the message would be with a unique presentation, programming that catches attention, and some hip-sexy looking products.

Over the next few weeks are going to watch Apple launch the I-Phone. Much like the launch of the I-Pod this product will have a wave of Hyper P1s sign up and praise the product in a cult like progression. From that legion of early adopters (mostly people who were lucky enough to get in line early enough to reserve one and afford $600 for a phone/i-pod) it will likely grow to at least see millions using the product within the first 6 months or so. We've been working on HD Radio for 3 years now and we still don't have a million people able to hear the product.

I do think the I-Phone will not be the runaway hit that I-Pod is for Apple. The launch was well done but Wall Street and so much of the press expects this to be such a huge hit I don't think they will be able to live up to all the spotlight and hype. There are other phones out there with some cool features, ATT doesn't have the strongest network for coverage and data delivery, and the cost of the phones is pretty high. You can get a lot of the features in a phone that comes free with a lot of other services. Still, they have put enough marketing savvy and fuel in the tank to make sure I-Phone gets off the ground. If only HD Radio had done the same.

There's still time to make Digital Radio a success. While we've made some mistakes not enough of the audience knows about it to have formed a negative impression yet. We can't fix the name, but we could start to center the product around surround sound, do more unique programming, aim a lot more HD programming at the under 25 audience and really put an effort into it - not just 'hard drive' it. We could also get the radio mfg folks to put out something sexy - maybe WE should make a cell phone with HD Radio in it - why not?????

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Over Protecting THE Brand

As we passed another gas station with prices above $3.20 a gallon it wasn't hard to imagine that American consumers should be swinging into a mode of car buying where MPG once again matters. You can see it clearly in the marketing for the Hybrids and smaller cars that seem to be moving off the car lots a lot quicker than a few years ago.

We have the Hummer H2 plant in our area and I wondered what impact all the high gas prices were having on their product. They did have a few cutbacks at the end of 06 but seemed to have settled down as we face the highest gas prices of the summer. When I asked a friend who works there what Hummer was planning to do to raise the MPG figures from 13 Highway and 10 City. The plan is to put a 6 speed auto transmission in, tweak the fuel delivery computer, and maybe trim a few pounds. It will likely bring it up to 16 MPG on the Highway.

Hummer H2s have Full Time 4 Wheel Drive or All Wheel Drive. If they put in a switch that would allow you to select 4 wheel drive when you were going off road or in the snow and the rest of the time on the freeway or around town use 2 wheel drive you could add another 5 MPG or maybe even more.

The response from the marketing gurus at GM - THAT WILL RUIN THE BRAND. NO WAY.

Wow a feature that is used probably 1 time a year by a small percentage of the consumers is deemed that important? I guess so.

How many things or pieces to your Brand are we protecting to the point of sort of looking 'stupid.' I can think of many rules we follow in formatics, coaching the air staff, handling promotions, and in scheduling the music that are almost as bad as the GM example above. Can you?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Don't Be Yourself - Be THE AUDIENCE!

How many times have you flipped on the radio and caught the personalities chatting all about THEIR world. What a pain it is when the coffee pot is dirty, the printer is out of ink, Bill doesn't flush, or how they spent their time this weekend hanging out backstage with the stars being pampered. Often you have to wonder if the audience cares at all about the every hassle or activity your personalities are experiencing.

One of the things we will be able to see in analyzing PPM data analysis is that the audience reaction to self indulgence may be even worse than all of us imagined. By tracking listener tune out on the minute by minute data and comparing it to what happened on the air we'll be able to see graphically how damaging these moments are. While we still have to have more time with PPM data to really pull out this kind of analysis we all know in the 'common sense' sector of our brains that it's likely to show up as a key element in tune out. And in a PPM world tune out is directly reflected in the numbers - not just forgotten in a recall game.

While in the studio - protected from the audience by soundproof walls, double pane glass, a transmitter, stl, processing, and a really tall tower it's easy with all the flashing control sliders and computer screens to think that you are the center of the universe.

If that's the thought swirling around your studio its time for a big de-briefing. It might be time to sit down with your air personalities and make sure they know the golden rule - IT'S ALL ABOUT THE AUDIENCE. What are they thinking about, what are they laughing at, and what do they want to know more about? Make that the priority in each break and you will be a star - forget about it and you are just another self centered person behind a mic with some headphones on that thinks they are a big star.

Listen to your breaks all day long - this can easily go on well after the Morning Show has left the studio. Is the content all about ME or is it about the AUDIENCE? While a little of the 'ME' sprinkled in to relate to the AUDIENCE is fine - just remember to keep it in moderation, on topic and planed out. If you just start rambling pretty soon you will forget about the audience and it will all be about you. As you prep for a show look at what your target audience is reading about, following on the web, watching on TV, watching on DVD, going to see at the movies, music they are into, and what news or gossip is in the air today. Make sure your breaks center on those areas and not too much on your personal world.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Rocking at Conclave - and a few notes

It's just over 2 weeks till Conclave in downtown Minneapolis - June 28th - 30th. Still time to register and catch a convention that's really not conventional. Conclave is really a learning conference and fights to stick with that plan. You can learn more here.

For this year's Rock panel Mike Boyle (Rock formats editor for R&R) hosted a number of conference calls with group of Rock Programmers and we came up with a session I hope you will attend. It's on Friday afternoon at 5p so we felt we really had to hit a home run to get you into the room. Here's our plan:

Theme - Rock Radio - Ratings, Revenue and Revolution. The 90 minutes will have 3 20 minutes (or so) devoted to each of the 3 Rs.

  • Ratings - Gary Marince from Arbitron will take a close look at PPM and Rock Radio. Considering the differences we've already seen with the Philly Rock stations showing huge gains in shares this will be a very interesting session. Gary will also look at using PPM data and he promises to also include lots of help and news for the Diary Based markets.
  • Revenue - Jenny Tsao also from Arbitron will take us on a full qualitative tour of rock listeners from Arbitron's extensive qualitative data banks. Rock listeners are very valuable, but we often see sales teams and buyers fail to recognize their worth. Jenny will give you lots of facts to take back to your sales teams and show them the true value of rock radio.
  • Revolution - Jennifer Williams from Greater Media's Internet/new media arena will show us all the fast changing and evolving world of the Web in radio. From streaming to personal networks Jennifer promises to give you tons of tools to take back to your web world.

There will be plenty of time for questions and input from you in the audience. Just make sure you're there. Plenty of time after for a few beers and fun on the town in the twin cities.

Shifting gears a little - 3 items from scanning the news to get the week going:

  • New Media conference - They wrapped up in NYC and while New Media might imply an Internet conference it is mostly about talk radio and syndication. Of course the news from the meetings was - Talk Radio Has A Huge Future on FM. It's an idea that's been pushed for the last 10 or 12 years. We've pretty much seen the Free - FM CBS FM talk stations fail and most who have tried the format end up with a huge talent bill and not much for numbers. I don't get what the talk guys see here?

  • Zune tops 1 million - WOW - Microsoft with millions to spend and it takes a year to sell a million Zune players. I don't know if I'd be having a party with that news.

  • Paul McCartney #1 - Paul's new cd on the 'Starbucks' label with a new distribution system ends up #1. Paul is a legend and there is some good music on the CD, but #1!!! Good for Paul but it does say something. Older consumers will buy new music from established stars - but you are not going to sell it to them in the traditional spots - Radio included.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Are You Boring????

Another Monday as Summer Revs up and we're into the last Phase of the Spring Arbitron. Soooo what's going on on the radio? If all you have going on this week is a remote or 2 to sell cars, bars or cell phones and a few giveaway trinkets in the lunch show Bass Akwards contest how do you expect to shine? Is your 'blackboard' of things happening on the air blank like the pic here.

As we work with stations in today's multi station clusters on what happens on air after the morning show we often find a lot of effort to get Selector and the digital system all set up and running. The next 'big' effort usually goes into imaging and production between the records then the air staff, promotions, and special programing/features. But, with PDs often working with multiple stations and sales teams that sell multiple signals some of the stations fall between the cracks. These stations often have to make things happen with less resources. That shouldn't stop you from making the station exciting. You have a whole city, lots of other entertainment to link up with, and a big group of people to interact and party with (your audience).

Just having a good music mix and some creative sweepers isn't going to make any station a winner. The audience has tons of internet stations with unique hyper niche music mixes that we could never attempt with just music on them. There has to be something going on that's going to attract attention on a regular basis. It can be 'on air' or 'in the community' but if all you are working with is that music mix and a few sweepers you are in a sword fight with a tree branch.
Look at your blackboard - is it blank? Even if it's just a big party for the opening night for Pirates at the movie theatre, or a countdown for when Paris goes to Jail, a bar night to watch the last episode of 24 for the season, or a special preview night for the new Linkin Park album - get something going. Even if you have to 'make it up' get out and get going. All it takes is a calendar, a few brainstorm/idea sessions, an awareness of what the target audience is into, and the space to talk about it on the air.