Thursday, August 16, 2007

14-24s Radio's Lost Generation - Under 14s Radio's New Frontier


Remember when you got that long awaited new toy back in your pre-teen days? That extra cool electronic device, maybe a guitar, an Atari game system or a fancy new bike that you just had to have. You shed other interests or gave up other desires for that magic 'thing' that you thought would be the ultimate. Then after you played with it for a week or maybe a few months or maybe even a year somehow the magic just wore off. It sat in the corner or maybe it broke and it just faded into the pile of junk we seem to gather in life. Suddenly something else came along that looked a lot more interesting or perhaps it didn't live up to all your expectations and you moved on.

As we look at all the new media toys like IPods, Internet radio stations like Slacker or Pandora, Satellite Radio, I Phones, the latest Cell phones, social networking, IM, text messaging, video sites and whatever is next on the web that challenges radio for entertainment you can bet that a lot of them could end up just being the new toys for the 14-24s or Millennial generation.

Remember that the Millennial generation (born from the early 80s to 2000) are the first generation that largely grew up in the personal computer age. When they hit elementary school in the mid-late 80s the Apple computer was already in nearly every classroom. Most in the U.S. saw a computer enter the home and have some Internet access in their teens and the younger ones have never lived in a home without a computer, over 50 cable channels, VCRs, DVDs, complex gaming systems, hand held games, cell phones and the web with high speed access at their finger tips. They have embraced all the new technology and shunned the old much like the boomers jumped on TV, instant world communication, and jet travel.

Radio's role with the Millennial generation was clearly diminished because Radio didn't pay much attention to this new emerging generation. Spending it's merger and Wall Street diminished programming resources on the older 25-54 generation deemed more instantly rewarding by the forces in command, radio began to fade. But, so did broadcast TV, the record industry, and land line telephones. The Millennial generation had NEW TOYS to play with and try out.

But, how long will the new toys last? Look at the cell phone in your hand. If it's more than 2 years old chances are it's starting to look like a relic. Even if you are a tech savvy person you probably never even figured out all it's toys or uses. Even my daughter's phone has lots of features that she rarely uses or doesn't want to bother with.

Remember all this new media technology is new. While logging on the Slacker Radio looks like an ultimate personalized web radio station programming it to play your favorite songs takes hours and hours of sorting through thousands of selections. Building and maintaining your IPod that holds thousands of songs is a daunting task ripping CDs into I Tunes and spending time every couple of weeks downloading new songs. Then you have to rate them, build playlists, and keep the database up to date so you can find that favorite within the thousands of titles. Building that cool Face Book or My Space site may be fun at first, but maintaining it and keeping up with all the friends, adding new pics, adding video clips and communicating with all these friends that may live on the other side of the country. It could be so complex and time consuming that sooner or later the new toy starts to sit in the corner.

You also have a new generation on the way that's younger than the Millennial generation. Right now they are under 10 years old. Will they be as excited about all this new media as the older generation above them? Or will they more likely establish their own turf starting 5 years from now as the first of them enters high school?

If radio starts thinking and planning now latching on to this new generation could be the 'turnaround wave.' Will they rebel against all the pitfalls of lives on the web and seek more personal and imaginative communication and entertainment options? Could radio's simplicity of use and low cost coupled with links to the new media world be an attraction to younger audiences again? As we look at some of the research done on the younger side and the early PPM results we see radio having an impact in the younger side.

It's a possibility but we'll need some help from the top levels in our industry, music, ratings services actually doing a representative job measuring the new generation, and a realization that this audience has marketing value from the agencies and sales forces. Arbitron is already moving to younger demo measurement in the PPM system moving below 12 year olds. We will likely have more stable samples as we move away from the 1 week diary measurement to longer term behavior data. We will also have new bands (if HD ever happens) and at least opportunities to provide stronger products in the Internet broadcasting field. Hopefully our hunger and need to reinvent ourselves will lead us to entertain and program to have an impact in this emerging generation.

Radio could be HIP again! But, we need to start planning now.

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