Monday, March 31, 2008

Using Your GUT

So often as we brainstorm and look for ways to keep entertaining the audience there comes a time when you have to use your gut instincts. While we have all seen and done lots of research in radio over the last 25 years there are lots of times when research just doesn't give us any answers or direction.

Imagine if you had to research the success of a TV show like Seinfeld. How would you even describe it? Even after you outlined the characters and laid out a funny summary of a show how would the audience be able to see the characters, the potential for humor or the entertainment value of the show? Even though it became a big enough hit for Jerry to retire on with millions it took almost 2 seasons to even show promise with the audience. I bet if you looked at the early research on the show you'd probably give it the axe.

Obviously someone at NBC used their gut and kept with it.

No doubt you've got a personality, a promotion idea, a unique feature or a stunt that turned into a success without research or even the thought of it. We used to have more of these moments in Radio, but the 'prove it before you commit' moment has clearly been holding us back for a number of years. In may cases you can hear stations that haven't had a good idea since two for Tuesday and others that have flamed out with way too many ideas.

Here are a few thoughts as you prepare to put your gut on the line:

  • The Balance of Art and Science: When the age of research in radio was still very young in the early 80s rock consultant Lee Abrams was probably the first to tell all of us about the need to balance the data (science) we were seeing with the creativity (art) we all needed to keep injecting into the products. It still applies today. Research has probably taken on a lot more weight on the scales which makes the art side a lot more important. Keep that balance in mind all the time and your product will be a lot more entertaining than it is.

  • You Still Need A Plan: You just can't throw ideas all over the room or station without having a plan to organize them, execute them and make sure they balance with the science side of programming.

  • Become the Audience: Get out of the studio and the station with your ideas and try and hear/visualize them from the audience's perspective. Remember it's about the audience not about our internal world.

  • Leave Room for Improv: While you need that plan (the science) you also have to have room to make it spontaneous (or at least sound that way). You also need to make room for the last minute - on the spot ingredient that is key to radio's uniqueness.

  • Know where you're going: What is the punch line, where is the exit, who has the joke, what are you trying to promote? Make sure the goal you had when reached for your gut is still attainable in the execution.

  • Don't Over cook: Nothing worse than a burnt steak - if it's a little undercooked you can still send it back for a little more heat. Once it's burnt it's toast.

  • Be Paitent - It takes time to make creativity stick with the audience. They may not get it right away and that may be the big reason it works in the end.

These tips may sound like we are going back and forth - and we are. That's how you balance Art and Science.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Main Street Is What Counts

There is a lot of stuff going on over on Wall Street and in D.C. The CCU drama, stock prices, the economy, station values, the satellite merger, and the 'new tech' all painting a gloomy or confusing picture for radio. It often feels like we are all fighting for the life of our industry.

While all this may be very important stuff the way we can all contribute to creating a much brighter picture and getting over the storm is to focus our energies on MAIN STREET.

It's obvious that while Wall Street may provide capital the revenue and the audience that helps generate it comes from Main Street. While Wall Street seems filled with wild expectations, big drama as money changes hands or is fought over, and greed Main Street is far more manageable. It's actually a place where we can help business' build their images and cash flow. It's a place where we can serve and entertain the community.

Instead of wringing our hands over all the issues that will be covered endlessly in the trades Radio can emerge if we do what we do best. So let's get to work planning and creating the best programming and sales efforts we can. Staying positive is where we need to start and there is no more positive place than the comfort of our Main Streets.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Future of In Car Tech

We've seen the promise from Ford with the Sync system. Seen the in dash navigation systems. Watched a DVD in the back seat with the kids. So what technology is heading for the car and which of the new devices is important to the driver/audience?

Recently Forbes Auto did a survey and an article on 5 trends in the dashboard that are coming on and followed up with a survey on their usefulness and which ones the audience is excited about. Along with a general survey of the options they wanted the most in their cars.

The innovations included:

In Car Computing - A full WiFi based system that goes on-line and can store videos and music as well as surf the net and listen to Internet radio.

Factory Infusion - A complete control system for the car controlled by speaking. It's like the Ford Sync system but it goes further to heat, defrost, traction control, wipers, headlamps, etc.

In Car Navigation - We've all seen this and it's pretty much heading towards standard equipment.

Blue Tooth - We've also seen this and it's probably going to be standard as more cities outlaw driving while talking on a cell phone without a headset or hands free.

MP3/Ipod connectivity - From just having a jack to plug in to having a full interface with an Ipod to connect to the radio with full quality.
On to the survey - which innovations impressed the drivers?

A study conducted by GfK Custom Research, based in New York, asked adults what options they would be interested in having on their car: GPS Navigation was the most-desired technology out of the five spotlighted in this article. Internet access was the least desired of all, with 24 percent of respondents expressing interest. Built-in Bluetooth capability was likewise near the bottom in terms of desirability, with 38 percent of those surveyed expressing interest.

Low-tech and long-used remote starting systems that allow vehicles to be started and warmed up without having to get in the car and turn the ignition topped GfK's list.

Gee they see the advantages of GPS and getting the car started from the store before you get in. The rest of all the high tech stuff looks like it's cool for the geeks and makes the car companies think they are going to sell more with all this innovation and gadgets. The reality is that driving the vehicle comes first and surfing the Internet or trying to control the car by yelling at it isn't high on the list. While we may all fear the Internet coming to the car it doesn't look like the audience sees a lot of advantages in having it on the dashboard. Perhaps they are worried that driving is already getting distracting enough as we watch people weaving down the road as if they are drunk only to see at the light that they are just talking on their cell phones.
You can read the article from Yahoo here.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Radio's Real Advantages Go Ignored

Sometimes in our effort to 'keep up' with all the new technology and the 'cool of new' we forget a lot of the real advantages our media has.

Radio is simple to operate. For the most part you turn it on, simply adjust the volume and select the station from your favorites already punched in. No need to download anything, remember complicated web addresses, or try typing words on the numeric keyboard.

It's portable. You can take it anywhere and get solid reception for the most part. The radios are as small as I Pods or big as a wall - take your pick.

Quality. Compared to the small speakers in a laptop or always using earbuds the quality is really much better than most streams and reception is really more reliable.

We know the technology. A 5 year old can work the average car radio with little instruction. Even the 60 year old computer novice can easily get the radio to work.
There's a long ways to go to get WiFi everywhere and reliable. Look at cell phones where they have been trying to get a reliable network up for over 20 years. They still struggle, as we've all experienced, and still have one of their big advertising points around reception. What do you think it will take to WiFi the world? It could go even slower. We don't have the frequency bandwidth to auction off that we used to.

In the end perhaps radio's problem with the image we have now with the younger audience and with clients of not being 'cutting edge', or 'hip' lies in our presentation both on the air and on the streets.
On the air we haven't really evolved much - the same tactics, formats, and imaging styles have been around for decades. The look of the new radios isn't much to marvel at either - this is one of the big keys in the failure of HD radio to catch on. You don't see much new in radios, like more display screens for the RDS data. How about a system to send pictures and more data on the RDS system - just having a few text lines is very limited. While we can't push the set makers much we can work with the on-air sound and start exploring new imaging, formatics, music rotations, personalities, and promotion tactics.

On the client side radio seems to be trying to do some Internet integration into the packages and maybe a few new power point tricks in the presentations, but is that our real advantage? No doubt we need to integrate the power of our brand into the Internet, but it might be more important to sell our real advantage. That is the large reach we still have. Radio reaches over 90% of the market and it covers a specific territory. A local business or location can rely on radio to deliver an audience that is within the reach of the store or stores. Not in Russia. Is there a great website that reaches that much of the market where you can advertise on? Maybe the Google start page, but the only thing on it is their logo and the blank box to search with.

It's also a big audience. PPM has pretty much proven that you can take your CUME audience and double it for a conservative estimate of the real reach of your station. For most that's a big number. Perhaps we need a new number here - instead of the CPP or CPM how about CPC (Cost Per Cume). Take a market like Madison WI where the top cuming station is around 90,000 in Arbitron without PPM - the number in PPM is probably closer to 200,000. That's nearly half of the 1/2 million that live in the metro. Even at $200 a spot the cost per Cumer is $.00125. Now that's pretty cheap - probably less than any Google Adword that hits that many people in your market.

I know selling with CUME is probably harder than doing our pitches in Latin, but CUME will be evolving to the be the new advantage of radio and perhaps the new currency of selling tactics. It's going to take re-trainng the buyers, clients, and most importantly the sales teams. Cume is going to be our new friend and we need to learn how to use it in sales.

We have a lot going for us in this new era, but we need to get our confidence back and make the most of our positive points as we also explore ways to work with the new media opportunities. Right now our industry looks like we are surrendering and whining towards depression. Let's get our head out of the sand and realize that we're still above ground. Let's vow to make radio about the future not the past.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Congratulations to THE BEAR - Edmonton

Winning awards is always great. It's even better when you know the winners and have watch them work hard to put together an exceptional station and watch it win in ratings and see that revenue graph go up.

At the recent Canadian Music Week convention The Bear from Edmonton pulled in both the Best Rock Station for the year and also their morning show - The Paul Brown Show - rakes in the Best Morning Show award. It's rare for a station to walk away with both, the Morning Show award covers all formats and there is lots of talent in markets like Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, etc.

Just got back from spending a few days with the Bear team and while there was some celebration and local press - it's right back to work. Congratulations.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It's About The AUDIENCE

Ever been listening to the radio and heard the jock talk all about their world. "They were off on a vacation and are a little off tonight since they are jet lagged." "They have a dog that just wants to go out every 2 hours." Do you really care????

Probably not, but we hear these kind of breaks all the time. As if exposing little details of someones personal life is so important or entertaining to the audience that they will hang around the break, through the commercials and perhaps some songs they don't like just to hear all about someones little personal issues?

While great personalities can get away with a few tid-bits about themselves as antidotes in a bit or setting we all hear moments where the interpretation of 'being a personality' means revealing more about your personal life. As if that's entertainment? It might be if you are such a captivating person or star that your every move was entertaining. Sorry, but it's probably not as entertaining to the listener as you may think.

Remember to the listener it's about THEM - not you. If your experience or story can somehow entertain them or be funny it's worth it. If not it's just more dribble in a world filled with dribble.

Yes, you are important and you have the mic but the audience is who you have to entertain. The people on the air who become personalities look first at the audience and then relate to them. Have you looked first at the audience???? Ask that first.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Year of 25-34s FINALLY!!!!

In this week's Arbitron Advisory Board meetings build up it looks like the main issue on the table is SAMPLE. Advisory Board leader Chuck DuCoty sums up the agenda in his press conference call - 'Sample Sample Sample.' Chuck (a fine programmer before he crossed over to the GM and now COO chair) hits it on the head and now it looks like Arbitron is at least ready to go to work.

Arbitorn Exec Pierre Bouvard has now declared 2008 as the 'The Year of 25-34s.' This after declaring that Arbitron's recent campaign to get 18-24 returns up was improving. But, most of that was centered around the PPM markets in Philly and Houston. Even after PPM rolls out there will probably be around 200 markets still looking at diary returns, with it's weak data collection system, and need for more annual sample (remember the PPM sample mostly stays around for a year or more and diary keepers are only in for a week).

So let's take a look at the Spring 2007 National Sample report from the Arbitron Radio Nationwide pdf on their website (look at it here). In the sample report here are the Spring 07 sample results:

Arbitron has a long ways to go even if the goal is only to get into the 70 index range for Men 18-24 and the news is even worse in 25-34 Men. Realize that that means they are only delivering a C- sample (if we were grading it in a High School format where 75 is a C). Just barely passing the class and being able to stay on the team - not enough to get accepted at anything but a trade school.

Pierre claims that the PPM sample in Philly is now above 70 in 18-24 Men but there they are pulling out all the stops. They are going door to door!!!! Also adding a lot more cash to carry the PPM and calling and calling till it hurts. Will they make this level of effort without PPM on the line? In your market?

The sample index problems we see here are not new. It's been an issue since the 80s - over 20 years. At first it was just those pesky 18-24 Men, but now it's even worse in 25-34 and Women have also joined the non response team.

You have to reach out beyond the land line telephone. This group are the first to move to cell only or ignore the land line households. They are quickly heading to 50% unreachable by Arbitron's land line sample system.

It's time for new answers and I bet Chuck would agree that we are not seeing many options that have much of a chance to impact this crucial area.

Regular readers here have see a few posts on some ideas - I'm sure there are more out there. Somehow they have to get to the surface very soon. The agencies are already looking at Arbitron with a raised eyebrow (to say the least) and all the PPM developments and publicity only make the diary system even more suspect. Add the bad sample to the weak diary data collection and this is quickly becoming a guess - not an estimate.