Friday, October 31, 2008

Lessons for Radio From Campaign 08

As we head towards the polls after the long election campaigns there are some lessons for radio programmers and managers from the efforts of McCain and Obama.

Polls: Most polls show Obama having a healthy lead and poised to win, but can we trust the polls?

The polls are handicapped by 2 events. 1st is the cell phone onlies that are difficult to reach and now make up around 20% of the population. In the under 35 age cells the cell phone crowd is bigger and reaching them is very hard for polling services. Also determining if the respondents will actually vote is another problem. Working with samples that voted last time ignores all the people that were newly registered and many of them came from an all out effort from Obama.

When you consider that we measure our success in 'poll like fashion' with Arbitron or BBM in Canada we also face the same problems with the cell phone onlies. It's a big issue with Arbitron right now and we also struggle measuring the younger cells.

The Web and New Media: This whole area will likely turn out to be the KEY if Obama wins. Look at some of the ways Obama used the new world of the web and database management to build huge advantages:

Fund Raising: While the numbers are not official yet, in mid August Obama had 390 million raised and we know he did 150 million in September so it's pretty safe to say he had over 600 million in contributions. McCain had to work with the federal matching funds system and was limited to around 85 million. Obama worked much of this on the web and much of it from small donations. Yes there were some high priced celeb dinners, but it didn't make up most of the 600 million.

McCain didn't have anything close to this effort on the web and mostly relied on some big fund raising events. In the end Obama was able to keep up a huge TV effort, spend to help register tons of new voters, be the leading spender on Radio, advertise all over the web, and also put up offices in any state he wanted to with tons of volunteers and staff members. With 600 million he had the firepower.

The Database: Obama built the email database at every turn. Wanna go to any Obama event - your email address got you in. Visit the web site and you're email address was a huge goal. He even tapped off the convention with an event for over 100,000 in the stadium and much of the goal here was to get 10 of thousands of email addresses from the key toss up state of Colorado. McCain on the other hand claimed that he really didn't know how to do email. Yes, McCain's web site did try to build a database and his loyal followers did set up an email network - that often spread out emails that seemed to come from radical followers (Obama is Muslim, etc).

The Web: As we travel with our browsers in the final weeks nearly every site has Obama banners on it. Most are focused on 1 message - get out and vote early. The strategy is simple to get anyone who can vote out early so they don't walk away waiting in a long line. The effort is on CNN, Yahoo, MSNBC, and any other site that had decent traffic. You can click on the banner ad and be directed to how to vote in your state and community.

When McCain attacked Obama's tax plans Obama put up a site where you could enter your income and basic tax info and get an instant comparison of the McCain taxes and his plan. Using the web he took it right to your level, whatever it is.

New Media: Obama used streaming video on his site and all over You Tube to get messages across, show big speeches and make sure that any messages were available on your schedule. Many of Obama's supporters also put out their own videos and songs adding to the content. The 'Yes We Can' video has over 10 million views. McCain's most viewed video was one done by a McCain hater with 7 million views. While Obama was risking his message being distorted the 'all out access' had to have helped build the impact here.

Using Traditional Media: Obama way outspent McCain on TV and did much of it on a local level in the key states. And in the end his 1/2 hour TV show to finish off the last week of the election was also a big move that kept McCain in the background and on the defensive.

Lessons: A lot of the campaign tactics and strategies are similar to what we face in radio. In so many ways our product is a popularity contest and really running for President is also largely dependent on popularity. Obama was able to overcome big hurdles from his experience, his name and even his race to run a campaign that looks like it will win.

He did it by using all the new media tools skillfully. McCain seemed to run a campaign as if the web was a new fangled thing that looked confusing, complex and not worth the effort. No doubt the next campaign - win or lose next Tuesday - the Republicans will take a loooong hard look at how to use new media and the web.

Regardless of who you vote for here you have to see that skillful use of new media and the web is crucial if you want to win here in Radioland.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Radio Week That Was 10/28

Wall Mart 400% more Radio Usage: Over the last year the big box of all big boxes has really pumped up it's radio spending and now reports big returns. Big Box stores have ignored radio for the most part and usually spend on TV and Newspaper inserts. For years we've seen the local Stereo Shop close up as Best Buy hits and radio loses. Could the tide be turning? Let's hope so, but why did these national chain stores and restaurants blow off radio in the first place? I bet the lack of a simple way to buy radio on a national scale was more the reason than the reach or effectiveness of the media. We still need to find a way that's better the national rep and while there have been ideas nothing seems to be advancing in our economic and creative freeze. Still, this is a story your sales team should be armed with. If the most frugal - penny pinching - store around is advancing in a tough economy with radio so can many others.

Layoffs: Every day the list gets longer as everyone tightens the budget for 09. We've seen it nearly every year for the last 5 or 6 and the drought in our products is not getting any better with fewer people to create the programming and sell it. How can we expect to make progress with all the competition from new media and how can we make an impact in the new media world with no hands on deck to sail the ship? Sooner or later we need to make an investment here.

Rock Music Making Big Waves: With AC/DC's new CD topping the charts and the audience buzzing about the return of Guns N' Roses after 13 years Rock music remains in the fore front. Metallica is still burning up the charts and there are still lots of other rockers with strong showings no matter how you measure it. Managing the A and B current categories has never been more important than is is right now. Have you been to a Wal Mart in the last week? The whole store seems like AC/DC has taken over. There are posters all over the place, lots of AC/DC clothing and even non-stop videos on the TV screens. The only thing they left out was having the Greeters decked out in AC/DC gear - how about one of them in a 'Hells Bells T Shirt."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Radio Week That Was 10/21

The story that stood out was all the changes in the creative teams in satellite radio as XM and Sirius began the meat of the merger. When you stand back and look at the 2 services XM really put up a lot more into the music channels than Sirius. Sirius really ramped up the expenses when they lured Howard away and paid tons for sports rights. The bidding wars for content were mostly to impress Wall Street at any cost and we all know the costs are rather high.

The music channels were really a bargain. Most just had a programmer and maybe a jock here and there. XM was more focused on trying to bring in some unique formats and building on Lee Abrams theory (a well founded one) on 4 types of programming that addressed listeners who were casual to rabid. XM spent a lot on imaging the stations, running special programs and profiles, having artists stop buy, covering live tours, and keeping the music channels pretty active. Sirius pretty much pressed play and ran with 1000 in a row on a group of stations that really just covered the basic format food groups we have in most major markets.

XM felt that the music channels brought in around 70% of the subscribers and a wide range of people. Sirius was a lot more focused on the talk side and 'Howard's World.' The one problems there is where is the growth? How many more Howard Heads do they expect to find willing to pay out for the service? Yes, lots signed up when he moved over, but the fans are either there or not by now. You don't see a bunch of 22 year olds with their first job and car jumping all over signing up for Howard.

The sports channels probably still have growth in them - they have all the major sports covered and there are plenty of fans. The talk channels are OK, but there aren't any big hosts here and in most markets the talk fans have a wide range of choices in many cases on regular radio.

The new programming order with the merged services is mostly living on Sirius' energy. And in the music side it's pretty much just the basics. The huge Washington HQ for XM is probably pretty much a ghost town as the world now revolves around just delivering the hits.

For the terrestrial radio side it's good news. There will still be 2 services to choose from for a long time splitting the effect and now we don't have much on the 'music side' to compete with. No doubt with the slump in car sales and the new opportunities for 'add on gadgets' from sync systems with I Pods to WiFi to navigation aids and more video options. It also looks like the next big deal in cars will be more centered on MPG than so much focus on the dashboard.

You also have the debt issues with the merger and Sirius/XM needing to raise a ton of money in 1st quarter. They really can't really move to just 1 audio service and then use the band width to venture more into video for a new revenue stream - you still have over 1/2 of XM people to service and the receivers are not compatible.

It all adds up to a very tough business model. While Mel may dream of being the leading content provider in audio as he claimed in one of the addresses around the merger - it's not going to happen without some creative people and unique programming.

While satellite radio's impact on terrestrial radio has gotten past the peak it's now going downhill. It's likely that these moves could steepen the slope. For 'regular' radio we still face lots of challenges, but it looks like satellite radio is in the rear view mirror. If you're looking for some really talented people there's even more to choose from.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Radio Week That Was 10/14

PPM: While the economy continues to be a wild ride we also still have the PPM controversy with NY and NJ looking to stop PPM with law suits.

This past week we got the first look at some of the new PPM markets - NY and surrounding areas, LA and the vicinity, Chicago and San Francisco/San Jose. So let's take a look at a few markets to see what the big difference is when we compare the 12 plus shares from July, August and September in the PPM world to the 2007 12 plus averages over the 4 books:

  • New York: The Hispanic stations are off around 2.3 shares and the Urban/Rhy station are really up around 1.5 shares 12 plus over their 2007 share averages. While the Spanish formats did fall over 20% the Urban's are actually UP. The other winners were N/T (up 3.8 shares), ACs (up 2), Rock (up 2) Classic Hits/Oldies (up 1.6) and CHR (up 1 share).
  • Los Angeles: Hispanic shares were off just 1 share under 4% and urban shares were off 1 share which is around 10%. The gains were similar for the rest of the formats.
  • Chicago: Urban was off 4 shares, Hispanic down 1.5 shares while Rock picked up 4.2 shares, AC was up 3 shares, and N/T was up 2.4 shares.

Yes there are some big moves here with so many of the NON-Hispanic and Urban formats gaining a lot of market share. But, outside of the Urban fall off in Chicago there isn't that much downward movement. In the high Hispanic world of LA they are only off 4%. In NY look at the gains for the Urban/Rhy formats! Consider that this summer was dominated by a huge political season the big N/T gains could roll off after the election, those N/T shares could stabilize a little more as we get into 09.

Perhaps I'm biased, but it seems like a lot of action to go to lawsuits and state motivated legal action over these comparisons. We've all had books that moved up and down 10% - perhaps we should have called the state AG instead of the Arbitron rep.

Economy: While these swings and the recession (yes we are in one even through the govt. won't admit it) can be tough times for the sales team as well as the budgets. But, keep in mind that radio has CLEAR advantages for advertisers:

  1. Those who take advantage of the moment and market their product with a well targeted message can make huge gains in this economy. Just like those who bought when the market hit bottom last week made huge gains this week, the same happens in the market place.
  2. Radio is a bargain: The rates and production are reasonable to low and you can reach HUGE audiences without blowing the bank account.
  3. Radio is proven: This isn't some Internet gamble that may not draw business. The radio model has worked for years.

It might be time to revamp the pitch and re-tool the packages with these 3 facts as keys.

It's also time to take advantage of the opportunity to build your product. We all know the road to making great/entertaining radio will come from having compelling products that interface with the community and entertain beyond the music. Reach out and really enteratin the audience - they need it. It's also your opportunity to invest now and really make gains as the markets recover.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Radio Week That Was 10/6

1. PPM and Cuomo: This saga continues as minority broadcasting groups try to kill PPM so their ratings won't suffer. But, to try and make it illegal in some way is completely stupid. The only valid issue here is sample, and yes Arbitron will need to work more on sample and cell phone only households to deliver more reliable results, but it's not an easy task. PPM is far more accurate in collecting the data and the only finding you are going to see in a court ruling will have to revolve around the in-accurate diary system which they are trying to keep? Anyone can see the motive here - politicians trying to build a career from a case/publicity, like Elliot Spitzer did!!! Mr. Cuomo 'don't waste you time and our industry.' Grab a power switch somewhere else.

2. Arbitron looks at 50 diary markets to implement more cell phone household coverage in samples. Great news, but we need to do this in all markets PPM and Diary. The land line telephone is over as a communication device. It would be great if they would at least let us know which 50 markets they want to start with.

3. ABC looks at a Youth Movement: The network releases last week that they are focusing on 18-49s as they look for new products. Our whole industry is so far behind on this issue and we all need to reach out to younger audiences. Now is the time - as we come out of this economy you can bet that the working youth will be the catalyst not the depleted resources of the boomers.

4. Economy: The 'bailout' passes but we are still in a big economic mess. The public gets this one even though they don't understand the 'naked short selling' or the 'derivatives' they do understand that a bunch of highly paid Wall Street types made off with huge bonus' and paychecks on their backs. A lesson for us - 'the audience is smarter than we sometimes think.'

5. Economy and Formats: We've all seen down turns in the economy trigger gains for Country, but Rock radio can also grow as times get tougher. While the country themes of overcoming adversity, living in tough times, and a generally positive outlook are often cited as reasons Rock also has some themes in the music that sync up with the times. The rebellion side, tough times angle and reality of the music often cuts through. Look at the early 90s downturn and the rise of grunge. Look at all the new bands like Linkin Park, Stained, Disturbed and others that grew in the post 911 downturn. The late 70s was also a tough time that brought a rise in rock's popularity. With Metallica heading up both sales and download charts, ACDC on the way, Guns/Roses out shortly, Nickleback out soon and lots of left over music from earlier releases in 08 it will be a banner year.

6. Your Stars: How well prepared are your personalities for their show? What are THEY really bringing to the listening experience? I bet if you took an air check and just cut out the positioning, call letters, simple music IDs, and things like weather/traffic you'd have very little 'personality' to show. Air staff members become personalities by what they bring to the party not just by hanging out at the station. We are a third of the way into the Fall ratings period - how entertaining are we?