Thursday, January 16, 2014

2014 - The Year Of Live and Local?

Standing back an looking at the 'big picture' for 2014 in Radio you can clearly see one big topic bubbling up that affects our whole industry.

There are 2 forces with very different goals and operating platforms that are clearly set to square off in many markets.

One side is the big platform broadcasters who have stations in much of the top 100 markets and beyond.  Really you only have 2 owners - Clear Channel and Cumulus with platforms big enough to cover the territory.  Their scope and size clearly opens the door for a much wider view of the markets, talent, budget priorities, product distribution and sales opportunities.

The other side are the smaller groups and individual owners who really can't build a national perspective and their focus is rallying around being Live and Local.  The focus is supposed to be stronger on local personalities, community involvement, and a local focus that can easily get lost on a national platform station across the street.

But, does the audience care?

In the end it comes down to the 'entertainment and engagement meter' inside each listener.  If you are going to make an impact with Live and Local you have to connect to the audience.  It isn't going to happen because it's a buzz word at a convention or if we run 'your local station' sweepers every quarter hour.  We all know deep down for Live and Local to work you have to walk the walk and have the talent to talk the talk.

Developing talent into impacting entertainers that truly engage the audience is not something you pull out of the fridge and heat up in the microwave.  This takes strong talent, skilled coaching, and a drive to truly engage the local audience.

Will the live and local teams find the resources, budget and patience to build their platform?  You know the national players will continue to extend their strongest talent and use regional and national resources to contribute to their products.

In many ways 2014 offers a recovering economy, new opportunities and the Live and Local teams may have more resources to develop the strategy.   With 2014 be a turning point year or another year where opportunities are left on the wayside?  

Monday, January 6, 2014

2014 Part 2

Part 2 of 3 on some observations the year ahead in radio focus on Metrics and Research.

Research - Some may say that we got very 'research happy' in the 90s and the early years of the new century.   Many stations and clusters had regular perceptual studies and music tests as a regular part of the budget with studies every hear.  

Now with the PPM - Media Monitors racking up scoring for the music in many markets or stations in many non PPM markets just living off the airplay data in Mediabase or BDS.   The recession also trimmed back many research budgets and this could be a year when we see research start to return to our brands and products.

PPM based 'research' is also focused on 'real time' data overlaying the minute by minute ratings with the music and content we suddenly had a picture of what was really going on.  The first reaction to this instant CRT-X-Ray of the audience has been real defensive.  Many have stripped the stations trying to stop tune out at any costs.  Are we losing the foundations of our brands, killing local engagement, stifling personality, and becoming boring by stripping down?  Are these the precise elements we need to make an impact with an audience filled up with media choices that just play songs?  Are these moves doing way more longer term damage than good to our brands?  It might be better to work more on raising the bar on personality, content, engagement, and entertainment and find a way to do it without wasting lots of time.  

The news is obvious that any research is going to have to come back with new technology and taking advantage of all the ways our audience now communicates.   Reaching for a random sample of numbers from the phone book isn't going to tell us anything about 'today's audience.'  Most of them under 45 don't have land lines and many don't use their phones for talking at all.  You need to reach them through their phone, tablets and laptops with studies that are quick, fun and sharp looking.  We will also need to be able to use social media to gather sample and lure them.

The sample itself has also changed.  The idea of a random sample has moved more to a managed panel of people in the PPM world and don't be surprised to see Nielsen/Arbitron move to more managed panel samples outside of the top 50 markets.  A lot of Nielsen's work in other projects in radio, retail and other industries has moved more to managed panels - it's a lot less expensive.

We also have lots of opportunities for 'quick research' with our social media fan bases and listener databases.  The key is developing an overall strategy and plan here - much of what we do is very random right now.  It seems like we have lots of pieces of research all scattered around the desk - how we build a real strategy with the pieces is a real challenge to every programmer.

When you look at the key ingredients in today's brands it's all about knowing what the customer is consuming and trying to know what they want.   Netflix gathers tons of data and categorizes every show to try and keep ahead of what the audience is looking for.  Amazon breaks down every product on who bought it and then pulls out the meta-data and tries to forecast your next order.  Really we don't have much 'meta-data' to work with.   Or do we really have some data and some potential to gather data on our brands and music that we could build into a stronger strategy?

Metrics-Ratings:  The last post on the year ahead for Nielsen/Arbitron in this blog really covers some of this territory.  Still when you look ahead for 2014 the changes ahead for the Ratings will impact us all a lot.  Really when you look at Arbitron it was often rather slow moving.   It took decades to get out of the 'printed book' world and much of the 'software' to break out the numbers came from outside sources that Arbitron eventually bought.   The sample struggled to reach younger audiences and it still clings to the antique pen and paper/recall data collection system with the diary for around 75% of the markets.

How will all this change as Nielsen gets more comfortable in the 'audio' world?  Will we have stronger samples in all markets?  Will they be more based on managed panels than random samples?  Will we begin to move away from being the 25-54 and 35+ media with ratings that actually capture younger cells?  Will we team up with Nielsen and start to do more custom breakouts of the data and quit leaning so much on 25-54 ranks? Will the diary finally be replaced with real time data gathering in other 75% of the markets?

There is a lot going on with the research and ratings fronts as we head into 2014.  In many ways the real keys to our success in the future lies in learning a lot more about an audience that is evolving and changing at an ever increasing rate of speed.  As our communication systems speed up so does the change they produce.

Clearly in 2014 we NEED to start building a lot more of a strategy and evolve our research.  We've cut back on this area over the last 10 years and even before that our systems and research methods were antiquated in sample, data gathering, and we kept looking at the same data over and over.