James Cridland: Thoughts on ‘that’ US radio report

A landfill in Perth, Australia. Where the radio industry are headed should we believe a much shared article. James Cridland does not agree - of course. Photo: Ashley Felton - Own work, Public Domain

James Cridland: Ever read something and thought ‘that is not right’? Then everyone seem to eat it up and revere it as the gospel? In his weekly column James dissect the much shared “New Report Shows Why Radio Must Adapt to Digital Age” and calls it “doom-mongery”.

The biggest news this week is a master of doom-mongery, “New Report Shows Why Radio Must Adapt to Digital Age“. You’ve probably seen it – it’s been copied and shared on social media a fair bit, particularly being highlighted by those who delight in being rude about the current US radio operators.

In spite of its title, it isn’t about radio. It’s specifically about US radio: and, indeed, specifically written about AM/FM US music radio.

US radio has a few problems. Part of the industry’s malaise is that the debt-laden groups are investing less in talent as they attempt to remain solvent. This makes for a poorer product on-air. Incredibly high levels of ad minutage is the result on a focus on retaining clients and hitting the next quarter, rather than maintaining long-term airtime value.

However, another part of the US radio industry’s troubles is its very definition. In the rest of the world, radio is a multiplatform product. In Switzerland, only 40% of radio listening is on AM/FM. In the UK, it’s just a nudge over 50%. Yet, the US defines the industry not by content but by platform. The US ‘radio industry’ doesn’t include SiriusXM, nor pure-play online radio. Instead of a content-led industry, it’s a deeply platformist one. (Were the US radio industry to include satellite and online radio, incidentally, it would be an industry in revenue growth: just like it still is in the rest of the world).

So, from the very narrow lens of US-based AM/FM music radio, this document publishes a set of carefully-plucked data, attempting to prove the author’s already-held perspective.

Throughout, the report repeats that radio is nowhere near as important to the music industry as it once was. At the beginning of the report, it transpires that the report was ‘encouraged’ by SoundExchange – a company which has been fighting in court trying to prove that radio is less important to the music industry than it once was, and therefore deserves to pay more for music. I’m no university professor, but there may be some kind of connection.

A lot of the report, while very selective, does have a ring of truth. The PPM isn’t perfect. TSL is going down, especially-so with younger audiences. There are many more places to discover music these days. US radio has a particular problem with younger audiences. Radio can’t stay still. As the report says, “radio needs to innovate”. But the report focuses on anything negative and disregards the positive.

After 31 pages of doom, the author suggests, vaguely, a way forward for the industry. In one paragraph, we learn that the industry should “invest in strong and compelling digital services”.

There’s no mention of Radioplayer, the global technology platform, that radio has invested in. Nor does iHeart’s radio app get a mention, or equivalents from the UK’s BBC and Global, nor NPR One. The work from Turkey’s Carnaval, Austria’s Kronehit, the UK’s Absolute Radio or France’s NRJ all goes un-noticed.

Were you to read this paper, you’d not be aware of radio’s work with programmatic advertising (particularly DAX in the UK), or the strides many are taking with online brand extensions. NPR is one of the biggest podcast publishers in the US, though you’d not know it from this report. Nine out of ten people still tune into the radio in most countries every week.

This is an insular and ignorant piece, blind to the international trends in radio, deliberately focusing on the negative and ignoring the positive.

The NAB called it silly, responding with point-by-point arguments. Westwood One got the figures out, and produced five charts, adding “don’t always believe everything you read, especially from streaming music royalty organisations”. Nielsen strongly disagreed with the article’s remarks about the PPM, too.

This is a good moment for the US radio industry. They appear to have discovered a willingness to work together to call out the doom-mongers. Congratulations to them. I’m genuinely delighted that US radio has rediscovered its will to fight.

If they also used this new-found passion to advance the industry, that would be even better. Better for all in US radio to work together to adapt to the digital age, and redefine their industry for the future. After all: there’s a whole world out there doing it already.

James Cridland is a radio futurologist – a writer, speaker and consultant working with the brightest radio brains in the world. He has worked for the BBC and Virgin Radio in London. Join over 2,500 other radio professionals and subscribe to his free weekly newsletter (in English) at https://james.cridland.net

1 Comment on "James Cridland: Thoughts on ‘that’ US radio report"

  1. Endre Lundgren | September 7, 2017 at 11:09 | Reply

    I find it interesting that US radio has not been able to unite to protect its own future – until now. Also quite shocked – literally (old definition) – that radio is thought of as only AM/FM.

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