At the intersection of Business, Law & Entertainment
Cliché alert: radio’s been…please, stop me before I use the d-word…disrupted. (And if you think I’m now filled with self-loathing for using the word-that-should-have-jumped-the-shark-five-years-ago, you’re probably right.) That said, I’d like to propose an extremely radical, but necessary, notion: terrestrial radio needs to completely rethink the idea of “competition.” (And yes, the same goes for the rest of the entertainment-industrial complex.)
For us radio folk, that notion is anathema to our very being. After all, you don’t get into the radio content biz unless you love intense competition. We’ve all got stories about “radio wars” we love to relive.
A couple of my war stories are after the jump, but here’s your spoiler alert: The radio station you used to consider your “direct competitor” is now your best ally.
A quote from the founder of the Local Online Advertising Conference set me off, and here it is: “[R]adio’s competitors are more interested in podcasting and smart speakers than the radio industry itself. That’s because those in the print and TV industries view the digital space quite differently than radio. Theirs is a ‘multiplatform’ strategy, meaning they’ll seize upon any new platform as a distribution method for their content. This extends to things like OTT video programming. How many radio stations do you know have an OTT program or even know what it is?”
Let’s talk about what OTT should mean for radio.
If you’re turning a profit with the content you produce, you’re sharing a ton of that profit with the distribution channels – y’know, the broadcast and cable networks – who are airing your content. Said differently: if you’re the NFL, and you can distribute all your content – including the actual games – to consumers directly, why would you share any of the revenue earned by that content with ESPN, a broadcast network, or anyone else? (And if you’re a popular syndicated radio host, you’re sharing a ton of your revenue with local radio in exchange for access to their distribution channels, which you call transmitters.)
Incredibly sad. That’s what a good goodbye should feel like. Seriously.
And you already know that I think there’s an important lesson in this reality.
Forgive me, but I’m about to get very personal with you. And, as with almost everything else, I’m going to use my personal feelings to talk about something I love: showbiz.
A family member was placed in hospice care a few weeks ago. I’m not talking about a human being, of course. I’m talking about a radio station, or said more appropriately in these parts, an entertainment brand. I’ve been thinking a lot about – well, everything – lately, and I’ve come to two sets of observations, both of them painfully obvious and yet not, all of which can be summed up by this reality:
One of the more remarkable things I’ve read lately is a piece that showed up in the New York Times last week in which Dean Baquet, the Times’ Executive Editor, answers questions from readers about changes to the way The Gray Lady is restructuring her editorial department, eliminating the copy desk and shedding some editors in the process.
There are two really important takeaways from the piece. The first is something I’ve been telling you about for years. The second will surprise you, but it shouldn’t.
Storytelling matters everywhere in the media – no matter how “serious” your job is. That said, we tend to forget that storytelling is a matter of degrees: there’s a difference between simply relaying an already-interesting story and painting a compelling picture out of interesting ingredients. Here’s an object lesson in that.
Oh, and if you think this is about soccer, you couldn’t be more wrong. Do yourself a favor and read your way to the payoff.
The advertising business is finding out what the rest of the media-industrial complex learned long ago: you can’t fight city hall. Or, in Jetsons Future terms, now that content options are somewhere between plentiful and functionally infinite, showbiz is like Burger King: each consumer gets to have it their way.
Here’s more shocking news about advertising: as far as your audience is concerned, it’s like every other form of content. When it’s compelling, an advertiser is golden. When it isn’t, well, there’s always a better viewing/listening/reading option a mere button punch away. And when they’re online, consumers don’t even need to turn away from content they want. They can simply block the offending advertising.
Because I have such a unique background – a couple decades leading radio stations and eight years as an attorney – I get asked about podcasting a lot. Here’s a question for you: as a podcaster, how are you going to stand out? In reality, that’s two questions:
First, how is your content going to stand out? Whether you’re talking to other lawyers or to potential clients, what do you have to say that isn’t already being said? Alternatively, how can you cover a well-covered subject in a way that cuts through the clutter, through all the other podcasts out there that may cover the same topic? Second, how are you going to truly reach your audience? Can you communicate your message in a way that will both keep your audience listening and cause listeners to retain your message? Radio programmers know this: it’s a lot tougher than it sounds.
Let’s talk about how much time you’ve devoted to becoming the lawyer you are today:
That headline is not a joke. Our DNA is primarily plantain.
Now think about this: y’know that schlub you deeply regret having to work with, the one you have nothing in common with? You two share 99.9% of your DNA. (Don’t worry – you’re also 99.9% genetically similar to all other human beings – including [insert name of your favorite person ever here] – so things could be worse.)
Here’s the point: things are actually a whole lot more alike than they appear. You think you have next to nothing in common with them, but you’re 99.9% the same as the Pope, a Kardashian, a Trump, a Clinton, and that jerk who dinged your car in the parking lot and didn’t leave a note. Let’s pivot to showbiz.
As entertainment professionals, we tell stories all the time. We spend most of our time thinking about the stories we’re going to tell to our fans, to the people who watch, listen to, or read the stories we create. We tend to spend less time thinking about all the stories we tell to our customers (whether that’s advertisers or, say, the producer who might buy our script), our coworkers/coperformers, our friends, and even ourselves.
With that in mind, let’s talk about the value of those other stories. Let’s learn about an independent minor league baseball team (meaning one that can sign whichever players it wants). Bear in mind that sports = entertainment; nothing more, nothing less. That’s why great athletes, with their extremely unique skills, make much the same kind of money that great actors and directors do.
Their story can teach you a lot about all the stories you tell.