Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Broadcast Radio's Product Life Cycle

The normal product life cycle looks something like: 

Development > Introduction > Growth > Maturity > Decline

So, where does broadcast radio fit within this cycle today?

The 1996 Telecommunications Act eliminated the cap on nationwide broadcast radio station ownership resulting in a move from mostly locally (or regional) to mostly national ownership. As a result, in my opinion, programming became more and more homogenized, and less and less local. 

When I started doing doing product support for radio automation software back in the early 90's, the industry focus was on setting stations up to run satellite delivered programming with the intent to make it sound as local as possible. As the cost of computer data storage dropped and technology advanced to where audio data could be shared via the internet, stations started running their own music and could allow their DJ's to do voice tracking (where the jocks pre-record their segments) in the studio or remotely. This allowed a smaller number of DJ's to be on the air and allow them to track for numerous radio stations in different markets across the country. When the pandemic hit calling for stay-at-home orders fell into place, we started getting calls from some of the rare stations that still had live, local DJ's, asking to set them up so they could voice track from home. This showed radio groups that voice tracking can be reliable and effective, and resulted in reductions in force for radio station employees (and radio automation software employees...). 

So, radio has become less and less local and more and more like a streaming service, except that it still runs long blocks of 60 and 30 second commercials in the second and fourth quarters of the hour. 

I like this quote from Tim Wu's book The Attention Merchants; "Knowing how to keep the pot simmering without boiling over in public protest, [William S.] Paley proactively set limits on CBS's [radio] advertising; among them, he cut its share of airtime to 10 percent and banned commercials considered offensive. At the risk of giving him too much credit, one could say that such policies not only kept critics at bay but also showed a shrewd awareness of the attention merchant's eternal dilemma: too little advertising and the business can't grow; too much and the listener grows resentful and tunes out."

It may be worth mentioning that monitoring some random stations from across the country recently indicated that their normal commercial airtime at times fell within the 20 to 27 percent range.

If broadcast radio is to continue in, or perhaps get back to, the Maturity phase of the product life cycle, it should take this to heart. #buticouldbewrong

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