Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Don't Worry Be Happy

In 1988 Bobby McFerrin had a huge hit -- Don't Worry Be Happy. I remember back at that time you couldn't turn on the radio without hearing it. Like most novelty songs, they surge and then fade away never to be heard from again.

Maybe it's time to dust off that 20 year old song and provide people with a little smile in a week in which there is very little to smile about. As you can see in the video it would be timely.

If you were to play it make sure there is a good set up. Stand alone it's just another goofy old song but, with the right set up you might create a memorable moment. Put enough of those moments together and now a station that goes beyond the music. Something that listeners might remember and seek out another time. Something they can't get from Pandora or their iPod.

Monday, September 29, 2008

HD Radio = Bad Engineering

And that's where this story begins. Add that to the fact that HD Radio does not fulfill a [consumer] need or solve a real problem [for consumers] and now we are witnessing a technology struggling to find a reason to exist.

Can it be saved? Maybe, but I think the odds are long.

Two things that might have made a difference:

  1. A different interface. Instead of frequency extension i.e. 102.1-2 the IBOC system should have been marketed as a NEW band with new channel numbers. AM, FM, and the new DM (digital modulation). Even those under 25 might have been intrigued to sample this new DM radio broadcasting. This still doesn't address the signal issues related to low power and topography.
  2. New, original, and unique programming that is not solely dependent on music programming. Music channels are cheap and easy. Entertainment programming is expensive and certainly not easy.

Can these issues be addressed now? Seems to me that it might be too late on the engineering side of things and it's never to late to produce great programming.

Let me share with you a great column I read written by Brad Burnham on the Union Square Ventures website (a venture capital firm in NYC). It is talking about computer technology and its applications, but I think the article applies nicely to HD-R. Read the entire piece here.

In the old days, electrical engineers focused on getting computers to work not on getting people to engage with the systems built on top of those computers. The folks that built enterprise software were vaguely aware that their systems had to be accessible to the humans that used them but they had a huge advantage. The people who used them did so as part of their job, they were trained to use them and fired if they could not figure them out.

Today, no one tells you to use Facebook. There are no employer sponsored training sessions on the use of del.icio.us. The burden is on the designer of the system to meet a need, entertain, or inform their users. They also have to seduce those users, hiding complexity, revealing one layer at time, always enticing, never intimidating, until the user one day finds they are intimately familiar with power and the pleasures of the service.

Designing a system that does that is not an electrical engineering problem. It is a social engineering problem. The best social engineers are working today on consumer facing web services. They understand that there is enormous potential leverage in those services. The creators of these services recognize that services like theirs will ultimately disrupt the economics of many, if not most, parts of the global economy in much the same way that Craigslist collapsed the multi-billion dollar classified industry into a fabulously profitable multi-million dollar web service.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Great Content vs.The Ratings

What was designed to be a presentation about what's important in digital, marketing, and advertising turns out to have value in related areas. Connect the dots between these three slides.

I make this challenge to myself everyday and to you: How can we effectively play the ratings game (both diary and PPM) and still adequately respond to the changing consumer realities (and desires) of today?

In some cases the ratings game requires us to consider 7 second talk breaks, long sets of (increasingly more commoditized) music with little other content, and fewer commercial breaks with more commercials piled together. These tactics (sometimes) work when the only goal is to get ratings. (Hey, I love getting high ratings too!) Now, go back and take another look at the slides and ask yourself how they mesh with generating word of mouth and causing reflective experiences?

Here's the full slide presentation:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Is It Enough?

If the need for change at radio is great, the need for change at newspapers is greater.

One of the most high profile makeovers in the newspaper business has been at The Chicago Tribune. Obviously, a storied newspaper but also a familiar management team to us radio folk makes this story a little bit more interesting.

Watch this video and check out the graphically striking new look and see what you think.
Is it different enough to capture the interest of people who gave up newspapers or hardly ever read a newspaper? What would be the radio equivalent of what Randy and Co. accomplished in Chicago? Is it enough or too little too late?


Google and T-Mobile Debut the G1

Google seems intent on challenging every sector of the media, mobile, and on-line spaces. Today along with their partner T-Mobile they released the G1 Mobile device.
Check out a promotional video here.

Among many other things this "phone" will be capable of streaming*, both video and audio. As the T-Mobile site explains the G1 is open source using the new Android platform. This directly from the T-Mobile:
Are you a developer?

The T-Mobile G1 features Android, an open-source platform for mobile phones that allows you to create applications for the T-Mobile G1™.

If you are a developer and have an idea of your own, find out how to make it a reality.

So far, it sounds like a pretty good challenger but it's not perfect. Engadget highlights a significant shortcoming--no mini plug for a pair of headphones, but a proprietary exitUSB jack that will require a special pair of headphones or an adapter that won't be available at launch.

Check out Engadget's coverage here.

You also might be interested that the G1, what some are calling the anti-iPhone, will also have a pre-loaded music store from Amazon.

Engadget: Amazon just announced that its MP3 music store will be pre-loaded as an application on the T-Mobile G1. Users will be able to search, download, buy and play music from Amazon MP3 -- that's a selection of 6 million DRM-free MP3 songs from all four major labels and many independents. The pre-loaded Amazon MP3 application provides G1 owners with a phone-optimised view of the Amazon MP3 store -- WiFi is required to download music, but searching, browsing, and listening to samples can be done over 3G "the T-Mobile network." Tracks cost around $0.89 with most albums priced between $5.99 and $9.99. How you like them Apples, Apple.
Search, apps, content and devices...Google here, there and everywhere. It will be interesting to see how it all works out. Let the Apple vs. Blackberry vs. Google death match begin.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

An Optimistic Tone

After attending the NAB and R&R Conventions in Austin this past week, I felt a little different leaving these gatherings than I had in recent years--optimistic.

It was a pleasant surprise.

Sure, there was the normal (and usually empty) rah rah speeches and a certain amount of grousing one would expect from these meetings. However, for the first time in quite a long time I got the feeling something good could be brewing. I listened to and talked to a lot of people and I detected a more determined spirit.

How could this be? August revenue down another 11%. Good people are still losing their jobs. The banking and credit situation is still shaking foundations loose. Radio stocks still at record low levels. Station multiples have declined. Under 25's haven't magically developed a new found passion for radio. HD Radio is still flailing. And "Radio Heard Here" is no more an effective slogan, pitch or campaign than it was last year when it was introduced.

Any one of these things could dampen anyone's spirit. I think what has changed is everything has changed and a certain sense of reality has set in. Act now or your time to act may be very short. And there is lots of action. My fear, while many of the actions being taken (PPM navigation, social networking, etc) are certainly positive for the industry, there is still a crater-sized hole for some forward and dare I say visionary thinking.

Yeah, yeah, easy for me to say...blah blah blah....You might be asking what am I doing to help?

Here are a few things I am involved with:
  • Coaching a fresh new radio show launched on-line by way of podcasts already with thousands of downloads--next will be adding a traditional radio show.
  • Launched a new local Alternative station that is more than 70% current-recurrent 24/7 designed for Millennials.
  • Developing a new commercial strategy designed for both PPM and diaries that defies conventional wisdom and does everything WRONG! So crazy it just might work.
  • A ready-to-launch concept--a talk/entertainment/music hybrid targeted at young adult women 18-44.
There's just a few examples of some things spinning around my brain these days. I bet you have some very good ideas of your own--and that's what we need. Lot's of good ideas. Not all of them will work, but if we try enough new and truly different things we will be a better industry.

Bottom line: it will be new long-term strategies that will win (maybe even attract younger listeners) and not a series of short-term tactics.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Who Did We See at the NAB?

Talking to attendees here in Austin at The NAB.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Day One @ NAB and *YES* It Was Fun

Busy day here in Austin and I have some video you certainly won't see anywhere else.

After NAB President and CEO David Rehr addressed the ballroom with the show's State of the Industry Address [largely the same address as he delivered at the Conclave a couple of months ago] it was:
The New York Times columnist and Emmy-winning technology correspondent for “CBS News Sunday Morning,” David Pogue, will deliver the keynote address, offering attendees a unique perspective on the opportunities that evolving technology brings to the future of radio.
Unfortunately, I was unable to make the speech, but fortunately I run into Saga's Steve Goldstein who was kind enough to share the take-away from the session AND provide some funny moments on the convention floor. See for yourself right here:

Sunday, September 14, 2008

My Network or Yours?

Many ambitious companies and radio stations have a social network vision. Excellent! Many will conceive and launch their own proprietary social network and bypass My Space, Facebook, and Twitter. Mistake!

Use "mass appeal" social networking to your full advantage.

Have a virtual place in which listeners and fans can interact with other listeners and fans, and directly with the radio station and its personalities. Additionally, through the "networking " piece of social networking, expand your friend/fan base by your (station) friends recommending YOUR space on My Space, etc. to their friends and so on.

Use the public social networking sites to stimulate interest and traffic to your content rich website. Go where the people are. Think of Twitter, Facebook, and the others as we used to think of the TV networks--and their ability to drive CUME. Your stations cume and the cume of your website.

If you are thinking this strategy is just for the kids. Think again. Time will show, they are for everyone.

Of course your website should be a community. Just don't forget that there are excellent options to help that community grow.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The New FM

Many have talked about HD Radio being in the same spot FM radio was in the late 60's--still early, with the potential for exponential growth coming. Sadly, this is very far from an accurate comparison. In truth, for reasons you've read and heard a thousand times, HD is miles behind in a race that it is not likely to win. From weak programming to signal and interference issues to very few radios sold this venture is a "tough putt."

However, a real growth story is beginning to develop--[streaming] on-line. I can't say I'm surprised to hear that in PPM markets New York, LA, and Chicago a growing cume story is emerging. Inside Radio had that story this morning:
Streaming makes a bigger showing in PPM ratings. Stations meeting minimum reporting standards for online listening more than tripled last month, as 11 stations in the first 13 PPM markets had enough listening to “make the book.” The webcast of New York AC “Lite FM” WLTW had a 0.6 cume rating while sister CHR “Z-100” WHTZ reached a 0.7. Both stations did better in suburban embedded markets, even topping a 1.0. In Los Angeles AC KOST and modern rock KROQ both had a 0.5 cume rating. Chicago’s WLS hit a 0.6 — with a big spike in online listening during Rush Limbaugh’s show. Arbitron SVP Bill Rose says while online listening remains primarily an at-work medium, it is proving to be more of a 25-54 phenomena than first thought. Last month, more than one in ten working Men 25-54 (11.4%) listened to a station online. For working Women 25-54 it was 10.9%. That compares to 7.5% for Persons 6+. Rose says “Streaming has been around a little while and it’s gotten a little older.”
It's a very optimistic story, one that is closer to the early FM comparison.

Now, streaming is more about "easy" and less about buffering, dropped connections, and bad audio. Mobile and dashboard access are upon us and will become easier and easier in the months and years ahead.

Five reminders I think are vital for successful streaming initiatives:
  • Open access--streams need to be available outside of proprietary players.
  • A clean stream in which the music, talent, spots, and promos create a seamless listening experience. No dead air during a spot break or that hideous "we'll be right back" music!
  • Decent audio quality (btw, Orban has a great sounding plug-in to help in this area).
  • Begin thinking about specialty streams--continuous morning show replays, interview and news maker channels, single artist channels, local event channels, etc.
  • Creative marketing initiatives designed to help listeners easily access your streams.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

PPM vs. FCC and Now NYAG

Issues with Arbitron? Really? Knock me over--holy cow! Arbitron? Wow!!!

But seriously...

First the FCC starts poking around and now NYAG Andrew Cuomo is investigating Arbitron.

According to R&R:
"Because of Arbitron's virtual monopoly over ratings in the radio industry, a significant and improper decline in ratings under the PPM methodology could cause minority stations to suffer drastic reductions in advertising revenues. This, in turn, could severely harm minority broadcasting in New York," wrote Cuomo in a Sept. 9 letter to Steve Morris, chairman, president and CEO of Arbitron, and Timothy Smith, executive VP and chief legal officer, legal & business affairs.
More wows! You can read the entire R&R article here.

My friend and research guru Mark Ramsey wrote an excellent piece on the subject on his blog hear2.0. I couldn't have said it better. So I didn't.

Law & Order: PPM

From Radio & Records:

New York AG Investigates PPM

New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo has initiated an investigation into Arbitron's PPM system. Arbitron received a subpoena today from the NYAG's office requesting PPM documents dating back to 2003 and has until Sept. 19 to produce the paperwork.

Okay, I have an idea.

If you don't like the numbers you're getting from the folks you're paying to do the best possible job of audience research, something inherently fraught with error no matter who does it and no matter how well, then make up whatever numbers you want.

Research is not perfect. Ratings are not perfect. The diary methodology is not perfect. PPM is not perfect. The errors exist in every methodology and will slice a different way depending on the details of the methodology. Note I said a "different" way, not a right or wrong one.

But when you define "accurate" as numbers you got under one methodology but not another one, you do not understand what "accurate" means. All ratings are estimates, best guesses based on sampling and response factors which are, to some degree, out of the researcher's control. Further, the very act of changing the response tool will change the ratings - period. And you can't prove they're less "accurate" simply because you don't like the outcome.

There is no such thing as "accurate." There is only such a thing as numbers you like and numbers you don't.

Love 'em or hate 'em, it seems to me that Arbitron has every incentive to provide the best possible audience estimates that radio can afford to pay for.

Should Arbitron be held accountable for doing their very best? Sure.

But how far beyond that should our industry go?

The idea of inviting the FCC into this process is galling enough, but to incite attention from the federal legal eagles and with it the implication of deliberate wrong-doing...this is over the top.

It's a development that will serve to diminish confidence in all radio measurement and in all the stations that use it, regardless of whether that measurement is derived from paper or meters.

Just wait and see.

NAB Next Week

I am looking forward to seeing old friends and new ones next week in Austin! If you are planning to be there--let's get together.

As a blogger and radio guy I will be wearing two hats...one as a journalist who will be writing about some of things I believe are important coming out of the convention, and two, as a passionate participant trying to lift up our industry during the most challenging time I have ever witnessed in 30 years in the this business.

Hope to see you there!!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Need Ideas? Brainstorm It

Brainstorming can be a great way to generate solutions to everyday problems and monumental issues alike. No bad ideas, no nasty comments, everyone contributes, and after a predetermined length of time we cull through the suggestions and see what we have. Discard what is not usable and use the rest to start generating your solution(s). I have found this process to be a great way to foster staff involvement and at the same time generate creative solutions to the matter at hand.

What was once a conference room exercise can now be done on-line at a site called Brain Reactions. This is a pay service that allows for private brainstorm rooms to be created. A free test drive is available which permits one brainstorm with 5 participants.

Additionally, the site also offers a space for open brainstorms (free). These are seen by all who check out that section on the site. I thought it would be interesting to post a question and see what kind of response it generated. You can see it and participate here.
Someone just might have a good idea to share. Scientific research? No. But hey, you never know what we might learn.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Just For Fun

Was browsing through Trend Hunter this afternoon and ran across this story. Thought it would be a fun post for the beginning of the weekend.

Ads are everywhere, from billboards to magazine pages. They fill our faces with food, fashion and fun ideas. But ad placement can be as critical as the design of the ads themselves, which these pictures go to show. If put in the wrong context, these ads just don’t “flow,” at least not the way their promoters would expect them to. This article should be a warning to ad execs everywhere: think before you place.

Some unfortunately-located ads are hilarious, some are scary, and some are just plain sad.

Have a laugh or two and skim through these ironically located top 10 marketing tools.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Google Hits 1%!

1% of the browser market in one day.  That's the word coming from the Stat Counter blog- the company I use to track traffic to this blog.  

Just downloaded it and started playing around with it and it seems pretty easy and quick.  As a side note...as much as I like Firefox, version 3 has crashed quite a bit even though I have have downloaded the 3.01 fix.  The browser market just got a little more competitive and ultimately that has got to be good for you and me.  

Here's their release:

Chrome Grabs 1% in One Day!

According to research conducted by us here at StatCounter, Google’s new browser, Chrome, has taken 1% of the global browser market within a day of launch.

Google’s unusual step of publicising the Chrome browser on its notoriously clutter-free homepage is an indication of the plans that Google has for this browser…

“This is a phenomenal performance,” commented Aodhan Cullen, “this is war on Microsoft but the big loser could be Firefox.”

While Google may have the Internet Explorer market share in its sights, the fact that many Firefox users are more “mobile” as far as browser use is concerned, may impact on the current Firefox market share.

Note: The StatCounter analysis was conducted today, Wednesday, 03 September 2008, and was based on a sample of 18.5 million page views globally. The analysis identified that Internet Explorer holds 70% of the global browser market followed by Firefox with 22%.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Listen - Enable - Serve

This space over the past number of months has been filled with, among other things, commentary on the numerous changes affecting our industry--mostly through a programming focused lens.

One of the biggest issues that face programmers is how to successfully program mass appeal radio stations when it is clear that control is shifting/has shifted from us to them--the listeners. It's a problem not easily solved.

As new ideas are tried and adopted -- new formats, new personalities, and new structures -- one area, for all intents and purposes, has not been adequately addressed. Sales. Far be it for me to play the role of a sales expert, but here goes... We got "less is more," shorter commercials, fewer breaks, more breaks, more spots, less spots, and any number of other variations. None of it has yielded spectacular results, or so it seems to me. We need radical thought when it comes to commercials.

Today's version of commercials must change. I can't say with certainty what advertising will sound like in the future but the time is now to start trying some different things. Maybe all live? Maybe more theatrical? Maybe hyper short messages tied to some sort of interactive interface? As revenues continue to decline, due to both the economy and shifting advertising paradigms, we owe it to our future to consider any and all ideas.

I want to share with you this presentation which was created to help "brands" better navigate the networked world. I think it offers some valuable insights for programming and for sales. The key take away is Listen, Enable and Serve. If we take this message to heart it could have a lasting and positive impact for programming, sales, listeners and clients alike.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Google Chrome

Today, Tuesday Google will officially release the beta version of their new browser CHROME.
From Goog's Official blog they point out some points of differentiation as to why a new Browser to take on IE and Firefox:

What we really needed was not just a browser, but also a modern platform for web pages and applications

On the surface, we designed a browser window that is streamlined and simple. To most people, it isn't the browser that matters. It's only a tool to run the important stuff -- the pages, sites and applications that make up the web. Like the classic Google homepage, Google Chrome is clean and fast. It gets out of your way and gets you where you want to go.

Under the hood, we were able to build the foundation of a browser that runs today's complex web applications much better. By keeping each tab in an isolated "sandbox", we were able to prevent one tab from crashing another and provide improved protection from rogue sites. We improved speed and responsiveness across the board. We also built a more powerful JavaScript engine, V8, to power the next generation of web applications that aren't even possible in today's browsers.

This is just the beginning -- Google Chrome is far from done. We're releasing this beta for Windows to start the broader discussion and hear from you as quickly as possible. We're hard at work building versions for Mac and Linux too, and will continue to make it even faster and more robust.
Google also created a comic book that takes us on a tour. See it here.

Why is this important for us radio folks?

  • Let it serve as a reminder that leaders lead. Google is a leader and they are not content to have the best search engine in the business. They want it all. Radio take note.
  • Technology continues to move at warp speed and radio is still tinkering with digital radio 1.0.
  • Take note of the commitment to open source. Proprietary apps and closed architecture will continue to evaporate. This is important especially when we are thinking about our local station on-line communities. Sure build your own and build your database, but don't forget to be on Facebook, Twitter, and wherever else your listeners are already loitering.
  • Be flexible, versatile, and nimble. Not because you want to, but because you NEED to.
  • Don't forget--Google is all about the money, profits, and growth. What innovations can radio stations roll out? Think entertainment and technology. For radio the two will go hand in hand.