But, Is That Radio?

A few managers and programmers continue to deny that Pandora and its peers are competitors for radio. We’re wondering how many quarter hours they need to lose to these new sources before they begin treating them as competition.

Not that many years ago in our work with television stations we’d encounter station managers who didn’t believe that streaming-only startups like Netflix were really TV. Far enough back, you can rest assured that there were TV executives who didn’t consider cable channels to be competition either.

A scan of major Emmy nominations over the last 30 years tells a different tale. In 1985 all of the major Emmy nominations were from shows on broadcast networks. By 1995, pay cable, like HBO, and basic cable had gotten in on the action, respectively capturing 20% and 13% of the nominations. Ten years ago the percentages of major nominations for pay and basic cable shows were up to 26% and 15% respectively. In the recently-announced 2015 Emmy nominations, the networks drop to 31%, pay cable drops to 21%, basic cable shows jump to 26% and streamers like Netflix and Amazon enter with 12% of the nominations.

The tremendous distribution advantage of broadcast networks has been disrupted and the pay cable operators are already offering Internet streaming options. In the manner that our parents and grandparents adapted to the idea of paying for cable reception and eventually paying a premium for channels like HBO, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials are quickly adapting to the idea of paying a la carte for TV delivered on the Internet. It’s all TV; how it gets to your screen is irrelevant.

What drives this isn’t the technology, it’s the desire among consumers to access the content available from these sources. How many of the thousands currently getting the free trial of the new Apple Music service will convert to paying for it on October 1 remains to be seen. But, there are certainly many different tentacles of the service that will appeal to different segments of consumers.

Broadcast radio can’t compete with all these different facets, but needs to make the most of what it does bring to the table:

  • Tremendous ease of use
  • Huge proliferation of devices
  • Solid, reliable wireless delivery for nearly all consumers
  • Easy to avoid using up cellphone data plans
  • No subscription fees
  • Likelihood of enhanced local relevance compared to other providers
  • Expertly-curated music playlists
  • A tradition of hosts ranging from relatable to funny to outrageous


We can’t match the lower commercial inventory right now. We can’t match the opportunity for personal customization. We can’t match the immense variety. But we offer so many positives; it’s up to us to make the most of each one of them to compete with these new competitors. Instead of being just one among a growing number of sources to get music or spoken-word programming, we can work to offer great entertainment and a genuine experience of community to our listeners.