Something Intangible

Having a bunch of ads, occasional grocery coupons, movie listings, notices of who died yesterday, yesterday’s closing stock prices, a handful of blog posts and a round-up of yesterday’s news printed out and delivered to your door made sense for many of us in the not-too-distant past.  Many newspaper editorial departments believed that it was their in-depth coverage or watchdog journalism that kept people subscribing to the paper, even though it was often the coupons or display ads or the classifieds.

TV news gradually replaced newspaper as the primary news source for most consumers.  Network and local TV coverage whittled away initially and then 24-hour cable news channels continued to widen the gap.  In more recent years, Internet news sources have been able to surpass the depth that had been among newspaper’s last claims of news dominance.

Perhaps more critically, the Internet has become the go-to source for many of those other former newspaper strongholds: classifieds, movie listings, stock market prices, sale information from major retailers – even grocery coupons.  The bundle that had been a major value proposition for newspaper has come apart.

In addition to being the only way for a consumer to carry access to thousands of songs in her pocket for nearly 50 years, music radio was a unique connection to youth culture – and especially popular music culture – for many years.  Historically, local and network TV gave up very little of their programming schedules to youth and music culture.  While cable TV bandwidth took some of that role from radio, it was inevitable that the Internet and social media would become the place where youth culture was transmitted.

Much of music radio has spent over 30 years trying to rid itself of anything that consumers might not like as much as they like the music.  Now, music radio finds itself threatened by a new delivery system that can provide consumers with better-targeted music, even fewer commercials and no other talk whatsoever.  And, similar to newspapers, parts of the music radio bundle have been (or are being) usurped by the Internet: weather updates, local concert and entertainment information, targeted advertising from relevant local retailers – even traffic information is obviously going to end up better delivered by the Internet.

So, what’s left?  There’ll be a lot of music-radio quarter hours from terrestrial broadcasters used while consumers continue to discover and explore new Internet-delivered options like Pandora.  Some consumers will be reticent to use precious monthly wireless data for music listening and will remain with terrestrial.  We’ve yet to see how consumers will use the options provided to them by increasingly better connected cars.  A segment of consumers will simply prefer the programming they’ve become accustomed to on radio.

It’s clear that the stations and brands best positioned to survive and prosper in the coming years will be those whose matrix includes content beyond more music with less talk and fewer commercials.  Some of it could be unique content specific to a local market.  Alternatively, some of it could be leveraged on the power of celebrity that could be brought to bear by the huge distribution of the major radio groups.  Whatever the content is, it needs to be of consistently high quality.  As we’ve opined before, radio now competes on a much larger stage where the competition isn’t just other local media outlets.

  • Some broadcasters will be able to use content relevant to the songs being played.  While it’s something Pandora and other services do automatically on the screen accompanying their streams, a live host giving the snapshot version of the relevant information with the promise of a link to deeper info on the station’s website would have both appeal and value for consumers.  Hosts with a strong command of the station’s music and who appear to be in charge of the station’s music selection will have a leg up here.
  • Some broadcasters will be able to generate interesting content from the music selection process itself, whether it’s a live online voting process or expertly-curated selections with the input of a station advisory board (or other proxy for the station’s music research results) or careful adherence to an online music chart.
  • Other broadcasters may choose to cover truly relevant local events like they’re Hollywood happenings, deploying carefully selected and trained street teams and empowering them to contribute bursts of content.
  • Most importantly, smart broadcasters will incubate new talent – especially for morning (and afternoon drive) shows.  These are the people who, in addition to great content, have that special quality – that something intangible – that elevates them from being a nice voice telling you something interesting and relevant into a nice voice that you feel the need to tune into every day.


If you have a great brand with tremendous non-music content already, protect it like the Holy Grail and work day and night to have the next-big-thing waiting in the wings to replace your current stars.  If you don’t have great non-music content integrated already, make plans for the experiments you’re perhaps just a little less than completely comfortable doing – and do them anyway.  You can always iterate later, but the chance of getting it right is zero unless you take the risk.