The Wrong Target


What’s that old saying? If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.

Seth Godin had a post once that basically said: ‘Viewers are not the customers of TV networks, advertisers are.’

50 years ago, both viewers and advertisers were ok with this deal. Viewers got to watch television free, and national advertisers could reach almost all viewers at a cost that made sense.

Then came cable, which brought choice, fracturing the monolithic hold the Big 3 TV networks had on our attention. Advertisers had to buy more spots, and/or more channels, to reach the same number of eyes.

And once this critical mass equation was disrupted, it opened the door for a radical new way of delivering quality content.

HBO offered first run, uncensored, uninterrupted movies but you had to pay to be able to see the channel. We all know how that turned out.

See, HBO only had one customer: viewers. It was able to put all its attention and resources into that one target, offering content we would love enough to pay to see.

Millions of viewers each willing to pay $10 a month for uninterrupted movies — not to mention original content such as The Sopranos and Game of Thrones — proved to be a pretty good economic model.

Now, ESPN not only charges for its content, which you pay via your monthly cable/satellite bill, they sell commercials too.

That brings us to Radio, consolidated Radio. Who are our customers?

Today, regardless of mission statements and other blather, listeners are not the target for most radio stations, advertisers are.

It’s unlikely that Pandora or Spotify or SiriusXM or even Apple’s new music service, iTunes Radio, will kill radio, just as cable and satellite TV have not killed the networks. But they are focused more on listeners than advertisers at this point.

And just as the blandness and over-commercialization of network TV created the opening for HBO and premium channels, Radio has opened the door to these other services that are more interested in what listeners want than what owners want.

As debt has grown with consolidation, and ratings have clustered into an undifferentiated blob, it’s become harder and harder to sell enough spots to pay the bills. This is unlikely to change.

I know of only two types of radio that ask listeners to pay for content and actually get a critical mass of subscribers: Public Radio and Christian Radio.

It’s clear to everyone in our business that we are over-commercialized. It’s also clear that no owner is willing to take less profit to try to keep listeners. But maybe there is another way…

It starts with customer-focused programming, content designed to generate passion and loyalty from listeners.

Look, NPR has figured this out. The K-LOVE network has figured this out. It’s some combination of subscribers/donors and advertisers. It’s providing differentiated content that is in high enough demand to be worth paying for.

It’s difficult and expensive to create original content, which is why music streaming services haven’t done it yet, so this is what you should consider every time you are asked to trim your budget: Until you provide consistent and highly entertaining content, non-musical content, that listeners are actually willing to pay $10, or $12, a month to hear, your job is at risk.

And ignoring that will not make it go away, no matter how many spots you can sell or how much revenue you produce today.