Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Did the internet kill the radio tower?

"Half your advertising budget is wasted.  You just don't know which half."

The other day I turned on my radio on the drive home from work.  There was a breaking news story I was interested in ("breaking" as in, it was actually happening at the time, not "someone told the Chyron writer to make something look important").  I hadn't done that in months.  Years ago, listening to the radio was an integral part of making a cross-country trip, just as reading the Sunday funnies and (lightly) browsing the rest of the newspaper used to be a regular habit.  Even not so long ago, listening to the news on the way home was the default option.

Then came podcasts.  I was a bit late to the game, mostly because I'm somewhat deliberately lazy about adopting new technology, but once I got a suitable app set up to my liking, podcasts rapidly took over.  I could pick out whatever information or entertainment I wanted streamed into my brain, rewind or fast forward as needed and never have to worry about reception.  The only downside is needing to get everything set up nicely before actually starting the car moving.  I'm sure there are apps for that, but as I said, I'm a bit lazy about apps and such.

I know that people still listen to the radio.  Somehow my switching over didn't magically cause everyone else to stop tuning in to their favorite on-air personalities and call-in shows.  But for a certain kind of listener, there's little reason to fiddle with a radio.  Chances are you can livestream your favorite sports events if you like, though then you do have to worry about reception.

Podcasts, livestreams and other online content don't just change things for listeners.  There's a crucial difference for the people creating and distributing the content.  Even if "podcast" deliberately sounds like "broadcast", it's actually a classic example of narrowcasting -- delivering content directly to the "content consumers" based on their particular preferences.

Broadcasting is anonymous.  I send a signal into the ether and whoever picks it up picks it up.  I have no direct way of knowing how many people are listening, much less who.  Obviously this is much more anonymous than the internet.  It also has economic implications.

There are two main ways of paying for content: subscription and advertising.  In either case, it's valuable to know exactly who's on the other end.  Narrowcasting gives very find-grained information about that, while broadcasting provides only indirect, aggregated information based on surveys or, failing that, the raw data of who's buying advertising and how much they're paying.  Between that and satellite radio's subscription model, is there any room left for broadcast radio?

Probably.  I mean, it hasn't gone away yet, any more than printed books have.

Sure, broadcasters and the people who advertise on broadcast radio don't have detailed information about who's listening to the ads, but that may not matter.  The advertiser just needs to know that spending $X on old-fashioned radio advertising brings in more than $X in business.  The tools for figuring that out have been around since the early days of radio.

If people still find radio advertising effective, the broadcaster just has to know that enough people are still buying it to keep the lights on and the staff paid.  In a lot of cases that staff is shared across multiple physical radio stations anyway (and the shows, I would expect, are sent to those stations over the internet).  In other words, it may be valuable to know in detail who's listening to what, but it's not essential.

On the other hand, if broadcast radio does go away, I probably won't find out about it until I happen to switch my car audio over to it and nothing's there.


earl said...

My attitude is "I like this thing. If you like a different thing, I'm cool with that. Just don't make my thing go away.

I used to have a landline, now I have a cell phone. I can call, and be called, pretty much all the time, instead of when I'm close to the phone on the wall.

Does that make my life better? Mmmm, yeah.

Does it make my life worse" Mmmm, also yeah. Phone chargers, anyone?

People are still making film for cameras. For that matter, people are still making birch-bark canoes. Just a few years ago I sharpened a scythe for a customer. But by and large we are all still captive to "the way it's done."

My newspaper gets thinner by the week, but on Sundays and Wednesdays it's full of advertising inserts. Someone must think I'm still out here.

David Hull said...

See also this post.

earl said...

Oh, yeah, I remember that one.