What’s the Forecast?

November 3, 2015

What’s The Forecast?

On November 17th, I am honored to be co-chairing Radio Ink’s Forecast 2016, along with Drew Marcus, Managing Partner of Sugarloaf Rock Capital and longtime investor in radio. It is always informative and stimulating to gather members of the investment, advertising andPeter Smyth media communities to exchange opinions about where we are and what to expect in the coming year.

Each year, Forecast covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time; this year will be no different. Erica Farber will moderate a panel on advertising expenditures for the coming year.  Her panel of Mark Fratrik, Mark Gray, Jack Meyers and Marci Ryvicker will share their best estimates about where the dollars will come from in the coming year and what advertisers will be looking for as return on their investment.

Drew Marcus will lead a discussion about radio as an investment, with Jerry Sargent from Citizens Bank, Brian McNeill of Alta Communications and George Reed from Media Services Group.

Any election year presents an opportunity for political revenues and this year radio is better equipped than in the past. The Nielsen voter analysis tool will show political advertisers which way our listeners lean politically in a more specific way than ever before. And the outspoken Dick Morris, political consultant, will give us his take on the candidates and their chances for ultimate success in November.   Later in the day, Gordon Smith of NAB will moderate a panel that will dive deep into how the political dollars flow and how to maximize radio’s political opportunities. He will be talking with Laura Clark of Radio One, Patrick McGee from the Katz Radio Group, and my fellow Bostonian Tom O’Neill, founder of O’Neill and Associates.

Beth Neuhoff will lead a panel of independent operators including Steve Newberry of Commonwealth Broadcasting, Joe Schwartz of Cherry Creek Radio, Jeff Shapiro from Great Eastern Radio and Gary Shorman of Eagle Communications.

I am particularly looking forward to an afternoon panel called “How Disruptive Innovations Are Challenging Radio’s Growth Opportunities”, moderated by Amy Young of Macquarie Securities and featuring Brian Benedik from Spotify, Carter Brokaw from iHeart Media, Doug Sterne from Pandora and our friend Bob Struble from iBiquity.  They will discuss how to compete in the new expanded audio landscape and isolate which new areas need support and investment to flourish and contribute to our long term success.

Pierre Bouvard from Westwood One will head a panel that promises to identify six specific things we can do to secure a greater share of advertising dollars in 2016.  That will be followed by a session in which radio executives will respond to the six suggestions from advertisers. I will be joined on this panel by Ginny Morris of Hubbard Broadcasting, Albert Rodriguez from Spanish Broadcasting and Jeff Smulyan from Emmis Communications.

We will also have a luncheon presentation with Dan Mason, honoring him for his Lifetime Leadership as CEO of CBS Radio, and conclude with a reception for the Radio Ink 40 Most Powerful.   That is a jam-packed day of both information and opinion reflecting the vibrancy of our medium, our clients and our investors.

I hope to see many of you there as we prepare for another challenging and exciting year in the ongoing transformation of our business.

No Hyperbole; Just Facts

September 15, 2015

Peter Smyth

We live in a world of claims, counterclaims and hyperbole.   It seems that the spin masters are always hard at work, trying to manipulate public opinion or attitudes.  This phenomenon is most obviously at work in the political realm, where candidates and policy ideas are routinely praised as groundbreaking and simultaneously derided as the worst idea in the history of the republic.

Same goes for business; in these days of disruption, large armies of public relations specialists work tirelessly to convince us that the globe may or may not be warming, that coal is really clean or really dirty, or that everyone needs a certain type of smartwatch.  These assertions are usually backed up with very carefully selected facts that seldom contain the whole picture.

That is why it is so refreshing to see some recent facts – no spin! – shared by our friends at NextRadio, the mobile phone app that enhances smartphones by activating the onboard FM tuner chip and provides two way interactions.

While the story of radio’s performance in times of emergencies or natural disasters has been told often by many of us, the new technology champions have dismissed or minimized the important role of broadcasters, and claim that mass text messages or cell phone alerts can perform the same service.  Wireless carriers claim that there is no need to activate the chip and there is little consumer appetite for it.  While it may sound convincing in a sound bite, those who have had firsthand experience know that once the power grid is interrupted, both voice and data communication to your phone becomes unstable or outright unavailable, sometimes for days.  Whether it’s downed trees, rising flood waters, or tornado or hurricane aftermath, high tech solutions are simply not reliable.

The recent data from NextRadio allows us to examine specific behavior by real users and move beyond generalities and anecdotes.  Real people, real data; not just estimates.   In July in Brainerd, Minnesota, a straight-line windstorm caused an average 260% increase in listeners to 12 area radio stations and a 615% increase in listening sessions tracked by the NextRadio app.  In Northern Illinois in April, NextRadio tracked a 54% increase in listeners to 67 area radio stations.   When tornadoes and flash flooding hit Oklahoma City in May, a 146% increase in listeners to 46 area radio stations translated to a 254% increase in listening sessions.  Real people, a lot of them, turned to radio for information and instructions.

This is a case where the facts provide clarity and insight.  They demonstrate the necessity for broadcast services and information during times of emergency.  For those of us in radio who have worked and lived through a crisis, whether it was a huge event like Katrina or Sandy or a more localized challenge, we have experienced firsthand the needs and gratitude of listeners in our communities when we respond with live, local and life-saving information.   We have always taken this part of our public service obligation seriously and we are proud to do our best when times are trying.

Now the data confirms that experience.

Peter Smyth

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