Compete, Collaborate, or Both?

January 17, 2012

Peter SmythIn the past week, since the announcement that Greater Media’s radio stations will join the iHeartRadio platform, a number of people have asked me – very politely – just what the heck I was hoping to gain and why I was throwing in with a competitor.

My response is simple: “We’re not just in radio anymore.” Historically, radio has been geographically bound to one city or town, and has competed within its own silo for ad dollars. But the world has changed and the next order of business is to help grow our station brands and reach beyond the city of license.

Distribution and accessibility is what our participation in iHeartRadio is about, first and foremost. If we believe that stations like WMMR in Philadelphia, The Link in Charlotte, WRIF in Detroit or WROR in Boston are good solid brands, they deserve an opportunity to extend themselves beyond their local marketplaces. We know from our experience with our local websites and station-branded mobile apps that loyal listeners want – no, demand – access to their favorite brands whenever and however they want to access them.

The second reason for the partnership is the need for radio to look beyond our own competitive battles to the larger war being waged for the listeners’ attention. I’ve said before and I’ll repeat it again: the battle for the new integrated dashboard is one of the most significant fights that radio must win. But we won’t win this battle on a fragmented, individual company basis. Consumers are not loyal to corporate ownership, or even to their own geography; they want to access whatever product meets their need at the moment. If that’s radio, great. If it’s Hulu or even Pandora, it had better be easy for them to switch from one source to another. Within this environment, I have great faith in the ability of our radio stations to compete and to win.

We in radio need to rise to the consumer challenge and take steps to work together to make a collectively successful presence for radio in the integrated dashboard. Will that be iHeartRadio? I honestly do not know. These are the early days of an evolution that will take years, but I do know that it is step in the right direction toward an easier, more integrated user experience. Call it collaborating with a competitor, or a frenemy, or simply a marriage of convenience. But for Greater Media, it moves us toward a larger goal of keeping radio vibrant and alive in the new competitive environment of the automobile.