How Do You Imagine Radio’s Future?

February 21, 2014

I found myself staring into the fire and wondering just what the radio station of the future would be like.  Not just in 2014, but in 2024.

Peter Smyth

Peter Smyth

I didn’t see any flying cars in our future, but I did envision some significant changes both in the way we operate and how we structure ourselves to do the job.

By 2024, we will be working for local media companies.  Yes, we will continue to produce audio and transmit programming through our towers, but that will only be a part of our media brand.  By 2024, online media will be at least 50% of our total audience reach and we will be creating personalized content for our many customers, both locally and worldwide.  By that date, our brands will be much more multi-dimensional and far-reaching than our city of license.  For travelers, college students, armed forces members and former residents now living elsewhere, we will be an on demand connection with their hometown.  We will produce audio, video, text and photographic content that reflect our brand’s involvement with and knowledge of our audience.  In fact, we will have to come up with a new term for “audience” because they will now be far more involved in the creation of our media brand than ever before.  Local media will have become personalized and participatory while maintaining the sense of companionship, location and lifestyle that have always been our strength.

Inside our radio station, now media company, the staff will be about the same size as today, but in a very different configuration.  We will first notice that today’s air personalities have become content managers.  No longer do they sit in one studio for a set period of hours and play back music or host talk shows.  In 2024, the media company is out of the building more than it is inside it, interacting with the audience.  Whether it is greeting members at the local concert venue or the sports stadium, reporting from a political rally, or sending out a live video feed of the traffic on the drive home, our media company will be wherever significant, entertaining or newsworthy events are taking place.

Our more powerful and integrated computer systems will provide a menu of options for audience members’ enjoyment or information.  With the adoption of addressable receivers, today’s broadcast stream will fragment into an on-demand world of bite sized information and entertainment that audience members can customize and personalize.  These preferences will be stored on their personal digital devices and will be synchronized at home, in the digital car, and on their wearable computer.  The combination of addressable broadcast and online, two-way communication will allow the station brand to provide a music and information mix that is always available and tailored to listeners’ interests.   If your music tastes run to country pop or alternative rock, from all hits to adventuresome new music, the presentation will adjust. Perhaps you want to see your music rather than just hear it; music videos can be streamed, providing a whole new dimension.  If you want your traffic updates as data and not interrupting your audio, it will be presented that way.  If your interests run to political news and world affairs, those stories will be presented first in your newscast.

 

In what was called the sales department, account managers will provide data-driven, highly targeted media programs for local sponsors and digital networks provide sponsorships and other integrated content for national advertisers in real-time.  The advertiser-generated content will take a variety of forms and today’s 30 second audio spot will be much more the exception than the rule.  As a result, only relevant and interesting products will be presented to individual listeners and will enhance and not interrupt their listening (and viewing) enjoyment.

Local advertisers will continue to be the bedrock of our business, but will participate in much deeper partnerships than today.  It will become commonplace that we will make our revenue based upon the advertiser’s business results.  We will be able to create and manage customer relationships on their behalf and leverage our relationships with the audience for everyone’s benefit.  Our knowledge will give us the ability to offer exclusive specials, deals and discounts based on individual interests and needs.

You can see that the tools and skills needed to power this media company of the future are quite different from those of today.  But the foundation for many of these dreams is being built today.  As we move from a one-to-many broadcast medium to a one-to-one future, data of all kinds will become the currency of communication. The more we know about each listener, the more we will be able to understand them and build branded content that will be interesting and enjoyable for them. We will need new tools to analyze, group, and simultaneously present different options and solutions to content managers and creators in order to challenge their creative juices and deepen their understanding of the audience.  We will need improved and networked storage of content to be able to access, on demand, the best possible offerings for audience consumption.  We will need to identify and ally with other local and regional content creators to increase our capacity.  And most of all, we will need talented, insightful, adventuresome and creative staff to conceive, administrate, execute and sell this media brand.

Is this version of the future realistic?  Who knows?  Perhaps it’s just a holiday daydream.  Some new innovation or creation in the next twelve or eighteen months may completely alter this vision of the future.   The path to the future is never a straight one.  But I do know that our proven ability to adapt has always allowed local radio to find its way forward in an evolving media universe.  It will be the challenge of our youngest staff and the coming generation of broadcasters to respond to these challenging times.  But it does all of us good to have a vision of the future to embrace and work to make a reality.