Going International

May 6, 2015

This month, I am heading up to Toronto to join many of our Canadian friends at the Canadian Music Week Radio Interactive Summit. This annual convocation has been going on for more than 30 years and is an international gathering of people from across Canada and the US along with representatives from many other parts of the globe.  I’ve been asked to participate in a panel called “The View from the Executive Suite”.   I’m looking forward to sharing and learning from executives who may approach our common problems from a different perspective.  The opportunities and challenges for our business are numerous, and many are shared across national borders.

As a broadcaster, my ongoing challenge is how to transform Greater Media from a radio com

Peter Smyth

Peter Smyth

pany into a media company and employ all of the new technologies to further our brands and our relationship with listeners.  Radio stations are in the midst of becoming multiple media outlets, using digital, video, audio on demand, social and other tools to deepen and broaden our interaction with the audience.  This means that radio stations must bring more value to their audience than simply music delivery with “less talk” or “the greatest hits.”   The touch points between the air personality and his or her listeners have multiplied with amazing speed.  The listener is now in charge and, like video viewership, wants what he wants when he wants it. Our ability to respond to this change in behavior has placed stress on station staffs to reorganize, reconfigure and rethink their jobs and priorities.  It’s an ongoing challenge to everyone’s creativity and will require risk-taking and an open mind to find the winning solution.

I am particularly concerned about the evolution of the connected car.  This is an especially difficult and complicated area since the automakers are huge companies in search of solutions and platforms with global reach and a long development time.  The radio industry is locally-oriented and a collection of smaller companies and individual owners.  It is not easy to create a dialogue on how to best maintain the simple-to-use radio broadcast service and simultaneously introduce new digital services that consumers are looking for.  Adding further friction and complexity is the emergence of platforms from both Apple and Google that look to inject their standards and services onto the digital dash.  I worry that the jockeying among individual car makers and technology providers will ultimately make it more difficult for the end user who is simply looking for his or her familiar local radio station.  We cannot allow that type of interface complexity to interfere with in-car listening. Even with the mismatch of scale between the radio and automotive industries, we all need to be active and vocal in making our case to auto manufacturers through their local dealers and associations.

Tightly aligned with the digital dashboard is radio’s mobile presence.   I am proud that our stations have been offering listeners station-branded mobile streaming audio apps since 2008.  It is now time to insure that all information and interactions with our audience are available on their mobile devices.  The adoption of mobile devices has exploded in the past several years.  Some surveys indicate that fully 80% of our listeners own smartphones and almost 25% prefer their mobile device to a traditional computer.  The need to make sure that all of our content, video, audio and text, is available conveniently to mobile users is now mandatory.  Whether through mobile apps, responsive design or the mobile web, we must move with the listener or risk being left behind.

Faced with all this rapid change, it is more important than ever to resist the tendency to hunker down and focus only on the tried and true.  More than ever we need to be a learning organization, open to new ideas and technology and finding creative uses for them in our business.  We need to be flexible in our thinking but disciplined in our actions.   We need to evaluate everything in the context of a comprehensive strategic business plan.  The plan can and will change as conditions change, but without one, we fall into the shiny new object syndrome and bounce from one initiative to another without creating meaningful success in any of them.  There is more innovation occurring around us than ever before and the goal is to keep pace with the needs and desires of our audience.   We don’t want to swamp them with technology for its own sake, but choose those innovations that add to the reputation, entertainment and innovation of the radio station brand.

In short, it’s more important than ever to set a clear direction for station brands and their teams, and clearly communicate when it is time to adjust.   It makes no difference what side of the border you are on.  I hope to see you in Toronto.