Q It Up: What do you think the future holds for internet radio, and how will it impact those of us in radio production?

q-it-up-logo2There’s more significant, valuable knowledge imparted in this month’s Q It Up column than this editor has seen in just about any other article on internet radio and its impact on terrestrial radio and those of us watching this invasion from the creative foxhole. A special thanks to the many heavyweights who took the time to share their insights this month.

Q It Up: What is your opinion of internet-only radio stations such as Pandora, AOL Radio, Last FM and others who stream personalized radio stations and/or hundreds of niche formats you can’t find on terrestrial radio? What do you think the future holds for internet radio, and how do you think that will impact those of us in radio production – producers, copywriters and voice talent?

Internet-Radio layersVaughan Jones [vaughanandjoy[at]aapt.net.au]: Although it will take some time to make a serious impact on terrestrial radio, I believe the industry still needs to takes these developments seriously and reconsider the value of music as a product.

Just as MTV realized many years ago, music is simply too easy to replicate and ultimately compete with. Internet radio is just one way users can access personalized and niche music catalogues. Real stories, current local information and original entertainment content are a lot more difficult to schedule on your iPod.

I think as the digital revolution broadens, we will see surveys real that listeners increasingly quote reasons other than music, as their primary motivation for turning on the radio. When this happens, radio stations will return to these more traditional values, not to the total exclusion of music, but with a significantly diminished focus on it.

Jay Philpott [JAYDIO[at]aol.com], WARH, St. Louis, Missouri: Internet only stations are going to multiply very quickly in the future, but I don’t think this is going to be a huge growth market for voice talent or producers, especially within the genre of music-based streams. Many of these niche stations are run as “hobby stations” by retired radio people and those still in who have the time and energy to do so - and in most cases they’re voicing their own creations, and not making enough revenue to hire outside help. The larger ventures will have internal resources and not be looking for freelancers. Additionally, many are positioned as “anti-radio”, and imaging announcements and sweepers are something the listener (now acting as their own PD) does not want.

I think that radio will survive this “balkanization” of the choice spectrum, even as internet radio becomes ubiquitous and easier to access in the car and in the home. Even though there will be tens of thousands of choices from the internet, I think listeners will do as they always have - find and cume anywhere from 3 or 4 to maybe 10 stations they like. It’s just that some or all of them may be other than traditional broadcast stations.

As with cable TV, the number of internet outlets providing content will multiply, but there will still be a large number of people that stay with traditional AM/FM services while the rest are diffused among the thousands of other choices. This pattern will also be mirrored in the way revenues are split - terrestrial radio will receive fewer raw dollars and a smaller percentage of the pie it used to dominate, but the internet-only stations will be splitting their part of the pie many thousands of ways, and may never aggregate enough money for many of them to really become viable growth businesses. Everybody will have their “tin cup” out, but no one will beg their way into riches.

I can even foresee a consolidation of internet only stations similar to what radio has gone through, with a few companies running thousands of streams each (but only if substantial revenue appears) - something they would like to do with AM/FM radio but are limited by law from doing.

Mitch Todd [Mitch.Todd[at]siriusxm.com], Sirius XM Satellite Radio, New York, NY: For several years, I’ve felt that once wireless internet saturates the nation with broadband connectivity without the “meter running” (i.e. cheap flat rate data connectivity), it’s going to profoundly affect all media including radio, television and print.

Just as cable TV leveled the playing field for all “networks” that had no VHF/UHF affiliates, the internet is doing that right now for radio, print publications, and even individuals who can create their own “brand” on a large scale if they exploit it cleverly enough via web networking tools such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, You Tube and others. Plus the beauty is “custom tailoring” for every user, making it more personal and relevant to their everyday lives.

The iPhone, Palm, Blackberry, Droid and the like, are becoming our main portal for virtually EVERYTHING! It’s all about the content. As many people in radio and other media have had to learn to adapt (or die), we must continue to be as nimble and innovative as possible in regards to content. Internet radio will find a way to be profitable. It will not go away, but that doesn’t necessarily mean terrestrial or satellite radio will die while it rises. We simply have to take the path of MOST resistance! That means try harder than ever to create compelling, sustainable content.

Regarding the impact on the people producing, writing and performing for radio, it simply means trying new things and even new distribution methods. “Radio” can continue to be a great companion for all demographics, no matter what type of “device” reproduces the audio! iPods and many internet radio streaming sites are nothing much more than personal, portable juke boxes. Radio has always had a unique ability to connect on a much more personal level than any other mass medium. The host/talent and “stationality” good production can create, provides a fuller listening experience than a juke box, even if it has nothing but all your favorite songs. With radio, we can still help people discover new things, yet provide them with the familiar comforts they also desire.

Blaine Parker [bp[at]slowburnmarketing.com], Slow Burn Marketing: While I enjoy Pandora, I listen infrequently. I also still believe that despite the doomsayers, terrestrial radio will never lose much ground to these services. The zeitgeist has too much of a connection to local radio for a service like Pandora to ever be a threat. The last “threat” terrestrial radio faced was from satellite radio. Well, from the value of my Sirius stock, I can vouch for how flabby that threat has become. The impact these services should have on producers, writers and voice talent is by providing more (if less lucrative) opportunities. If they’re going to be advertiser supported (which is the only viable business model as far as I can tell), they’re going to need advertising content. We are advertising content creators. Without us, they have… well, you know what they have.

Jeff Berlin [jberlin[at]jberlin.com], www.jeffberlin.com: My opinion: The game changer is in-car radios with presets that take you to an internet station instead of a terrestrial or satellite station. The company most threatened by this is Sirius/XM - since internet radio is far more readily personalized, requires no subscription, and is received using an internet connection you probably already have anyway. I think local radio will remain a factor for a long time, even if it’s heard over the internet instead of over the air - much like hundreds of cable TV channels haven’t killed off local television operations. Internet radio will need writers, producers, and voices for both their content and possibly for commercials fed over the stream. As more listening gets done in a car, it’s likely more “audio only” advertising will find its way into the mix. As frightening as all this may be for us radio veterans, it IS exciting to finally see the undermining and democratization of the music industry, who had a lot of control over what the public would hear on various radio formats. Now we see artists like Colby Caillat breaking out on their own, something they never could have done 15 years ago. The other issue for voiceover people is market exclusivity - you can’t be market exclusive when the market is the whole planet.

The Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times” is upon us.

Dennis Mattern [production.pa[at]verstandig.com], Verstandig Broadcasting: Radio. Terrestrial or “local” radio is like that underground mine fire in Centralia, PA... even as listeners are being relocated, the fire still burns. “Talking movies” didn’t kill radio. Television didn’t kill radio. Cable didn’t... satellite radio didn’t.... Sirius didn’t... XM didn’t.... the Internet, might... but Radio would have to want to die to allow that to happen. Radio is probably smart enough to form an even tighter bond (marketing/streaming/couponing, etc.) with the internet and use it to the mutual advantage of both.

Corporate Radio knows the underground mine is on fire and will look to the government for a bailout, a legal definition of all that smoke, or some other cookie-cutter solution. Local Radio knows, has to know where the hot spots are, and take advantage of them. (Knowing where they are and using them to their own advantage… well, that’s what makes the world go round.)

I really like Pandora. You can switch styles and formats however you like. Plenty of album and artist notes. Don’t even mind the occasional “commercials”.

Haven’t tried the other ones. It’s good background for work, unless your work is editing audio files. Would probably be great for traveling. But Local radio will survive, until internet radio has a local “reporter” covering every locale, 24-7...oh wait, isn’t that called “twitter?”

Andrew Frame [andrew[at]bafsoundworks.com], BAFSoundWorks, Lehigh Acres, Florida: I think that the existence of these stations on one level shows the diversity of content that mass-appeal broadcasting hasn’t been able to develop a profitable business model from. On the other hand, it shows other companies that definitely are trying to develop a business model they can profit from.

Let’s put it in perspective. Newspaper and terrestrial radio - their gravestones already cut by naysayers, are not going away. For certain, they’re not going to have the impact they once had, nor the listenership, but they are not going away.

A Bridge survey in January 2010 presented that the majority of people that listen to streaming audio listen to terrestrial radio station streams more than they do services like Pandora, Last, and RadioIO. (In time, you will be able to listen to streaming radio in your vehicle, and then it’s going to get interesting for terrestrial broadcasters, seeing how the automobile was the last bastion.)

But, in the smaller markets, my own customers say that they have terrific listener response from localized programming, something the satellite and streamers can’t pull off without investing money that they don’t have. And with those operations under the control of Wall Street instead of local owners and communities, they never will have the money, since spending is squarely in conflict with increasing dividends to stockholders.

In my home market, we have no localized radio. We have a couple stations that pull “news” from the local newspaper website or an affiliated TV station, but they have no news departments. No sports departments. In fact, I can find everything they broadcast online, with fewer or no commercials, and certainly no idiotic disc jockeys attempting to “entertain” me with lowest common denominator “humor”. Staff has been cut and cut again until Production Directors are finding themselves acting as disk jockeys voice-tracking mornings on one station, middays on another, and afternoons or evenings on yet another.

My market isn’t unique. But, travel to smaller markets, and you find more and more localization. Some of my client stations can barely afford toilet paper, yet they keep a staff of air talent, a full-time news person, a sports play-by-play person, and more.

As producers, copywriters, and voice talent we must, must, must get out of the 9-to-5 time-clock mentality and start thinking like entrepreneurs. Stop “working for” one station. Diversify. Find additional things you do that you can convert into an income stream in and out of radio.

Station owners will do what they will to keep the lights on. You must take responsibility for yourself to provide an income stream that isn’t wholly dependent on that one single paycheck. No one - no one - is immune from being fired. So do what the CEO’s do and build a golden parachute.

When you start thinking bigger, (and investing many hours into that kind of thinking), you begin to service a larger clientele - agencies, television, radio, cable, industrial, etc., so a downturn or “paradigm shift” in one industry does not cause you to lose income - rather, it forces you to examine what income stream possibilities you now have before you.

This way, it doesn’t matter what radio does - terrestrial, satellite, or online. You will have built a way to be immune from shifts, and expanded your business and income opportunities.

Rob Maurer [robmaurerprod[at]yahoo.com], FOX News Radio: I used to think Pandora was the best thing since sliced bread, but lately, I don’t know if they changed their algorithms or whatever, but I don’t find as much good “similar music” as I used to. I had created a Steely Dan station back when, and immediately discovered like-minded bands like Stuff and The Larsen-Feiten Band. Now I get really left-field choices, and rarely visit.

I think in general Live365 has the right idea -- create an actual “station” where you are the “programmer”. Some stuff I’ve heard on there is more varied and has way more personality than anything on terrestrial radio in Market #1. Then again, maybe that’s not saying much... ;-)

Expansion of internet radio can only be good for production, imaging, and voiceover artists, I think. More opportunities, at the very least. Albeit, it’ll come at a lower price, which isn’t necessarily the direction I’d like to see it go in, but in the era of the “four dollar sweeper” it’s an unfortunate reality.

I’ll prefer to relate it to the current Office Depot TV spot running where a six-dollar haircut mega-chain opens across from a small proprietor, and the little guy outlives the big guy by putting up a sign that says “We fix six dollar haircuts”.

I’ll fix four dollar sweepers.

David Bannerman [David.Bannerman[at]nscc.ca], NSCC, Nova Scotia, Canada: When Chrysler introduced 20 models in 2008 that were the first to be Wi-Fi capable with their ‘U-Connect’ option, few took note of what really was coming down the pipe. While we’re not there yet, too many remain oblivious to the fact we’re only a few years away from every new vehicle being Wi-Fi enabled and connected, not to mention the growing selection of cool home based internet radio’s now making their way to store shelves. Simply put, Internet Radio ‘in vehicles’ will mark the largest paradigm shift that terrestrial radio has seen in 20 years, bigger than HD and Satellite combined. Now before you assume I’m thinking this is a negative, think again. This will complete the most recent technology curve bringing the capability for anyone with professional radio skills to create good ‘on-demand’ content… and good content is key. Who is better equipped and skilled to bring relevant, creative, niche and local content to listeners than talented and visionary producers, copywriters and voice talent? Unlike many (but not all) terrestrial sources however, repeater programming, voice tracking or automated generic playlists will go nowhere and fail to grow any substantive audience numbers. No playlist is as good as the one on your iPod… capice? Internet radio provides the financial cost savings for transmission to be directly invested into niche content creation and will also provide new advertisers a ‘direct and measurable connection’ with listeners and/or subscribers. The greatest mistake we can make, is to do what ‘most’ in the radio industry have been doing for the past 15 years while the internet’s mobile world has been unfolding before us… nothing. If we don’t jump on this approaching train now, we’ll have only ourselves to blame. Internet Radio? I can’t wait. Bring it on!

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