Here is why so many radio station streams aren't working

Recently in Edison Research’s Infinite Dial Blog, Larry Rosin laid out some compelling reasons why radio station streams are falling short. 

It is true, as Larry suggests, they are often poorly produced (up-cuts, dead air, etc.), loaded with commercials, especially in comparison with pure-plays, and hard to find in large radio app aggregators. 

It goes deeper.

Many stations fail to devote enough time promoting their station app or reinforcing the benefits of on-line listening.  They are conflicted with the potential impact on ratings and the inherent and arcane costs of streaming. 

This is not true for all.  iHeart Media pivoted their entire company and named itself after an app.  They have done a magnificent job of brand building and cross-promotion and yet Triton’s monthly data shows modest growth, especially in comparison to the pure plays. 

       Source: Triton 2015

       Source: Triton 2015

Recent data shows less than 5% of an average radio station’s audience is derived from its digital stream or apps.  Ouch.  That number while significantly bigger for spoken word formats, still hovers at only around 10%.

So what is going on here? 

It is the same lesson painfully learned by other media as they adapt to the Internet.  Newspapers found that merely posting their print content on the web was a failure.  Craig’s List alone decimated the classified business.  In fact, last year the newspaper business did about $20 billion in revenue and only 3.5 billion was digital.  They are adapting their content and approach and now more people consume news online.  Revenue, of course, needs to follow.  

TV websites, logically enough, started by posting their 6pm news to be watched on-demand.  That has been eclipsed by more successful picture galleries, short word recaps and short video. 

Ask anyone in the magazine business how their online effort is going. 

On each new platform, audiences choose what works for them and often it is different than what the content creator envisions.  It would be a lot easier if radio stations could simply say “you love us on air, now love us online.”  It would also be great if posting 3 hours of the “Biffy and the Chimp” morning show online would create new success, but no one listens to a three hour radio show on the air, so why would anyone expect them to listen that way online. 

Shoving content on a new platform is a lazy wish.  Each medium requires a different content focus, approach and calibration.   ESPN has its radio network online and 20 different on-demand only podcasts.  The on-demand appears to be doing better.  It is unique content customized for the medium (and no one is better than custom platform content than ESPN).  

Streaming audio is different.  On-demand audio is different.  The evidence is overwhelming. Or in the case of radio station streaming, underwhelming.