Thinking Beyond The Transmitter

This article originally appeared in the July 25, 2016 issue of Radio Ink Magazine.

More than half of all online news is now consumed on social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, ahead of traditional media platforms. This is not only another giant brand-building challenge for beleaguered newspapers, but most Internet publishers as well: 75 percent of Buzzfeed’s traffic now originates on social sites. 

More millennials now watch YouTube more than any TV network. The most popular TV network in the world is Netflix. It is widely believed that just four years from now, more TV will be viewed from digital sources than linear TV. 

TV networks are scrambling to build viewership beyond the local affiliate. Every promo on NBC ends with “and get the NBC app.” They are transitioning with apps, partnerships, and science projects all designed to make their content easy to find and consume. 

On-demand viewing has changed our video habits. Gone are the days of channel surfing. USC Professor Jeffrey Cole sums up the giant shift: “Nobody watches crap on TV anymore.” It is the era of purposeful viewing. 

In audio, similar shifts, with profound implications, are occurring rapidly. Edison Research reports that one third of millennials don’t have a radio at home. Among 13-24-year-olds, streaming beats linear AM/FM as the top source for listening. 

Today, one in every five minutes of audio consumption comes from smartphone listening, and, among 13-34-year-olds, it’s already over one-third of audio consumption according to Edison. Sixty-eight percent of that age group report listening to audio on their smartphone daily. That’s not some crazy prediction about the future. It’s today. In most cases, that listening is not to a local AM or FM — and that should set off all sorts of alarms in the radio business about developing audio beyond the transmitter. 

Mobile is eating the world, and in the process, the smartphone is rapidly becoming the entertainment hub. We are in the early days of the connected car, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are rolling out in 100 different car models this year. As more people bring their audio with them, it will accelerate the challenge to radio’s historic wide moat in the car. More seamless choices will be on the opening screen, including streams and podcasts. 

Radio needs to find its place on smartphones with content that resonates and is available on demand. The business will need to be more imaginative than thinking a stream of its regular broadcast will excite people. In fact, only about 10 percent of streamed audio today comes from commercial broadcasters. As researcher Jon Coleman has often said, “the inverse is also true” — that means 90 percent of streaming does not come from commercial radio. That has to hurt. 

IHeart and NextRadio are making inroads, but history suggests that content is consumed differently on each platform. And more platforms are coming. Amazon’s remarkable Echo device essentially places all audio on equal footing. 

Podcasting, which is largely about fresh voices and fresh content, now reaches 57 million people monthly. Hardly a niche. And yet, commercial radio accounts for less than 1 percent of all podcast listening, according to industry experts. The inverse of that number is also true. 

Radio has superpowers. Radio has the most prodigious audio creators with vast talent and content resources. However, a three-hour podcast of Biffy and Intern Crabby isn’t likely to move the needle. 

Success for commercial radio will come from custom content that reflects and appeals to the growing on-demand audience. It will be different in architecture and design. Unlocking that code and combining it with radio’s vast cume reach and ability to drive audience could make commercial radio the envy of the podcast business. The missing link for many podcasters is promotion and cume. 

In 2007, radio’s TSL was around 20 hours. Today it hovers at 14 hours, and it is even lower among millennials. While radio continues to have remarkable reach, time spent is shifting to other platforms. 

The move to mobile and on-demand is rapid. Radio needs to decide whether it is in the transmitter business or the audio business. The audience is already voting.

July 25, 2016

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Steven Goldstein is CEO of Amplifi Media, LLC, an advisor in strategy and content development for corporations and podcasters. Steve can be reached directly at (203) 221-1400 or

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