If Canadian Radio Is Losing Audience Faster Than Other Countries, What Can They Do About It?

Last week I was in Toronto for Canadian Music Week, a great gathering where the music and broadcast businesses meet under one roof.

Alan Cross (Brain Dead Dog Productions), Steve Goldstein, Jeff Leake (Sirius/XM), Barbara Escoto (Bell Media), James Cridland (Podnews.net), Jeff Ulster (The Pod Exchange)

Alan Cross (Brain Dead Dog Productions), Steve Goldstein, Jeff Leake (Sirius/XM), Barbara Escoto (Bell Media), James Cridland (Podnews.net), Jeff Ulster (The Pod Exchange)

I appeared on a panel about preparing radio for a digital future. Moderator, Alan Cross - always smart - was lamenting data shared by PodNews Editor James Cridland during a keynote address showing a faster erosion of broadcast radio in Canada than many other countries.  

The pace of decline may have something to do with arcane CRTC regulations as Cridland pointed out, but larger factors are certain to be some combination of replaceable content, demography, brutal commercial loads and choice. Every radio market is experiencing some rate of decline. Sometimes the underlying numbers are alarming.  In the U.S. for example, there are reports of steep declines in (PUM) Persons Using Media among younger listeners that look like a hockey-stick flipped upside-down..

Canadian broadcasters are better equipped than most in other parts the world to reposition themselves from towers in a field to multi-platform audio content providers

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Cross asked whether there could ever be new giant and iconic radio personalities like Wolfman Jack in the 70’s.  Let’s hope so, but that feels wishful and was rare even then. The Wolfman bombed in New York the same year he had a featured roll in American Graffiti. 

The new stars are less likely to come from Winnipeg and more likely to be incubated on platforms like YouTube. That is both opportunity and threat. 

While the decline of commercial radio may be a bit faster than elsewhere, it strikes me that many Canadian broadcasters are better equipped than most in other parts of the world to reposition themselves from towers in a field to multi-platform audio content providers.

In the U.S. most large media companies spun out and orphaned their radio divisions due to lack of interest and synergy. Canadian broadcasters, on the other hand, including Rogers, Bell and Corus have remarkable vertical integration “stacks” with company portfolios including TV stations, mobile phone companies, baseball teams, web, apps, outdoor and more. These megaphones are the enviable secret sauce in today’s noisy world for the introduction and cross-promotion of content not only for radio stations, but new and rapidly growing audio platforms including podcasts and smart speakers.

The CBC has led the way with podcasts in Canada, but multiple signs show change as confirmed in the latest Edison Infinite Dial study for Canada, the debut of a new smart speaker study from Jeff Vidler’s Audience Insights, new daily news podcasts and Roger’s recent acquisition of podcast production company Pacific Content.

And while the U.S. is stuck with byzantine music rights issues that maddengly prevent inclusion in podcasts, the rights holders for much of Canada’s music were down the hall in the next conference room.  There could be a win there.

Broadcasters around the world must wrestle with the reality that audiences are shifting to new platforms. To be successful, radio must follow them with the right content for each device and platform.

I like Canada’s “natural” resources.

Thanks for inviting me.

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