Suddenly Losing Your Listeners

Changes - fast and slow

The pandemic has made us all change. And not just because of the length of our hair.

Whether it’s Zoom, using Amazon Prime, Disney+ or interacting more with the Smart Speaker, the pandemic has been an accelerant. None of these things existed because of Coronavirus, but their utility was certainly enhanced by it.

Indeed, I expect sans pandemic, the growth curves of all of these things would have been steady, but the last 12 months has probably meant they jumped ahead 12 quarters. Zoom made a $16m pre-tax profit in 2019 and a $660m one in 2020.

Big changes are easy to see, whilst smaller ones creep up on you. I’m not entirely sure it’s the right metaphor, but it made me thinking about the boiling frog fable.

Yesterday was a busy day as I was manning the entry system for this year’s British Podcast Awards. Around the deadline there are always lots and lots of, er, customer service issues. May I just say in all your endeavours please read the rules and don’t wait until the last minute.

Whilst fielding emails, calls and DMs, I got two interesting non-BPA messages. One from a US radio consultant and one from a French media publication both with questions about UK radio - particularly DAB and Radioplayer. There were some requests for RAJAR type data as well as asking for opinions on why multi-platform radio in the UK was such a success.

I’ve been involved in the growth of non-analogue radio since around 2001. It has been a tough slog. There was generally a mix of antipathy to hatred about anything non-FM. It’s expensive. It doesn’t work. The content’s rubbish. There’s no marketing. X, Y and Z are the future - why are you bothering with that etc etc.

Thinking back, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to describe it at the time, but us believers tended to be focused on two things - the listener and the opportunity for our organisations. We were also the people who had done the research. Naysayers were mainly opinion-driven.

Not all countries have been on the digital radio journey, and their decisions will, generally, come to haunt them. They, perhaps in their mind, successfully pulled up the barricades to further enable their analogue status quo. As I’ve talked about before, radio’s monopoly position - occupying FM spectrum that physically stopped much competition - tends to cloud judgement. They think their success is entirely down to their content, when actually a lot of it is just down to their monopoly FM position.

Many audio businesses were really in the FM spectrum business, rather than the audio entertainment business. It’s why in the UK they were so dismissive of anything new, and why that idea still persists in some other countries.

As I sat there digging out some data for my correspondents, I realised with RAJAR having been off since last year, I’d forgotten much of the info. DAB listening now accounts for a 40.2% share of all radio consumption. Digital radio (DAB, Internet and DTV listening) now has a reach of 75.4% vs AM/FMs 70.2% of UK listeners. That’s an amazing stat. We are a digital audio nation. And this is before we have any data about how the pandemic has changed how we consume radio.

At the same time as doing this, I was keeping an eye on the BPA entries. We had our best ever year, with entries up a third on 2020. As well as loads of independent shows it was interesting to see the companies that were doing some significant bulk entering. Again, it was those in the audio entertainment business rather than those wedded to a single flavour of sound.

News

I couldn’t help but laugh when watching the farrago unfold in Australia between the government, the news providers and big tech. The news media, with friends in the Government managed to create legislation which tried to force the tech co’s to pay a link tax to the established news companies.

It ignores much sensible thinking, like the fact the news platforms can easily block their content from Google and Facebook should they wish (though that would get rid of the millions of click throughs they send to newspaper’s ad flooded pages).

Fundamentally the news bods didn’t like that advertising had migrated to the digital platforms, and they used all manner of excuses for why big tech was a bad thing. Ignoring the fact that the ex-Prime Minister of Australia is currently campaigning to investigate News Corp’s abuse of its own power.

Many news organisations suffer from the same platform blindness that much of radio did. They had a monopoly business and didn’t realise that much of their success came from that monopoly power. Whether it’s about delivering classifieds or receiving consumer attention - heritage news print based organisations have no god given right to continue to prosper.

I’m not against tackling the might of big tech, if you want money for a public good, tax them. If you want their power checked, regulate them. But don’t mess around at the edges whilst looking after your mates and pretend its a good plan for citizens. The citizens have already moved their attention to something that does a better job for them.

Inventive new products solve problems for consumers. Research tracks changes in behaviour and understanding, both the why as well as the what. Well built companies have some ‘give’ in them to try out new things. Perfect efficiency of the existing business model will only ever result in short-term success.

Bruce Daisley, UK media-man turned work-guru did a good post in his newsletter this week about what companies should think about when they return to work. He came up with ten points:

  1. This is a time for experiments not decisions

  2. Evaluate the components of work in your teams

  3. Ok then, what was the office for?

  4. Now, reflect on what your workers want

  5. Take a look at what other firms are doing

  6. How do you address the needs of your business?

  7. Consider the Network Effect of the office

  8. Propose an experiment

  9. Explain how you will measure it

  10. Other things to consider…

I think many of these ten points work when re-considering the day to day of what you do. What are you doing? Why? Look around. Try new stuff.

The answers don’t have to result in loads of change, you may already be doing the right thing. But are you able to consider that change is coming? Are you able to see that the way you run something today may not be completely right?

And most importantly are you able to focus on solving problems for consumers rather than cheerfully maintaining the status quo.

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