Yesterday I had a great conversation with Brad Shoemaker, a local media expert with a long history trying to drag radio into the digital age. It just so happened that another friend, Richard Sickels, walked into the office. Richard had a great history in radio as well. We talked a ton about the radio industry and I continued to think about it last night.
As selling air continues to decline and radio empires continue to syndicate and consolidate, it truly points to the problem at the core of traditional media… they simply don't believe in themselves anymore. I believe it's the identical problem with newspapers and television as well. Instead of personalizing, segmenting, adopting local and social technologies… these industries continue to move in the opposite direction. This creates distance between the source of the information and the audience trying to connect with it.
Consolidation and syndication are great catch phrases in the business world. They're synonymous with cost savings. If you centralize your talent and expand its reach, it's only logical that you decrease the expense of the content generation. Radio stations syndicate national stars and leave their stations empty. Newspapers continue to push Associated Press articles and reduce local staff. Television stations continue to trade talent in markets and turnover is rampant.
It's because they no longer believe in their talent. If social media and blogging have taught us anything, its that the demand for diverse, personalized, segmented, passionate content is on the rise, not declining. People are seeking more information, not less, about their lives, their hobbies, their businesses and their government. Social mediums didn't skyrocket because of the technology, they skyrocketed because they believed in themselves.
Look no further than any traditional media site and it's the same old crap… a dash of content stuck in the middle of a sea of distracting advertisements. More advertising means more revenue right? Not right. They're diluting the very content that we value the most. And now the value of the average content they're providing is on the decline. Again… not because of the medium, but because of the passion of the voice behind it.
Radio stations, specifically, are masters of audio quality, entertainment, and personal reach. Why they continue to focus on selling air instead of selling voice is beyond me. I should be able to walk into any radio station and see their rates for helping businesses develop their own audio programs, distribute those program via mobile and web applications, and drive revenue to their businesses by identifying, targeting and reaching the right audience. The shows don't even need to run on the airwaves! The medium doesn't matter… it's the passionate belief in the voice that's heard that matters.
I'm not sure there's hope for newspapers – the infrastructure necessary to continue printing on dead trees and distributing that content is too expensive. They should dump the presses and invest their money in local talent to re-inject value into their dead industry. Television seems to be the only one with hope… embracing social and pushing their incredible medium through the interwebs to the hungry audience waiting for it. I'd like to see them open up the doors to businesses and consumers who wish to use video, without the call signs, to produce, distribute and monetize their own videos as well.
I love traditional media and continue to believe in the power of the people behind each of these mediums. I just wish they believed in themselves.
Note: I read A Eulogy for Twitter on the decline of Twitter interaction. Ironically, I saw a press release a few days earlier that touted Twitter's growth… another 14 million users. I'm afraid that Twitter may be following in the footsteps of traditional media, focusing on eyeballs instead of the quality of the information it provides. I hope not… but we'll see.