The Radio Bubble Starts to Burst

The radio bubble pops.

It’s no surprise to anyone, except maybe the very people who should be most aware of it. I’m talking about the research released in Canada by Ipsos-Reid showing that Internet use has now surpassed time spent listening to the radio.

This isn’t some statistical aberration; it is a clear trend, particularly among 18-34 year olds. Couple that with Adam Curry getting 8.5 million dollars (US) to fund Podshow Inc. and, well, it’s got to make even the most conservative traditional broadcasters take notice.

For years I’ve been suggesting that broadcast radio has been in a bubble that’s about to burst. What we’re seeing is the start of what will be a massive change to broadcast radio.

Nowhere in the world will this be more pronounced than in Canada, where we have the highest broadband penetration of any country in the G7, and a financially healthy radio industry. It is the public broadcaster here that faces the toughest challenges, and the biggest opportunities.

Public broadcasting goals are a terrific match for Internet content distribution. A much better match in fact than any private broadcaster. Public broadcasting puts ideas ahead of popularity, and specificity ahead of broad public appeal. Public broadcasting isn’t a channel per se, but rather a rich and vibrant collection of different types of programs, housed by a set of values. And that’s one of the Internet’s (many) great strengths. It is a viable and vibrant medium to serve not one ‘broadcast’ channel, but literally millions of specific ones.

The majority of the public broadcaster’s programs attract small but dedicated audiences. They’re high value with limited broad appeal. Yet in Internet terms, they have healthy resources – staffed by professionals who are at the top of their craft. Let loose with their budget on the Internet, any of these radio programs could be micro-stars on a global scale. And that’s good for public broadcasting in Canada, or public broadcasting anywhere in the world.

The challenges though are immense. The models on the Internet shift and change constantly, something that is not in the public broadcaster’s comfort zone. Internet metrics are in their infancy and aren’t well understood by executives accustomed to seeing traditional media metrics. Despite having a distributed work force, public broadcasting in Canada is hierarchical and centralized. But the biggest challenge is one of definition; what is public broadcasting programming online supposed to be? Putting programs created for radio on the Internet isn’t the answer. Applying talent, rich content, imagination, public broadcast values, and an understanding of the medium, is.

The challenges seem to be winning. Recent changes to critically acclaimed and innovative web properties indicate a move away from the web in favour of more traditional programming. The problem of course is that all the indicators point to audiences selecting other ways of getting their news, entertainment, comedy, drama and music.

Given the choice between an MP3 player stuffed with hours of material that I want, and listening to a channel that sometimes plays what I want, there’s no contest. Given the choice between ‘tuning in’ and cruising the web, there’s not contest. Not any more.

BigSnit Media Watch: Hero, Zero.

HeroClayton, a university student on a sailboat with his family, stops to help some folks out fishing who’ve run into fishermen in trouble. Their boat has capsized and is floating upside down, and a kid is trapped underneath. Clayton dives in, and plucks the kid out from under. No big deal he says, anyone would have done it. Actually, most people wouldn’t, and it’s a big deal to swim up under a capsized boat in open water. This guy deserves a medal.

Zero. Saskatoon should just roll up the streets and call it a day. While passing through town on his customized bike, a physically disabled man from Quebec gets his bike stolen, along with, camping gear, etc. While supposedly helping him look for his stuff, a local resident takes him into an alley and steals his wallet. Nice.