More Cowbell: Radio’s Untapped Mobile Advantage

SNL is doing some of its best work with the Trump-Clinton debate parodies. Another iconic skit, More Cowbell, featured Will Farrell, Jimmy Fallon and Christopher Walken and speaks to the crossroads where radio finds itself.

Does radio double down and give audiences and advertisers More Cowbell or focus on reinvention in the mobile space?

Fresh off his best July since 2012 with Q3 up 8% over 2015, Art Sutton, President and CEO of Georgia-Carolina Radiocasting, had this to offer Tom Taylor last week about what drove their strong results, “Nothing special or unique going on in our company. Just doing the simple basics consistently.” In SNL parlance, More Cowbell.

Sutton continues, “We’ve always had far too many people in the radio business who are looking for the latest ‘new’ thing, when all they need to do is do the ‘old’ thing better. You do this when you really don’t believe in your own product or simply don’t know how to do good radio.”

As an industry, radio is going to have difficulty achieving $20 billion in revenue by 2022 (#20×22) solely on digital growth. In the long run, we will succeed by increasing the monetization of our core products.

Why can’t radio predictably rely on digital growth? Because increasingly, digital revenue belongs to just two players: Facebook and Google.

According to AdAge, Google and Facebook collectively earn “72% of the digital and mobile revenue outside China.”

The story continues, these two giants “are gaining even more sway, thanks to a legion of employee teams dedicated to most of the largest U.S. and global advertisers, sometimes embedded with marketing departments and always closely aligned.”

These Facebook and Google employees are part of global advertising agreements and have a role, “unlike anything the marketing world has seen before.”

For other media companies, trying to win digital business from the outside is like bringing a knife to a gun fight. At the same time, the world isn’t standing still and AM/FM radios are increasingly hard to find in homes, work places and even cars, so what can be done?

Enter the California Roll

According to author and tech startup guru Nir Eyal, “People don’t want something truly new, they want the familiar done differently.”

Take for example sushi. Back in the 1970’s Americans wanted nothing to do with raw fish, tofu and seaweed. “Then came the California Roll … its impact is undeniable. The California Roll was made in the USA by combining familiar ingredients in a new way.”

Another example, early computers. By using familiar terms/icons like folders, notepads and trash cans, the complexity of this disruptive technology was made accessible and familiar.

Citing a more recent example, Nir reminds us that “the rebranded Apple Wallet helps users feel comfortable with the technology by making payment options look just like mini credit cards. Even though there’s no technical reason to do so, Apple understands the power of the familiar.”

What does this mean for radio? When it comes to the mobile space, radio is not playing to two of its core strengths: ease of use and familiarity. As the car becomes increasingly complex and we compete with more platforms for attention and loyalty of the audience, we are at a disadvantage trying to replicate apps and interfaces designed by digital brands instead of leveraging the best parts of a radio interface that consumers already understand.

In fact, customization and the ability to skip songs are two of radio’s biggest weaknesses, which are exposed rather than softened when the mobile experience of a station feels more like Pandora and Spotify than radio.

Imagine station streams and apps designed as presets on a radio interface featuring all the stations in a local cluster including their online only streams, making it as easy to switch from one station to another on a phone as a traditional car radio. Familiar done differently.

As his Eyal’s Nir and Far blog points out, “Our aversion to things that are outside the norm is particularly hard on companies producing radical innovation – no matter how beneficial they may be. If using a new product does not feel familiar, it faces severe challenges.”

According to BJ Fogg with Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab, “People are generally resistant to teaching and training because it requires effort. This clashes with the natural wiring of human adults: We are fundamentally lazy. As a result, products that require people to learn new things routinely fail.”

Our P1 Super-Fans and Amplifiers seek out their favorite radio station 2-3 times per day. They certainly want More Cowbell from radio, we just need to leverage our familiarity and ease of use to drive occasions and TSL on mobile devices. Otherwise, we risk audience and revenue erosion as we try and replicate digital only brands on the infinite dial.

On behalf of Catherine Jung, Doug Smith and the rest of the DMR/Interactive team, thanks for reading and working to drive radio forward.

Andrew Curran, President and COO, DMR/Interactive


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