Wednesday, April 27, 2005

A changing media landscape

Radio, and traditional media as a whole, are leaving behind an entire generation -- probably more.

Radio, first off, is in the process of jumping on the bandwagon and flipping stations left and right to the JACK format. It is essentially billed as 'Your iPod on Shuffle'. Yeah, if your iPod was chock full of hits that you remember if your senior year of high school fell in 1984.

The problem, as I see it, is that radio isn't leaving a place for new music to make an impact. Instead, they are relying of the same, tired schlock from 20+ years ago and are busy rolling naked in lesser stacks of cash as their broad sweeping formats are being overlooked by satellite radio and iPods.

It is the ever-popular broad appeal, not the influx of competition, that is hurting all forms of media. Stop by a book store and look at the variety of magazines for sale. Hundreds of titles. They all appeal to a small segment of the population. That is something magazine publishers have understood. That is why there are so many. Each magazine has its audience, regardless of the size of the audience.

Radio has yet to truly grasp that concept. They think that to be competitive you put a broad reaching product out there and people will listen. They may actually like around half of what they hear. Advertisers will see the huge ratings and gobble up advertising time. Wrong. This is a new mentality. Look back about 20 years when the person on the other side of the microphone was in the town the station broadcasted from. The people that you heard lived nearby. There was a local feel to the talk and the music. People called in to request songs. It was interactive. It made listeners feel like they had some control.

Fast forward 20 years to today. The music is picked carefully. The DJ's are told what to play and when to play it. Requests, if there are any, are recorded and played back when that song comes up in the carefully calculated playlist. There is no interaction. Hence the iPod. You make the choices but it is still just music. Radio, if done properly, can give listeners a warm, at-home feeling that the person talking can relate to them.

I see the same thing in my 7+ years at different newspapers. They have always been community focused and they do the job well. Sure, where I am at now produces a gaggle of community newspapers but does so using local offices with local reporters. They are merely assembled offsite. The ingredients are still local. Even with this local feel, they are fighting to keep readership levels. The same problems are there.

They have forgotten about those who have become powerful consumers in the past decade. The items presented do not pertain to their interests. Those people have turned to magazines and the internet. They are glabal in how they get their information. They have also largely tuned out local radio. The local ties are quickly being severed. They live in communities but have no connection to those communities. They were forgotten. Overlooked as slackers or drifters. The generation before them didn't pick up on a way to relate to them.

The existing mediums must diversify. Throw out the concepts of broad coverage. They must produce niche products that appeal to a smaller audience but retain them as consumers of the product nonetheless.

It needs to be done or in 30 years radio, newspapers and the sense of community will be gone entirely. The bleeding is taking palce and the only way to stop it is to diversify. Produce multiple products. Appeal to varying niches. Don't let JACK take over.

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