By “Tom Webster”:mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org, Edison VP
What has been lost amongst the brouhaha of WCBS-FM’s departure is the fact that it didn’t really leave…exactly. “Newsday”:http://www.nynewsday.com/business/ny-bzradi0607,0,3474359.story doesn’t mention it. “The New York Times”:http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/06/nyregion/06brucie.html?oref=login, and the “Daily News”:http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/ent_radio/story/316312p-270623c.html don’t mention it in their separate “eulogies” of Cousin Brucie. The Daily News’s follow-up piece, “CBS Fans think they got Jack-ed”:http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/ent_radio/story/316472p-270752c.html , barely gives it a sentence. Nonetheless, WCBS-FM, “The Greatest Hits of All Time”, is still alive—at least for those of us who listen to radio on the Internet.
…the brand is not being extended as much as it is being evacuated from the path of the JACK tornado
“WCBSFM.com”:http://www.wcbsfm.com is now a part of Infinity’s “RadioMat”:http://www.radiomat.com portfolio of stations, and is also being promoted as a future HD Radio multicast. In 2000, Edison and Arbitron presented the results of “The Side Channel Study: Extending Your Brand on the Internet”:http://www.edisonresearch.com/home/archives/2000/12/the_side_channe_1.html and this appears to be what we have here—a side channel, though the brand is not being extended as much as it is being evacuated from the path of the JACK tornado. As it stands, WCBS-FM’s abrupt departure from the airwaves has made a lot of Oldies listeners–and New York radio aficionados in general–fairly unhappy. For them, the new, “side channel” incarnation of WCBS-FM will provide little comfort. Had the switch been handled differently, the headlines might well be trumpeting the creation of a branded online Oldies channel as a spirited defense against the iPod barbarians at the gate instead of an endless source of “listeners got JACK’ed” headlines.
There are over a dozen stations already listed on Infinity’s RadioMat (and they have similarly preserved WHFS and K-Rock 2 as exclusive online entities) so streaming unique content is nothing new for them. However, WCBS (along with fellow “retiree” WJMK) is the most prominent broadcast Oldies station to make the move to broadcasting exclusively online. Given the preponderance of 12-29 year olds on the Internet, what might an online Oldies station expect in terms of potential audience?
According to our most recent “Edison/Arbitron Internet and Multimedia Study”:http://www.edisonresearch.com/homeimg/archives/2005/03/internet_multim_2.html, there is certainly great potential to reach the 45+ demographic that broadcast media has increasingly abandoned. Consider the following facts:
* Amongst persons 45+ with Internet access, 26% have listened to a radio station online.
* With this same group, 10% indicated that they use the Internet to hear the radio station that they currently listen to most, and 18% listen to stations outside their local area.
* The number one reason cited by Internet users 45+ for listening to online radio was “to listen to audio [they] cannot get elsewhere.”
Since Oldies as a format is rapidly becoming “audio you cannot get elsewhere,” one senses that moving WCBS-FM online is a risk, but not one without potential. Consider also that despite this demographic’s diminished appeal on Madison Ave, apparently these Boomers didn’t get the memo: 38% indicated that they had made a purchase over the Internet in the past month, and 45-54 year-olds also spent an average of $1209.00 over the Internet during the last 12 months, which is considerably more than the $524.00 that the “hot” 18-24 demographic spent. Even 55-64 year olds who had made Internet purchases over the last year spent an average of $838.00. As we have seen in our “series of Internet and Multimedia studies”:http://www.edisonresearch.com/internet_studies.html over the years, streaming audio is widely used as a “soundtrack” for shopping online, so audio streams that cater to frequent spenders may prove to be lucrative channels for online advertising.
So Oldies has commercial potential as an Internet-only format, and perhaps even more as an on-demand/subscription content stream. After all, in the early days of XM, lots of people signed up solely to hear the all-reggae or all-blues stations. A compelling, well-produced Oldies stream might be one of the enticements to taking a chance on HD Radio. Certainly, the fact that the satellite radio operators are now targeting Oldies fans in New York and Chicago indicates that they are all too aware of the power of the format–and of the demographic it delivers.
Execution matters here, of course. Although RadioMat is fairly new, Internet Radio has been around a while. There are a _lot_ more people listening to Internet-only audio streams than there are subscribers to both satellite radio services, and some of the stations they are listening to have been around for almost a decade. Infinity has a great deal of catch-up to play here, and it shows. For instance, although I have already registered at RadioMat to hear KYOU, I had to re-register to listen to WCBS – hardly an integrated user experience (and a detail that might turn off some listeners, wary of receiving their SPAM in triplicate.) The fact that the WCBSFM.com website itself consists of a brief letter and no fewer than _sixteen_ banner ads only reinforces that perception.
There are also lots of niggling little typos and inconsistencies on the site that add up to create the impression that the station was launched on the fly, and not as part of an integrated marketing strategy. Even the player itself brandishes a logo for “WCBS FM 101.1 (a now meaningless and confusing frequency) The Greatest Hits of All Time,” while the actual audio stream is labeled “The Greatest Hit’s [sic] of the 60′s and 70′s.” Picayune? No, just some of the many shelves left undusted even as the “Grand Opening” banner is unfurled.
When Broadcast Radio dips its toe into the Internet audio space, its competition goes way, way beyond the other 20 or so signals in their individual markets who may also be streaming. Look at this online-only “radio station from Poland”:http://www.radiosfera.pl/ for example. They may only be a handful of twenty-somethings in a Warsaw garage somewhere, but it’s a pretty well-designed site, even if you don’t speak Polish. The more broadcasters continue to launch “under construction” sites, the more they miss an opportunity to excel and create a valuable, positive first impression. Design is as integral to the package as content. To paraphrase noted usability consultant “Steve Krug”:http://www.sensible.com/, all you have to do when designing a site is ask “What would Amazon.com do?” Then do that thing. People will keep coming back.
Infinity is being vilified in the New York press for “killing Cousin Brucie,” but I take them at their word and hope that many of the great personalities of the station do return to its online incarnation and provide the “Good Times” that must accompany “Great Oldies.” Then, and only then, can broadcast radio flex its real muscle and demonstrate its competitive advantage over five guys in a Warsaw garage. Radio, however, _must_ get its Internet production values in line with its on-air production values.