Company News · September 19, 2011

Radio’s Passion Gap

By Edison Research

Edison, in conjunction with Arbitron and Scarborough, recently released a study of in-car media consumption called “The Road Ahead – Media and Entertainment in the Car.” Radio still enjoys tremendous reach, so it was not surprising to see that Radio topped the usage charts for car-based media consumption. The medium certainly has the advantage of a healthy installation base, of course – it’s likely that a higher percentage of cars have an AM/FM radio than do homes, or workplaces.

Snapshots are rarely helpful, however. In our business, we have a mantra: “the trend is your friend.” In-car radio usage has declined, and other entertainment options from satellite radio to iPods have become more and more viable. Indeed, one of the more astounding stats from this survey was the proportion of 18-24 year olds who have plugged Pandora into their car stereo directly from their mobile phones: now one in five.

Still, Radio does maintain a healthy user base of in-car listeners, and from a strict reach perspective, continues to remain “the king of in-car media.” The hallways at the recently concluded NAB Radio Show were full of positive takeaways and comments about the study, which on the one hand is extremely gratifying, but on the other – more than a little troubling.

Take this graph, which shows the percentage of in-car media consumers who indicated that they “love” using various media in their car:

What the industry chose to focus on were the quantity graphs – yes, radio is still the most widely consumed in-car medium. However, the industry ignored the message of the quality graphs, like this one, which highlight what everyday consumers are increasingly telling us in study after study – they just aren’t that passionate about radio. While some of that can be attributed to radio’s reach, look at the top items on this list – they are all digital. Even streaming an AM/FM station over the phone engenders more passion than terrestrial broadcasting.

What’s more, not only are in-car consumers most passionate about digital options, look what else the items at the very top have in common: content. Satellite radio is not genius technology, and lacks the interactivity of other popular digital audio platforms, such as Pandora – but SiriusXM continues to invest in content. It’s content that puts “audiobooks” as the third most “loved” item on this list, especially as our average commute times continue to creep ever upward. Of course, another thing that Pandora, SiriusXM and audiobooks have in common – all are either nearly or completely commercial-free. Radio’s terrestrial bargain – free music, in exchange for attention to commercial messages – may still be intact, but the industry has yet to embrace the fact that expectations are different online; while simply re-purposing a terrestrial stream online might be cost-effective, it’s hardly the most competitive solution.

In short, it’s investment in innovation – either in technology or content – that is driving passion. Radio makes some of those investments, but needs to make more. Instead, too much of radio’s precious capital continues to be spent copying Pandora and Groupon. No one loves copycats. Yes, radio must make up the technology gap with its digital competition. And it can’t allow the “Daily Deal” to damage their local sales advantages. But the real gap – the most sinister gap of all – is the passion gap. Jukeboxes, simulcasts, automation, failure to invest in talent, 16-minutes of spots per hour and half-price races to the bottom will never make people love radio.

Radio can ape Slacker, out-cheap Groupon and continue to push HD all it wants. People don’t talk about things they don’t care about. If your station is not being talked about on social media, you don’t have a social media problem. You have a passion problem – the passion that you are not engendering amongst your listeners. And that is far more sinister than a technology problem.

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