In this edition of The Future of Audio we speak with Ben Arnold, industry analyst at the NPD Group.
Ben previously served as Senior Director, Innovation and Trends at the Consumer Technology Association.
Ben’s expertise in emerging trends and his passion for technology and culture makes him perfect to tap for knowledge on our future.
BK: What Audio trends do you see evolving in our business in the next three to five years?
BA: In terms of Audio trends, I think we are seeing the hype around digital assistants and voice control begin to quiet down. Digital assistant access in speakers and headphones is a given these days and consumers are comfortable enough using these applications to queue up music or access information-however I don’t think it is a major driver of sales. Everything right now is about content-music streaming services, gaming, video, podcasts.
The pandemic has given rise to more consumer investment in content devices and services. Although our routines have been disrupted(I know that is a big challenge for radio)I believe consumers are finding new routines. Audio continues to be a growth driver in electronics, so we know that consumers have multiple ways to engage with content. I think the opportunity for radio is in harnessing the interest in content and all the options people have(from a tech device perspective)for consuming it.
BK: How do you see radio's future when considering the disruptive forces around us?
BA: Pandemic aside, I think consumers interest in content and the continued investment in listening devices are good things for radio. It’s unclear what the enduring impact of the pandemic will be, but something we can bank on is that traveling and commuting will be vastly different for a lot of people. This is a big challenge, but I don’t think people’s affinity for the content changes. Maybe instead of listening for 45 minute chunks in the morning and the afternoon, the change in routines drives people to listen in multiple shorter increments. Perhaps more people move to listening to radio on their mobile devices. Maybe this adds a new opportunity for targeted ads or new forms of ad units.
BK: What are the leadership challenges for radio's executives?
BA: All of these changes represent a shift in how people consume audio content. I think executives should be in tune with how technology is changing listening habits and have the courage to explore new opportunities. Companies with innovation in their DNA will be best suited to turn these changes into opportunities.
On this final edition of our series “The Future of Audio” we speak with my friend and one of the leading international Radio Consultants Phil Dowse.
Phil’s track record of bold and truthful consulting along with a myriad of creative ideas and solutions makes him an inspiring leader in the global audio industry.
BK: Give us a perspective of how radio has been impacted in the many countries you work in and around Covid-19?
PD: Radio has been gifted a unique opportunity to reinvent itself
It has a finite time frame to come out of Coronavirus with a new and a more loyal audience
Its time for radio to galvanise its tribe
Its time to deliver amazing stuff without accountability . There is no risk . (Many countries have halted Radio Surveys)
This is our approach in Australia with the ARN Radio Group.
In the UK, Europe and Australia advertising was initially hit hard but is now slowly recovering as new opportunities arise as countries see the way out of Covid.
Certain businesses began to thrive early (DIY, Essential services, Groceries, Takeaways, on line clothing for example) but now both agency and direct clients are flowing again, as market confidence begins to bounce back. It’s been a challenging time for Australian media but the number of briefs now being worked on is back to about 80% of pre-COVID volume.
BK: What specifically do clients in these situations say they are looking for when it comes to their messaging and tone?
PD: Clients are wanting more and different opportunities. Most of the stations I work with globally have really embraced this. Bauer in the UK for instance is encouraging every client to have their radio adds updated to reflect the times. They have assembled a ‘tone’ team from content, creative and commercial, guiding brands through pandemic comms.
Most Australian stations had a number of key partnerships that were running as they went into lockdown. How they helped those clients change their messaging to be more sensitive and relatable to audiences became a big issue and opportunity. It was about getting the balance between the right tone of the station and the appropriate tone for the client.
BK: What has been the impact on listening habits?
PD: Listening habits have changed also. All markets are different but in general Morning Show listening is about the same but workday til 4 pm is way up with Podcasts and Digital up massively
We identified three very distinct phases in the pandemic life cycle
• Information Phase/scared
• Reflection Phase/the new normal in lockdown
• Escapism Phase/ How are we going to look coming out of this
As stations (and markets) move through these phases so programming changes and evolves too
BK: Just as advertisers have evaluated their tone have stations done that as well?
PD: Tone was been a key word . Station tone needs to reflect how listeners are feeling and thinking.
BK: Have any specific tactics worked you can share?
PD: Some of the tactics that have worked globally include;
Countdowns. With more people at home , engagement with radio is greater. We are finding countdowns are working really well for Cume and TSL. Top 500 songs of all time.That a 5 days of musical content. Easy to sponsor or split it up for 5 daily sponsors. Lots of social adds on’s
Door Drop . With food being scarce and lots of competition amongst essential goods clients a door drop campaign where food parcels are distributed
3 Minute adds’. Listeners buy 30 secs and get 3 mins.
30 Sec ‘Clients of the week’ spots (3 clients in each 30 sec spot)
First Plane Out Idea . This is huge and will happen in multiple markets. We give away the first plane out of town!
Virtual Weddings. This is a big one. No cost , great content, multiple sponsors.
Zoom Break ins. Love this. You win a Zoom Code and get to have a virtual meal with the morning show team
BK: Do you see any opportunities format and content wise that could be emerging?
PD: In terms of opportunities Pop ups / Niche formats may well be the go (Digital platform or Podcast)
Fix It Radio in the UK is a great example of this targeting tradies. Low cost, great sponsorship and commercial opportunities, massive TSL.
Pop up stations feeding information to students studying year 12 (revision notes to year 12 students who cant get to school and to whom on line lessons just aren’t enough) is a great idea
Looking at your radio groups power. How can you turn your station into a'' super brand''? Using your power to develop new content, a new show, a new podcast or a new station
Using all your groups best female talent to form a super team or show (or even podcast or station)
BK: What are the leadership challenges that you see in this moment that we’ve never experienced before?
PD: The obvious monetary ones ...managing staffing in these times
In the UK and Australia most programming and on -air teams have been in studio throughout Covid with all other staff working remotely
Going forward radio station staff will go back to work in the office ...for the short term anyway. As the coronavirus takes a steep toll on the economy and the workforce, many won’t have jobs to go back to. Some who are still employed will now permanently work from home, and some groups will choose to downsize their leases or look for flexible office space rather than long-term leases. This could be THE change for the new normal.
On this edition of “The Future of Audio” I speak with James Cridland, Editor of Podnews.Net, consultant and radio Futurologist.
BK: What are the key leadership challenges for the next five years for the Audio/Radio Business?
JC: The radio business IS the audio business.
Some people in newspapers genuinely thought that their job was to run a printing press. In the same way, some people in radio-particularly US radio, which is behind the rest of the world in this-think their job is to operate AM/FM transmitters. It isn’t. Radio’s job, in terms of audio, is a “shared experience, a human connection” and isn’t to operate a transmitter on top of a hill.
Why didn’t radio invent Pandora? Or Spotify? Or Podcasting? Because radio complacently thought that AM/FM was their future. It’s only in 2019 that we saw real efforts by US radio to suddenly invest in other people’s podcast companies: and only in 2019 that radio woke up to the fact that they are audio storytellers, not operators of RF transmission equipment. We know that radio’s future is multi-platform: not just on-line streaming, but also in terms of podcasting, social media and other platforms.
Radio still has 9-out of 10 people listening to it every week, according to the research in most large countries. But behind that number lies a significant drop in time-spent-listening. Much of that is due to radio disconnecting with its prime purpose-of being a shared experience and a human connection.
“Live and local” really doesn’t matter. I can back-announce a Doobie Brothers song hundreds of miles away, or above the local pizza shop, and it makes no difference. Instead, focusing on “Real and Relevant” is rather more useful. Relevance can come from localness, but it can also come from other things as well in our shared experience. And, as podcasting is teaching us, “live” counts for little when the content isn’t up to much. It’s a useful tool occasionally-but NOT being live allows us to polish our content and make it better.
For this week's discussion about "The Future of Audio" I spoke with Charlene Li, Author of "The Disruption Mindset" and a senior fellow at Prophet which is part of Altimeter. For the past two decades Charlene has been helping people see the future as a respected advisor to Fortune 500 Companies.
BK: What are the key leadership challenges for the next five years for those in the audio business?
CL: Dealing with huge uncertainties driven by the coronavirus crisis, technology changes and continued shifts in how people consume their media. Audio is huge but making money at it continues to be a challenge. The broader context of the Covid-19 crisis is that the land is shifting under the feet of everyone, so having conversations with advertisers/sponsors will be difficult in the short term and will continue to shift over the medium/long term. Scenario planning to figure out alternative futures will be crucial in developing a strategy, creating products/services and hiring the right people.
BK: What effect will autonomous driving have on the future of Audio?
CL: When autonomous driving becomes a reality, people will be doing things other than listening to audio, such as watching video or doing work. So it will eat into drive time significantly. radio
BK: How can leaders in radio be better equipped to seize new opportunities for industry growth?
CL: Question everything and develop scenarios that seem completely implausible!
Even if there is a small chance that it might happen, using the scenario will push you to think out of the box. If there are things you can do to prepare both for the likely average growth AND the unlikely high growth, then it makes sense to double down and get it done sooner than later.
BK: What effect has the crisis had on radio?
CL: Working from home is having an impact on drive time radio as commutes have not existed. People will continue working from home as a new normal has been established. Radio may also create new opportunities for more asynchronous shared experiences that replace broadcast radio, where "appointment radio" shows may be listened to not as a personal podcast experience, but more like a Netflix Party where people listen to the show together.
On this edition of “The Future of Audio” we speak with long time media visionary Lee Abrams.
Lee’s career has spanned decades in and around the radio business and he recently launched his company called “MediaVisions” which will focus on a complete reimagination of video content, news and information aimed at 40+.
BK: What are the key leadership challenges for the next five years for those in the audio business?
LA: It’s all about balance. Having extreme passion for sound from whatever source its transmitted from. Often tech types look at audio as simply another technology play and lack the appreciation of creative audio magic. Then balance that with evangelical commitment to the mission that motivates beyond the typical, as well as good business sense to keep things in order. Critical is to walk the walk and see over the horizon and execute on that vision.
BK: What are the leadership challenges for the radio business?
LA: Leaders can’t design the future without understanding the past. While we’re in a new era, a deep knowledge of historically important radio battles is a critical tool in creating new strategies. Once again, balance is important. A strong respect for creative brilliance, motivational and sales skills, and keen curiosity about the new and coming technologies create a well balanced and inspiring leader. Perhaps most important is the ability to recognize clichés and vulnerabilities and aggressively design new approaches in all aspects of the business to keep radios pulse alive and vibrant in an era of extreme competition…keep one foot in the street and avoid the walled in media club…and having denial put in focus, understanding that the medium has issues and dealing with them instead of denying them.
BK: If you were just beginning as a leader in the radio business what would you do today that would set the business up for the future?
LA: As a CEO, brutally evaluate, without prejudice, literally every aspect of the business and aggressively bring in the killer staff without reference to anything but high IQ/low BS, future focused and passionate people. Explosive liberation of yourself and your people from the old playbook. The ability to orchestrate chaos into an organized game-plan. The big five are respectful, firm, engageable, committed and fearlessly passionate about leading in this new wild west.
In our continuing series on tapping thought leaders about the “Future of Audio” today we talk with the President and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association Gary Shapiro and later on to put a rap on this edition we talk with Steve Goldstein.
Every year many of us make the pilgrimage to CES in Las Vegas to see the future and Gary and his team provide a tremendous backdrop to the world around us and how we can best adjust for the ride.
BK: As an observer of the intersection of media and tech how should radio be focused on its digital future?
GS: I grew up listening to radio! My mother would listen to radio talk show programs whenever she had the chance, and she always told me “If I learn one thing for each hour of listening it’s worth it.” Radio doesn’t just entertain; it also helps quench people’s thirst for knowledge.
Radio stations need to support a variety of listening mediums-such as voice assistants and smart speakers. Like retailers, radio stations need to go omnichannel. Streaming on the internet is understood, but support for social media and podcasts are critical to maintain an audience and keep them tuned in.
BK: What are the key leadership challenges for the next five years for those in the audio business and specifically for those in the radio business?
GS: Audio businesses have experienced growth in recent months driven by innovations in streaming services and wireless audio.
According to Consumer Technology Association’s twice yearly, U.S. Consumer Technology Sales and Forecasts report, future growth will come from skyrocketing popularity of streaming services and wireless earbuds among other 5G connectivity and artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled devices driving innovation for the U.S. consumer tech industry.
Bright spots in audio include on-demand music services including Apple Music, Pandora and Spotify which will total 9 billion in revenue-with room to grow as consumers adopt smart speakers and wireless earbuds.
Speaking of smart speakers and voice that’s a nice transition to a conversation with Steve Goldstein, the Founder of Amplifi Media about the Future of Audio.
BK: What is Radio’s opportunity in the future when it comes to voice and its growth and evolution?
SG: Radio needs to master voice. Over 20% of searches are voice-based. That’s over 250 billion searches.
Most occur on mobile devices where radio has low penetration. So that’s worth thinking about. As Voice moves into the car, radio is not just 50 local stations, but a word or phrase away from 900,000 podcasts, giant streaming serves like Spotify and Amazon Music, 100,000 radio stations-in short any type of audio one can imagine.
It’s tricky. It’s not linear. Radio needs to get in front of a shift in how people interact with devices.
Today we begin a new series of interviews with industry thought leaders on The Future of Audio.
First up, my good friend and partner in crime Fred Jacobs, the founder of Jacobs Media.
Fred is currently in the midst of some of his greatest and most important work with his research studies on the impact of Covid 19 on radio brands.
Whenever I look for inspiration in challenging times or normalcy Fred always represents a guiding eye toward the future.
Fred is not only the “Father of Classic Rock” but he is also a master strategist in any format type including and not limited to: Next Generation of Classic Rock, Mainstream Rock, Active Rock, Alternative Rock, so asking him for a futurist look at formats is a natural place for us to go.
BK: Are there new formats you might see on the horizon?
FJ: I’d like to see new formats on the horizon, especially attempts to engage Gen Z-America's youth.
They may be more attached to their smartphones than any other gadget, but radio has access on IPhones and Samsungs. It would be a worthwhile risk to take the fifth FM in the cluster and truly try something different.
BK: What will talent mean for radio stations in the future?
FJ: Talent is everything! We talk about people and become attached to the great ones on the airwaves. And now talent has the opportunity to provide different experiences, taking the audience backstage with podcasts, videos and cameras in the studio. Many of the great DJs and hosts from the past would have embraced these new tools that build their brands and strengthen their connections with the audience.
BK: If autonomy becomes available what will it mean to the future of radio?
FJ: At CES this year we saw one vehicle after another with the equivalent of video screen(s) in the traditional dashboard space. For now, the passenger economy is being served, allowing those who aren’t driving to enjoy visual entertainment. And as autonomous cars become more advanced, the options to drivers are even more diverse. For radio, it means stations are competing against a myriad of entertainment sources. So the smart money is on focusing on local and personalities-two key elements consumers cannot get elsewhere.
Things for the radio industry to grapple with that literally keep me up at night.
This list compiled over two consecutive sleepless nights.
1)Scenario planning/Crisis Management.
This crisis has taught us that you need to take your teams thru planning sessions that are way deeper and more thorough than ever before.
This is a new management challenge to not be taken lightly that will help shape the future of our business.
Being able to serve the needs of your community remains high on your list of priorities and it may look different post crisis.
This is an area worth rethinking so you are best serving your audience.
Do you have the right people plugged into the right position based on the needs of today?
Have you specifically considered deploying someone to help your opportunity to help small business owners?
Should you deploy someone specifically focused on continuous improvement?
These are all questions worth asking today.
5)Commercial quality and quantity
How do you address both thoughtfully?
Every hire you make in every department has to be spot on.
It’s worth evaluating your process and seek to improve it.
Don't forget why you started in this business in the first place.
To entertain and inform is key to your relationship with your audience.
To innovate and not be afraid to blow up existing models is vital to the future.
,Once we return to some form of normalcy look for companies of all types to place greater importance on using data, along with their brightest strategic thinkers to inform how they can plan for every conceivable scenario in the future.
This crisis has taught us the importance of data to inform decisions.
Moving forward, data will be an even more important necessity for those of us in the radio marketplace as we work at capturing market share and we try to best tell our story.
Brad Adgate is a well known media analyst and he says:
"Data has become the oil of the industry. For audio to keep pace with competitive ad supported media, it is important that they use advanced analytics. Not only do they expect this type of granular information, audio can also charge a premium. The ability to hyper-target consumers with a relevant message has also been widely accepted by customers."
One trend that will likely emerge with the help of data will be scenario planning.
Scenario planning is a strategic planning method that many organizations use to make flexible long term plans.
Scenario planning makes assumptions on what the future is going to be and how your business environment will change over time in light of the future.
This is a strategy that gets you out of the week to week, month to month mindset and forces you to think long range.
Scenario planning pushes you to expect the unexpected in battle and to game how to be in the best position for success when the dust settles.
As we evaluate the wake of what we all experienced, none of us were prepared for this crisis.
As leadership strategist Charlene Li said:
"Scenario planning to figure out alternative futures will be crucial in developing a strategy, creating product/services and hiring the right people."
Think of how many business models would have benefited if they used scenario planning to try to plan for disruption that they ultimately would face.
The Global Recorded Music Industry
The Global Newspaper Industry
The TV Industry
Could those industries have anticipated?
Doubtful, but this current crisis teaches us we need to better plan for the unexpected.
It will be interesting to watch an innovative company such as Disney emerges post Covid 19.
Are you and your team prepared for every scenario your business might face?
What question is coming up within companies of all types in the midst of this crisis?
What will your company look like in the future?
More importantly, what SHOULD your company look like in the future?
At a time of incredible stress is there a way to manage this thought process into decisive and effective action?
Here are some thoughts on how you can approach these crucial questions in a deliberate and strategic manner.
Your first step in the process should be to learn and gather as much information as possible that enables you to develop insights that help guide you towards the most informed strategic decision.
Take a fresh start, beginners mindset approach.
In thinking about your station, cluster or company ask yourself what do you specifically need
to learn about regarding what your customers or listeners are feeling and thinking today.
Most importantly, what are the specific qualities of your future customers and how can you be poised to identify and capture them?
Don't go into this process thinking your current customer hasn't changed as a result of this crisis because that will produce failure mode.
What industry dynamics do you need to be factoring in?
What dynamics of your competitors do you need to learn about and consider in your process as well?
By putting learning as your first step you:
Understand implications and develop insights
Identify strategic alternatives for consideration.
Your second step on your road-map to strategic choices and a winning proposition is focus.
Identify what priorities that need consideration for your competitive focus.
Spend time making sure you aren't tempted by shiny objects that can distract your mission.
More importantly, to form your winning proposition ask yourself "what will we do differently or better than our competitors."?
As a part of your focus process your key priorities should be:
Perform a financial analysis of all options and alternatives
Make strategic choices and develop your winning proposition.
Document your strategy.
Step three in your process is the task of alignment with your people, your internal structure and your culture.
How can you effectively and efficiently coordinate all of your efforts?
How can you identify and prioritize any operational gaps?
What are the financial plans that should be documented so you can evaluate losses and potential gains after investment?
Now that you have gone through the road-map process it's time to put your plan into place and execute.
Time to implement the strategy!
The necessity exists to create a time bound action plan and maximize participation within your organization.
What is working?
You'll need to track progress so you can modify if needed.
In a nutshell your execution plan is to:
Implement operational plans
Track initiative performance
Manage the portfolio.
Hopefully, this thought process increases your company's ability to adapt and respond to an environment that now more than ever includes rapid change.
By taking a step by step approach, rather than looking at the challenge from an overwhelmed perspective you stand a better chance to have an organization built for the future.