​For those that have a passion for the broadcast industry and travel, the ultimate dream job would be criss-crossing the globe all year round attending broadcast conferences. All you need is an unlimited budget, a mastery of on-line travel booking websites and a big suitcase to live out of. Then in between ports, you could share all the varying perspectives you picked up along the way with your colleagues and peers. I didn't quite make it to any exotic locales; however, last month I was lucky enough to attend two of Canada's content rich broadcast conferences with a radio slant― the Radio Interactive Summit at Canadian Music Week Radio & the British Columbia Association of Broadcasters' (BCAB) conference. Between the two events, an abundant amount of interesting content about a wide range of topics was discussed; from relatively new issues mostly driven by emerging technologies to tried and true themes.

So what did I pick up from my time on the road that I feel is worth passing on? If you were to follow me around a radio station while I address each department's weekly meeting, my key takeaways would kinda sound like this….

At the Senior Manager's meeting:

A staple of many broadcast conferences is a senior executive's panel. Despite the similarities of the topics raised, the insights and perspectives are as unique as the panelists.

In this time of technological disruption, radio must innovate to stay relevant when the options for content grow exponentially. Regardless of the distribution platform, radio brands must create reasons for an audience to tune in and that is achieved through compelling, relevant content (with context), bold personality and endless brand marketing. I've yet to hear the argument that exceptional content will NOT win out the day.   

The perception of the digital onslaught is greater than its reality and radio's future remains with the current over-the-air terrestrial transmission system. Streaming has been around for over 20 years and no company has made any profit from it yet. If you have a product that people want, you have to find the best way to distribute it that makes long-term economic sense.

Attracting the next generation of radio talent may potentially be through promoting the multi-media elements of where the industry is growing, i.e. MMJs―mixed media journalists that appear on radio, TV and digital platforms; and as for an audience, for future sustainability radio must attract younger demographics.

Bottom line, if an organization is willing to invest in the product and experience, local content delivered free will win out. Especially in smaller markets where satellite radio is the biggest competitor to local radio, research shows the correlation between increased quality, local content and decreased satellite subscriptions.  

At the Sales meeting:

For the last couple of years, BCAB has hosted a sales session that perhaps leads to the liveliest panel discussions, if not for its subject matter but for the amount of F bombs.

Radio as an industry must focus on selling the merits of radio as a powerful medium that engages its audience and drives listeners to businesses rather than beating each other up. A longtime rallying cry of NLogic's fearless leader is that clients never hear other mediums use their respective industry's currency against their competitors in an effort to sway business its way.  Canada has one of the best radio ratings systems in the world and the industry would be better served celebrating that fact.   

When addressing agencies, ratings info is just one of the factors looked at in deciding if the fit is right. Format, on-air environment, a station's ability to meet the advertiser's objectives & established relationships are all key factors that should come into play as well.

Reps must be better attuned to identifying a client's pain and coming up with creative solutions that go beyond 30 second spots and, if needed, be able to walk away from deals that don't make financial sense. The broadcast sales game is changing and it's not uncommon for reps to have to sell radio, TV and digital properties. By breaking down the silos, top sales people can harness the unique qualities of each of the medium's strengths to deliver a more holistic package for local clients.

Programming:

Talent coaching is a topic unfamiliar to me so it was fascinating to hear some of the approaches industry experts use when working with their on-air personalities. Capturing the station's 'essence' through the music mix is the easy part―getting 100% out of your talent on a consistent basis is the challenge. No matter how consistently great a show is, there's always an opportunity to improve on it – and that little bit is the hardest to achieve. If both coach and talent want to get over the hump, buy-in by both parties is a must to break down the show in order to rebuild it to the best it can be. As well, you can coach skill but not motivation. An image that will be forever etched into my brain is Paul Kaye equating talent coaching to sex where it must be consensual, foreplay is vital, there's no place for judgement, size is irrelevant and there is a finish line.

Data can be sexy too and Coleman Insights & RCS/Media Monitors presented their findings on the behaviours of audience switching. Breaking down switching behavior can be grouped into four categories; i) Turn on (the radio) -Turn off (the radio) accounted for 62.7% (78.6% by P1s); ii) Turn on -Switch out (to another station) = 11.3%; iii) Switch in (from another station) - Switch out = 14.5% & iv) Switch In - Turn off = 11.5%. This study was based on 37,000,000 million occasions so sample size is not an issue. A few of the key findings included 2/3rds of occasions that were radio-on/radio-off was higher than most industry experts expected and occasions that started with turning on a radio tended to last longer. The remaining 1/3rd of switching was more likely by younger demos listening to younger skewing formats and not surprisingly the midday daypart (perhaps due to at-work tuning) had the lowest amount of switching.

Engineering:

The first car radio was introduced in the 1930s and since then, it has been front and centre of the 'head unit' (the industry term for the centerpiece of the car's sound system in the dashboard). Wireless technology advancements has given us the 'connected car' and the new generation of entertainment/information units has evolved way past two knobs and six preset buttons. The radio industry can no longer take for granted its place in the car which is a concern considering 3/4s of all Canadians listen to radio while driving. To date, almost every car company has developed their own proprietary unit with its distinct user interface and in some UIs the controls to the AM/FM radio are buried deep and difficult to find. Broadcasters are working harder than ever and must speak in one voice if they are to remain front and centre amongst all the other content offerings.

Both Apple and Google have come up with CarPlay & Android Auto respectively that use the look, feel and functionality of one's mobile device on the screen. This is not taken lightly by the automotive industry as research shows that one is more loyal to their phone than to their car brand.  However car manufactures are not going to easily surrender their branding of the head unit to these tech giants.

The connected car is all well and good until the monthly data bill arrives while radio continues to be free of charge. It's still too early to tell where the battle is heading and who may win the dashboard real estate war.

Regulatory Affairs:

The Liberal government has announced a potential major overhaul to our country's cultural policies that in turn may impact everything from the Broadcast Act to the CRTC to CanCon requirements. It may take years before any policies are enacted but as Canada better prepares for the digital revolution, broadcasters are excited about the removal of what most of them feel are restrictive policies.

Many of these policies and regulations were put in place prior to the current business models and in today's business environment Canadian broadcasters, content producers and rights' holders feel loosening of restrictions are imperative to foster a more competitive landscape. To paraphrase one broadcaster, 'With all the disruptors moving in, it is a great opportunity for the government to reconsider what a level playing field may look like and remove the shackles that tie the industry's hands behind their back.'  

Music:

Every year at CMW one of the most entertaining seminars is Juke Box Jury where record label representatives pitch one of their artists to a jury of PDs/MDs representing various formats. What transpires in front of the audience is similar to record label meetings in station music departments across the country. One witnesses firsthand the elements of an artist pitch and all the factors that come into play of adding an artist or song to a station's playlist.  After each record rep in their own unique style introduces the artist/song to the panel, it's captivating to see the ensuing discussion by the jury about the merits of the song, what works or doesn't and why it may not be added to the station's rotation. Think part X Factor, part The Voice & part WKRP in Cincinnati…..Andy Travis would make a great juror.

The band that stood out the most for me and hopefully has the potential to be a Canadian radio mainstay was Winnipeg's Attica Riots. A brief bio was read followed by a promotional video and then a drumbeat began emanating from the back of the room while the members marched towards the stage while performing a live acoustic version of their recent single Misery.  It was fabulous.

I'm no music director but I thought the band was musically talented, charismatic and knew how to engage an audience. I wish them well in their pursuit of the rock 'n roll dream.   

Research:

For all my fellow broadcast researchers, Numeris hosted sessions at both conferences so I'd be amiss if I were to leave out the exciting projects they have recently implemented or are the midst of developing, including a modified incentive plan, sustainable sampling, on-line radio diaries, increased diary frequency, enhanced encoding and on demand measurement just to name a few. More details on any of these projects are available through Numeris' Membership Services Department.​

Now that I've completed my tour around the station, where's the kitchen? I'm exhausted and need an expresso!

 

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