Media Beat
Media Beat

Media Beat: November 10, 2017

More than 200 professionals attending the Ontario Association of Broadcasters annual conference and awards program at the Toronto Airport Marriott were in ebullient spirits Thursday, but the big takeaway was much the same as that headlined in last year’s events.

And that is it is time broadcasters started listening to what audiences want and stop talking about audience-engagement in an era when audiences are drifting to a broader spectrum of online news, information and music services.

Audience-engagement, or at least what broadcasters like to describe as audience-engagement, is treading on thin ice.

Last year, a panel of millennials told the Connection 2016 attendees that they wanted more variety in the music programmed, are often-times bored with the chatter, uninspired by the delivery, and annoyed by the sameness of formats found on FM dial.

This year, Jeff Vidler’s Audience Insights’ consultancy and research firm assembled a panel of tech-savvy 35 to 54-year-olds, dubbed GenX-ers.  

The first point broadcasters need to ponder seriously is that after a headline of hyperbolic huffing and puffing trumpeting the arrival of the Radioplayer and the iHeartRadio apps in Canada, the exercise was a bust. Only one of eight on the panel appeared to have heard of either, whereas most are currently content using the American aggregator TuneIn app that offers users the ability to listen to streaming audio from over 100,000 radio networks and radio stations worldwide, as well as providing a menu of available podcasts and audiobooks.

Local news and information are paramount to this audience block, and the kind of hamster-wheel news cycle taken to the extreme by CNN is a tune-out. Most everyone on the panel agreed that a local emphasis on news and information is welcome, and a package of ‘what’s going on in town’ is strongly desired.

The panelists have radios in their homes, but they don’t turn them on.

The Internet is the medium they use to find information, music, entertainment, and news; some use radio-specific apps, some don’t. In the car, they listen to what they want, and if they don’t like what they hear they are gone, gone, gone.

Commercials need to be tighter, shorter, and more entertaining. National spots that sound canned and cheesy are a tune-out factor. So is increasing the volume on commercial spots.

A couple of panelists complained about hearing too many commercials. Can broadcasters find new ways to capture revenue without running the same bank of ads per hour? It’s a problem, but Internet feeds and using social media offer new means of promoting products, events and commercial campaigns.

They will listen to the hits, for a period–but they want to hear more variety and, in stride with last year’s panel, would welcome blocks of music that veer from the 24/7 playlists.

One panelist mentioned a particular broadcast network and suggested the cutbacks in staff made it sound more “generic”.

Most all agreed that a big plus for radio over Spotify is that it sounds live and entertaining, and colourful on-air personalities on the radio are a big plus.

Another enjoys listening to an a.m. game-show, and most seemed in agreement that informed talk elements add variety. In fact, variety is something all seek out.

With Spotify, Tune-In and other choices, overall listening hasn’t changed for the panelists; meaning, broadcasters are going to have to be a lot more competitive and compelling in their delivery to capture a block of time that is fragmented by increased consumer choices.

On the upside, the panelists are listening to the radio, just not so much on a radio itself.

Curiously, the CBC didn’t come up in the conversations that moderator, host and panel deviser Jeff Vidler put together; this is not to say that X-ers aren’t listening so much as that the nemesis of private broadcasters wasn’t named. And perhaps for good reason given the audience in the room Thursday morning.

A thought in having heard the reaction to the panel by other attendees, and having listened to what was said myself is that broadcasters tend to hear with only one ear; that and the fact that there are too few in radio today in positions of influence and power who are either millennials or X-ers.

Wouldn't it be fun and even exciting to listen to an hour or two weekly where these audience demos were invited to come in and help program a station? Who knows, it could be entertaining and even audience-engaging.

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