Media Beat
Media Beat

Media Beat: September 23, 2019

Ross Davies wants to punch your dial

A calamity of events has placed the radio industry in perilous times, and the near-term forecast promises a torrent of more stormy weather is on the way.

Predatory practices, myopic thinking, the digital world, meatless hamburger—you name it and the radio industry has felt the jarring consequence of the tectonic change in the universe, and taken a whipping that has resulted in declines in audience size and advertising revenue.

But, it’s not game over.

Not by a long shot.

At least not in the mind of Ross Davies, the former broadcast executive whose career path included successful stints at a long list of once high-profile broadcast companies that have been swallowed whole by Bell, Rogers or Corus. More recently he was synonymous with broadcast data-tracking firm Numeris where his energetic approach, cheery disposition and velvet touch, as GM Radio, helped calm stormy seas between riled clients and the ratings agency.

Heck, even the means of measuring audiences in modern times has become a subject of heated debate as new technologies run faster than the systems in place to capture who’s using listening to what, and when. By example, Bluetooth headphones are just one of the latest devices stymying tracking services, as radio consultant Pat Holiday recently reported on in FYI.   

So, revenues are down, living room radio sets are gone the way of the Dodo bird, in-dash consoles in late model cars are no more, and a galaxy of news and entertainment options available to Joe and Jessica Public are splintering their attention spans. It’s a war of domination or a slow death in today’s world.

But Davies isn’t letting a hurricane of change move his compass bearing. Recently ‘retired’ from Numeris, he’s reactivated The Davies consultancy Company that offers a menu of services to broadcasters. He is open to anyone offering him a corner office with a fat salary (plus perks), but in today’s mercenary world of cut and kill, he’s not holding his breath.

My extrapolation of what he told me recently over a beverage at Grazie Ristorante, the mid-town, mid-priced Toronto eatery that is a personal favourite. Ross was in pitch mode, even as, he assured me, he is enjoying life in semi-retirement. His description, not mine. The pitch was simple—but complicated at the same time.

For the second consecutive year, Ross is teaming up with Neill Dixon to add some sparkle dust (meat on the bone?) to the Radioactive component that sits under the Canadian Music Week conference umbrella.

Here’s a bulleted list of what’s on his mind:

  • The goal is to improve the value and content of the Radioactive conference at CMW, starting with next year’s event in May, 2020.

  • Canada’s radio broadcasters are looking to establish a more meaningful and beneficial national radio conference. The wish is to build on the already existing infrastructure in place at CMW and continue working with Neill Dixon and his team,

  • The industry has confidence in myself and Neill to develop the appropriate content and speakers that specifically address the issues, challenges and opportunities for radio (and audio) broadcasting today and in the immediate future.

  • There will be a focus on attracting panelists and speakers from Canada and the international marketplace. The plan is to double the number of radio sessions from last year.

  • There will be two concurrent radio tracks spread out over two days (May 20th, May 21st). One track will focus on product, talent, promotion, marketing, imaging, research, and formats,. The other track will finely focus on the business model of broadcasting, touching on areas such as digital audio content, new revenue streams for radio, research & measurement, technology and radio’s place in the digital/streaming world, and government affairs.

  • The conference will also create a dedicated radio awards luncheon where we will celebrate the best achievements in radio over the past year.  This gala luncheon will be spun off from the present Thursday Music and Broadcast Industry Awards show.  

It’s a grand agenda, but I wasn’t going to let Ross run with his vision unchallenged. I suggested discussions about the broadcast industry are too often censored by people who work in the industry and, for reasons of self-preservation, duck pinning the tail on the donkey. I doubt that there is incentive enough to have Howard Stern share his thoughts on how radio broadcasters can command audiences, but someone like him might be an antidote to the basket of euphemisms too often sprinkled in monologues at these events like  confetti at an Italian wedding. 

Case studies, successful or otherwise, most always provide insights into how to execute strategy. The subject matter doesn’t have to be specific to radio. Podcaster, author and ‘Ad Contrarian’ Bob Hoffman is one person I suggest if anyone’s listening.

Audience measurement is a contentious issue. Clearly, Numeris must have a voice to explain how the CAB-owned org is dealing with the fast-paced changes in technology, but Facebook and Google are masters of the universe when it comes to consumer tracking, and it might be advantageous to give them a seat at the table.

Then there’s Ottawa and the uncertain direction that the CRTC is headed. I am no specialist in this area, but I suggest Peter Grant from McCarthy Tétrault LLP could suggest or lead a session that offers an expansive and informed overview of the challenges, realities and handicaps of the current administration.

It would be a breath of fresh air to hear some of the voices championing community radio in modern times—and find out if the spirit of radio in the not-for-profits is flourishing or ordained for doom.

An off-the-wall discussion could include a suite of fund investors discussing how they view radio. Is it a buy or sell? and how they see the sector's future.

There’s also the business of going the distance and creating a session that LISTENS to what audiences have to say about radio today. I leave this to Jeff Vidler and Audience Insights, or a company of its ilk, to figure out the composition of the panel, and perhaps create a paper based on what the panelists have to say. Who knows, maybe their opinions will be heard in the corridors of power?

But I am not alone in offering advise to Ross. If you have something to say you can write him direct: rossdavies@sympatico.ca

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