Programmatic radio? Why not?
As a person who did a radio show both professionally and as a volunteer for more decades than I care to admit, I can attest to the fact that radio is, if not dying, at least ailing. I once anecdotally asked a college student acquaintance at UCONN if he ever listened to the campus station, WHUS. His reply? Is there a station? He added neither he nor any of his friends owned radios.
According to an estimate last year from Borrell Associates, radio’s share of local ad revenue would decline to 7.6% from almost 9%, with auto dealers in particular abandoning radio for Google and other targeted solutions. Even more ominous, another Borrell report indicates that Facebook grabbed 7% of U.S. local advertising last year. Guess who lost out? Radio and newspapers. Borrell says 83% of local advertisers now use social media promotion.
Downloads and streaming music and talk dominate now, so much so that some European countries are eliminating FM radio from their airwaves. And then there are competitors like Pandora, the program-it-yourself online station. Does Bubba the Love Sponge have a future?
But radio is resilient. Nielsen says broadcast radio still reaches 93% of Americans (a lot of this is in the car while commuting). Three of our old pal media buddies, Jarl Mohn (NPR), Bob Pittman (iHeartMedia) and Mary Berner (Cumulus Media) now head radio companies. And they must know something positive about the medium’s trajectory. Last June, according to Nielsen, it was reported that radio was the sole analog medium to show growth year over year.
Thanks to another old media pal, Marshall Cohen, we checked out an interesting periodical called Inside Radio, which is reporting that programmatic radio is “allowing buyers to log into a cloud-based ‘demand-side’ exchange to view and buy available inventory in real time. Prices are set by participating broadcasters who contribute inventory into a ‘supply side’ ad exchange or marketplace. Real-time bidding — a prime component for digital buys — isn’t part of the programmatic equation for radio.”
Inside Radio notes that there are four main players, including WideOrbit, Marketron and Focus 360. But the strongest out of the gate appears to be Expressway from Katz Radio Group. Katz has 240 million weekly listeners from more than 4,000 radio stations and “thousands of digital platforms.” Those working with Katz include CBS Radio, Beasley Media Group, Emmis Communications and Radio One.
We see this as a positive step for radio. Consider that broadcast radio is one of the most tightly formatted entertainment mediums. If you don’t know what CHR or AOR radio is, millions of Americans do. The other day I heard a Florida station with a new format, combining alt country with rock, Waylon Jennings and Creedence Clearwater Revival. It worked for me. Maybe you wouldn’t try this in Boston, but it’s very cleverly focused on places like Central Florida, where I heard it. Tom Petty grew up in Gainesville, and he would have killed for a station like that back then.
San Francisco’s WideOrbit says its “Radio Interchange eliminates the manual steps of the network and barter ad process, including order entry, order revisions, creative copy, copy instructions, and affidavit completion.”
Anything that can help make buying radio time easier has to be a good idea right now.
A personal note: Radio is an amazing medium. Anyone who has ever done a radio show, like NPR’s Jarl Mohn, can attest that even decades after you stop hosting, you still dream about this wacky medium. A common dream is that you’re behind the controls, and something screws up, you can’t get the CD player to work and there’s dead air.
Radio has a mysterious hold that no predations from Pandora, Facebook and Google can replace. NPR likes to talk about driveway moments. Supposedly listeners are so transfixed by the radio programming that instead of getting out of the car, they sit and listen in their driveways. It sounds corny, but I’ve done it.