You don’t have to look far to find people predicting the imminent death of broadcast radio and television. Particularly when it comes to TV, the end appears to be very near. Anyone who has tracked the explosive growth of social media like Twitter and Facebook knows a dramatic shift is happening, and for those of us in the broadcast media business, the statistics are bracing+:
• By 2010 Generation Y will outnumber Baby Boomers, and 96% of them have joined an online social network.
• One out of eight couples married in the United States last year met via social media.
• 25% of Americans in the past month said they watched a short video on their phone.
• If Facebook were a country it would be the world’s fourth largest between the United States and Indonesia.
Perhaps most impressive is the rate of adoption. It took 38 years for radio to reach an audience of 50 million people. For TV, it was 13 years. The Internet took 4 years, while the iPod reached 50 million in only 3 years. Facebook added 100 million users in less than 9 months, and applications for the iPhone hit 1 billion in that same span.
In the religious media world it’s no different. In my work as a producer and media consultant with churches, media ministries, and non-profits, more and more of my potential clients are turning away from broadcast TV to the online world. To some degree, it’s natural, and online social media should be an important part of your strategic plan for growing your audience and expanding your platform.
However, in a world that’s crazy over online media, content producers shouldn’t forget what broadcast media does very well. In fact, before those of us in broadcast start manning the lifeboats, let me remind you why traditional broadcast radio and TV still matter:
1) When it comes to full-length programming, TV is still the king. YouTube, Vimeo, and similar sites generate enormous views, but it’s still mostly short clips. A short video of a high school kid blowing milk out of his nose may generate a million views, but was it satisfying entertainment? Online videos can be interesting, but the vast majority are rarely a long-form, compelling experience. Plus, 20 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube every minute, so your 3-minute video had better stand out.
2) As a result, TV is still “America’s campfire.” For example, nothing online generates the type of water-cooler conversation that “American Idol” does. For all the talk about “community” online, we actually watch online videos primarily as individuals, but we still watch TV in groups. As a result, the experience is different, and in media and entertainment, that issue matters.
3) Radio is convenient. Sure I just bought a new car with an iPod connector and multiple CD changer, but the truth is, most of the time I simply turn on the radio. I like news, plus, the easiest way to stay on top of the most popular music is on the radio. And while I love downloading teaching programs to my iPod, it’s easier just to turn on the radio. And you know what? I’m not alone.
4) Amassing a big audience online doesn’t yet guarantee big revenues. The TV audience is a buying audience. Online? We’re not sure yet. When it comes to network television, the advertising pool is about $60 billion, but only $1.6 for online video. The online world is growing, but not so quickly that we should jettison all TV-focused dreams and plans.
5) Controversy is more dynamic on radio and TV. The perfect example is the explosive growth of talk radio. It’s tough to debate online. While all the dominant cultural and political commentators write blogs and most Twitter, their most active and responsive audiences are still on the radio. Say what you want about how talk radio is polarizing, huge audiences love the format.
6) Broadcast TV & film content still drive most online entertainment. Even the most successful online entertainment venture – Hulu.com – for the most part is TV programming re-purposed online. The most popular online programs right now are simply TV programs on a different medium.
7) When a crisis happens, people still turn to TV. Twitter has become famous for being the first technology platform used to report on the US Air crash landing into the Hudson River in New York, and keeping outsiders up to date on the recent protests in Iran. But after the initial alert, people turn to television for broader coverage and a better explanation of what’s really happening.
Remember: Radio didn’t displace movies, and TV didn’t replace radio.
Don’t get me wrong – the world is moving online. Our company is integrating online planning into our clients overall media strategy. But that doesn’t mean radio or TV are going away. Despite the dire warnings, radio and television will continue to be a dominant social force around the world. Radio didn’t displace movies, and TV didn’t replace radio. New platforms open new doors, but don’t necessarily displace old media. Radio and TV have a lot to offer, and when building an effective media strategy, don’t forget that component.
The question is – what’s the future of broadcast media? I’m a television producer, so I can only speak authoritatively on TV, but here’s my prediction:
The future of TV is with programs that start conversations online. Writer James Andrews pointed out in a recent article in Fast Company magazine that a company called “Networked Insights” created a new tracking method for television programs. Where Neilson rates programs solely based on audience size, Networked Insights based it’s ratings on how many online social interactions TV programs generated (linking, inviting, sharing, blogging, reading, rating). They discovered that half the programs that generated significant online social interactions weren’t even on the Neilson top ten list.
“When I watch the show “24” I’m chatting about the show on Twitter and Facebook with thousands of other fans.”
– James Andrews
The question is – Does your program generate online conversations? Is your content so insightful, original, or provocative that people feel compelled to share it with their friends online?
The future of traditional radio and television lies in the potential to start fires. To create stories, conversations, and controversy that generates so much enthusiasm that your ideas become viral and move to another level online.
If not, then yes, traditional media – as we know it, is finished.
This isn’t the time to continue radio & TV “as usual.” This is the time to understand how traditional media works in a new paradigm where audiences demand their own voice, and a seat at the table. Social media gives them that voice, but they need something to talk about.
Hopefully, your radio or television program can be the catalyst that starts those conversations.
+(Statistics from Broadcast Engineering Magazine August 2009)