This week has brought more evidence that radio is an industry in the midst of disruptive transformation. The big news was that Viacom is planning to split off its broadcasting side, including the troubled Infinity radio division. But there were many smaller signals as well that radio as we know it is about to change. For instance:
* Arbitron and comScore Media Metrix released the online radio
ratings for January, which for the first time include Live365. Led by
Yahoo! Music, AOL and MSN, the four top streaming radio sites now have nearly 5m listeners a week. That's not only a lot, but it means (if I'm reading the stats right on the "persons using radio data" here) that the top Internet radio sites have more listeners than any US radio station.
* The WSJ had a great page one piece (inspired by our own cover package, I suspect) that discusses how the trend to ever-tighter playlists is now reversing as stations play more music. With listenership at a multi-decade low, they recognize that the quest to keep listeners by using market research to pick the perfect top 40 has now proven a failure. Instead, more stations are playing more eclectic, even iPod-like, mixes. They're also starting to cut down on ads, which today make up an oppressive 22 minutes per hour for many stations.
Meanwhile, there's been a lot of interesting Exploding Radio commentary and analysis around the web this week:
* Barry Ritholtz, a good financial analyst, adds an interesting perspective to the WSJ piece:
One thing I note as missing is a discussion of the long term generational effect, and the threat to a possible radio recovery: Since 1996, radio's decay has led to an entire generation of listeners who have essentially written off radio (at least, when it comes to music).
The other key issue: Radio as a source of new music, and its relationship to the labels. It used to be part of the draw -- a relationship with a trusted DJ who plays music you like, combined with introducing you to new songs (trust is the key component in granting someone taste-maker status).
* Technology Liberation Front, a blog worth subscribing to, has an excellent analysis of why concern over Clear Channel's radio "monopoly" is so misplaced. It also notes an amazing (and very encouraging) new white paper from the FCC:
"[T]he Scarcity Rationale for regulating traditional broadcasting is no longer valid.” So begins a stunning new white paper from the Federal Communications Commission. In the paper, “The Scarcity Rationale for Regulating Traditional Broadcasting: An Idea Whose Time Has Passed,” author John Beresford, an attorney with the FCC’s Media Bureau, lays out a devastating case against the Scarcity Rationale, which has governed spectrum & broadcast regulation in the United States for over seven decades.
* NPR's "Here and Now" show had a segment on exploding radio, based on our issue (I was a guest). You can listen to it here.
* Fred Wilson, a NYC VC who has written some of the best analysis of radio's future, disagrees with my flip assessment that radio is "hosed". Two responses: 1) I meant "radio as we know it" 2) That was "endism"--exaggerating decline for rhetorical effect--and it's okay.