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The Cold War Between SiriusXM and Broadcast Radio

The war heated up recently when SiriusXM began including the tagline, “Why waste your time with AM/FM radio,” in its marketing.

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When Fred Jacobs’ presented TechSurvey 2022, he prophetically warned, “The more I look at the data, the more I come back to…SiriusXM remains a prime threat to broadcast radio.” The companies that own radio stations threaten AM/FM radio far more than SiriusXM. Nonetheless, the two have been in a Cold War for a while.

The war heated up recently when SiriusXM began including the tagline, “Why waste your time with AM/FM radio,” in its marketing. The RAB and NAB fired back with salvos touting broadcast radio. 

The battle was over before broadcasters realized they were in a fight. AM/FM broadcasters allowed themselves to be redefined by SiriusXM when it hung the modifier “terrestrial” on radio, and the industry acquiesced. We don’t refer to SiriusXM as just “satellite” but accepted identifying AM/FM radio as “terrestrial” or “broadcast radio.” 

Many broadcast companies dropped the word radio in favor of “audio” or “media,” SiriusXM said thanks and used “SiriusXM satellite radio.” If the word “radio” is unhip, nobody told SiriusXM. Conceding a word people have used for one hundred years to SiriusXM suggests radio lost the fight long ago. 

SiriusXM went too far, explicitly attacking AM/FM radio. The RAB responded by showing how many people use AM/FM compared to the satcaster. While true, the RAB misses the point of SiriusXM’s marketing. In addition to advertising clients, broadcast radio has a second client base, listeners. SiriusXM is directing its message to broadcast radio listeners, not its advertisers. 

NAB President and CEO Curtis LeGeyt defend broadcast radio in a blog post. He makes several arguments about the importance and relevance of broadcast radio. The essence of his case is this passage:

“Broadcast radio continues to be the leading platform for people to tune in to hear hit music, their favorite DJs, the latest songs by today’s hottest musicians, and new tracks from emerging artists. Yet, what truly sets us apart is the connection we provide listeners to their neighbors and communities. No other audio platform is locally based in the cities and towns we serve. Broadcast radio is the voice of local communities, providing news, information, and programming that meet local needs and interests.”

That’s so 20 years ago.

Jacobs Media TechSurvey shows listeners’ attitudes about radio and music have changed. In the 2014 TechSurvey, 70% said music was one of the main reasons they listen to their favorite station, while 57% said personalities were one of their top reasons. In 2019, personalities overtook music among the main reasons for listening. Music continues to decline as a primary factor for listening. In 2022, 82% say personalities are a top reason, while 55% say music is a primary reason. 

Fewer say music discovery is a key reason they listen to the radio now. In 2014, nearly four out of ten respondents said music discovery was a primary reason for listening to their favorite station. This year it’s down to less than one out of four. 

Is anyone surprised music has diminishing importance for radio? Today, it’s not unusual for music stations to play 18 minutes an hour or more. If a music station limits commercials to 14 minutes per hour, it’s showing restraint. SiriusXM, websites, apps, and most cable TV systems, offer a hundred different highly specialized music channels with no commercials. Of course, fewer people are using the radio for music. 

LeGeyt makes a point about “favorite DJs” and personalities in general. This advantage continues to narrow, however. Over the years, due to budget cuts, many listener favorites have migrated to SiriusXM, and other online projects, where they continue to attract audiences. 

Radio stars continue to leave the medium nationwide. In Philadelphia, Ray Didinger retired; Angelo Cataldi will step down at the end of the year, and Mike Missanelli was let go ending a 12-year stint with his more recent station. In Minneapolis, Tom Bernard announced the end of his program at year’s end. David Lee recently wrapped a 32-year run at WCCO-AM. Matty Siegel hung up the headphones after 42 years in Boston. Peter Boyles in Denver, Tom Tangney in Seattle, and other personalities who have been market leaders for decades are exiting radio. It’s impossible to replace these performers. 

Magnifying the departures of big names is the failure of the radio industry to develop new talent, which was foreseeable. Never-ending budget cuts meant less investment in young talent while cutting and consolidating experienced programmers to coach them. The advantage broadcast radio enjoys from local personalities continues to shrink.

LeGeyt mentions the local connection between broadcasters and their communities, but budget cuts again change the dynamics. An ever-increasing number of hours are voice-tracked from far away DJs. 

Promotion staffs have shrunk, where they haven’t been eliminated. The staffs at stations I programmed were proud of how often we were out and how omnipresent we were in the community. Have you seen many radio station vans cruising the streets of your city lately? 

How long after an unplanned event, not on a weekday between 6 am and 6 pm, until stations cover it? Newsrooms are dark much of the time at many stations – even stations with significant news images – it’s not uncommon for it to take hours, even until the next morning, before discussing a weather event on the air. By then, listeners might receive dozens of notifications on their smartphones.

Expect stations to become less involved in local communities. In 2017, the FCC eliminated the main studio rule. A studio with program origination capability in the local community is no longer required. Neither is having management and staff present locally during business hours. We can identify the cities where future broadcasts will originate right now. 

LeGeyt also emphasizes that AM/FM radio is free. Sometimes 18 minutes of commercials an hour seems like a high price to pay, especially with so many other sources with fewer commercials. Many people are willing to pay for at least a couple of subscriptions with limited or no commercials. 

Not all stations have fallen into these traps. I applaud the owners, market managers, and programmers who have maintained the standards that built great stations and brands. If only there were more of you.

Twenty years ago, LeGeyt arguments would have been valid. Today his points no longer hold water. 

The RAB, NAB, and many broadcasters are indignant over SiriusXM’s chutzpah. But SiriusXM is saying what many listeners have already concluded. If management continues the course of the past 15 years, increasing numbers will answer SiriusXM’s rhetorical question, if not by subscribing to the satcaster, at least by finding different sources for audio entertainment than the AM/FM dial.

If broadcast radio ceases to be a commercially viable business, the post-mortem will rule the death a suicide.

BNM Writers

Market Still Finding 2023 Footing

After some rigorous data analysis, the thoughtful, numbers-based host was able to formulate some potential conclusions.

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While it’s hard to imagine 2023 being as painful for investors as 2022, experts still cannot say for certain we are destined for blue skies ahead. Many in the media are starting the year by sifting through the stock market tea leaves; trying to figure out what historical data can tell us about probabilities and expectations for the next twelve months.

Some think the United States is poised for a market rebound, while others remain quite bearish, feeling that negative policy implications have yet to be fully realized.

Peter Tuchman of Trademas Inc. joined Neil Cavuto on his Fox News program Friday, to offer his thoughts about where the American stock market might be headed in light of the newly-divided United States Congress.

“Markets have a sort of a gut of their own,” Cavuto opened. “Today’s a good example. We’re up 300 points, ended up down 112 points. What’s going on?”

“Markets don’t like unknowns, and markets need confidence. The investing community needs confidence,” Tuchman said. “And I think it’s going to take a lot of work to rebuild that. And as we saw the other night with what went on in the House, it feels like people should get busy governing as opposed to all this posturing.”

Six months ago, Tuchman didn’t have a solid feel for the direction of the market. And just two trading weeks into the year, he still doesn’t believe any real trend has been established.

“The market has yet to find its ground. It’s yet to find its footing,” Tuchman told Cavuto. “And still, even coming into 2023, the first week of trading we have not found our footing. We have come in on a couple of economic notes that were a little bit positive. We opened up with a little bit of irrational enthusiasm. By the end of the days we were trading down.”

Meanwhile, some financial outlets, such as CNBC, have dug into the data showing what a market rise during the year’s first week – such as what we experienced this year – potentially means for the rest of 2023. They published a story last week with the headline, Simple ‘first five days’ stock market indicator is poised to send a good omen for 2023“.

On an episode of his popular YouTube program late last week, James from Invest Answers dug into 73 years of stock market data, to test that theory and see if the first five days of yearly stock market performance are an indicator of what the market might do over the full year.

“Some analysts pay attention to this, the first five trading day performance, can it be an indicator of a good year or a bad year,” James began last week, “I wanted to dig into all of that and get the answer for myself. Because some people think yes. Some people swear blind by it. Some people think it’s a myth or an old wive’s tale. Some people think it’s a great omen.”

After some rigorous data analysis, the thoughtful, numbers-based host was able to formulate some potential conclusions.

Based on James’ analysis…

If the gains from the first five market days of the year are negative, the market rises 86 percent of the time over the full year, with an average gain of 6%.

If the first five days are positive, the market increases 92% of the time, with an average yearly gain of 16%.

Most importantly, in this year’s scenario, where the first five days saw a jump of more than 1%, the market traditionally ends positive for the year 95 percent of the time. Those years see an average yearly gain of 18%.

“Is it a good omen, does it look bullish?” James asked. “Well, yes, based on history. But remember, there are factors like inflation, interest rates, geopolitical turmoil, supply chains, slowing economy. All that stuff is in play. But history also says that the market bounces bounces back before the market even realizes it’s in a recession. That’s an important thing to know.”

On his Your World program, Cavuto wondered if the recent House speaker voting drama has added to the uncertainty facing markets.

“Historically, Wall Street definitely is a bit more friendly to a Republican administration,” Tuchman said. “We’re in new ground, there’s no playbook, Neil. And I went over it with you the last time. There’s no playbook for coming out of a pandemic. No playbook for what’s gone on over the last two and a half years. Let’s think about it. March 2020, the market sold off so radically. We had a rally of 20 percent in 2020. 28 percent in 2021, in the eyes of a global economic shutdown due to the Federal Reserve’s posturing and whatnot.

“And now we’re trying to unwind that position. In tech, and in possible recession, and inflation and supply chain issues. So, there’s no way historically to make a judgment on what the future looks like in that realm, let alone what’s going on in the dis-functionality of what’s happening in Washington. I would like to disengage what’s going on in Washington and try and rebuild the confidence in the market coming into 2023.” 

So while the data might indicate a strong year ahead, the fact is that many analysts still won’t make that definitive call amidst such economic turmoil gripping the country. 

Along with U.S. markets, they remain steadfast in their search for solid footing.

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BNM Writers

Does Radio Need A Video Star?

If there’s revenue attached, the debate is over. If there isn’t a deal on the table, and there aren’t already orders to monetize a video stream, it’s likely coming soon.

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Last week numerous stories about using video with broadcasting or audio podcasting became a hot topic of discussion.

A Morning Consult poll found that 32% of Americans prefer podcasts with video, compared with 26% who like just audio better. Among podcast listeners, 46% said they favor them with video, compared with 42% who said they would rather listen without video. It’s worth noting that these are podcast listeners, not radio listeners.

Video has become the latest trend in audio. Almost everybody is trying to do some form of video. Many shows already stream online. A few others simulcast on a television or cable channel. It seems nobody believes in pure audio anymore. It’s a wonder everybody didn’t go into television instead of radio.

Before everybody else starts adding webcams in the studio, it’s worth weighing the reasons to move ahead versus slowing down.

The first person to realize they could use video of their show may have been Howard Stern. In June 1994, Stern started a daily half-hour show on E! network, featuring video highlights from his radio show. Stern added slick production values and faster pacing on the E! show.

Don Imus started simulcasting on cable during the same month. It’s possible others that I’m not aware of started earlier.

Stern’s E! show made sense. It answered the most common questions people asked about the show, in addition to what’s he really like; the first questions people usually asked were: 1) Are the women really as good-looking as he says? 2) Do they really take their clothes off? The E! show answered those questions. In addition, it gave a backstage glimpse of the show.

The same month Stern’s E! Show began, Imus began simulcasting his show on cable networks. I would have feared losing ratings. In fact, Imus’ program director did!

I spoke to my long-time friend and colleague Mark Chernoff (Current Managing Director of Mark Chernoff Talent and on-air talent 107.1 The Boss on the NJ Shore, Former Senior VP WFAN and CBS Sports Radio, VP Sports Programming CBS Radio) about the impact simulcasting Imus’ show had on WFAN. Chernoff may have the broadest range of experiences with simulcasting radio programs with video. 

Imus began on CSPAN but shortly afterward moved to MSNBC. Chernoff told me: “When we started simulcasting Imus, I suggested we’d lose about 15% of our radio audience to TV, which we did.” Chernoff added that there was a significant revenue contribution and that the company was content with the trade-off.

WFAN had a different experience simulcasting Mike and the Mad Dog on YES in 2002. “In this case, TV was helpful, and we increased listenership,” said Chernoff. WFAN also benefited financially from this simulcast.

Imus was on in morning drive while Mike & the Mad Dog were on in the afternoon. Keep the era in mind, too. Before smartphones and high-speed streaming, it was not uncommon for people to have televisions in the bed or bathrooms and have the tv on instead of the radio as they got ready for their day. In the afternoon, fewer people would have had video access in that era.

Ratings measurement moved to Portable People Meter (PPM) by the time WFAN started streaming middays on its website. Chernoff reported streaming had no ratings or revenue impact – positive or negative – on middays. However, the company did provide an additional dedicated person to produce the video stream.

The early forays into video by pioneers such as Stern, Imus, and Mike & the Mad Dog are instructive.

There are good reasons to video stream shows. Revenue is a good reason.

If there’s revenue attached, the debate is over. If there isn’t a deal on the table, and there aren’t already orders to monetize a video stream, it’s likely coming soon.

Another good reason is if the video can answer questions about the show, as the E! show did for Howard Stern.

On the other hand, audio companies are going to throw a lot of money at video, based on the notion that it’s what they “should” do because:

  • It’s the latest trend. Being late on this trend is different from missing the Internet or Podcasting. Industries already revolve around video; television and film come to mind.
  • Podcast listeners like it (by a slight plurality).

Before turning on webcams, see what viewers will see. The studios at many stations I’ve worked at were better not seen. Considerations include; the set, lighting, wardrobe, visuals, and a plan.

Too many video streams of studios feature the fire extinguisher prominently in the shot or the air personalities milling about during terminally long breaks.

Before going live, watch the video with no audio. Is it interesting? Compelling? Does the video draw you in, or is it dull?

With program directors now spread so thin handling multiple stations, a dedicated person to oversee streaming should be a requirement for stations streaming shows.

Other considerations:

  • How could this help us, and how could it hurt us?
  • How does the video enhance the show?
  • Will personalities do their radio show or perform for the cameras?
  • What production values are you able to add to the video?
  • What happens during those seven- eight-minute breaks if it’s a live radio show (vs. a podcast)? What will people streaming video see and hear? Does everybody on the show get along?

Do you have revenue attached? What do you expect will happen to the ratings?

WFAN earned significant revenue for two. Therefore, the company wasn’t concerned when the ratings took a hit for the first one and were surprised when they helped the second one. They didn’t see any impact on ratings or revenue the third time.

After all the budget cuts and workforce reductions over the past decade-plus, before audio companies invest in video, shouldn’t we get: people, marketing, promotion, or research monies back first?

Most of us decided to get into radio (or podcasting) instead of television or film. There’s a reason they said, “video killed the radio star.”

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BNM Writers

Streaming Platforms Cannot Be Forgotten By News/Talk Program Directors

BNM’s Pete Mundo writes that if you’re a News/Talk program director, you run two radio stations and what comes through the streaming platforms.

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If you’re a News/Talk program director, you run two radio stations. Didn’t you know that? Oh. Well, you do. 

I’m not just referring to our over-the-air broadcast but also what comes through our streaming platforms. Alexa, Google Home, apps, computers, etc., are all streaming platforms of our radio stations, which for most of us, are airing different commercial inventory than what is coming through the radio.

I understand none of us are unnecessarily looking to add to our plate, but our streaming platforms are the way we are getting more people to use our product. So neglecting, or forgetting about it, is a bad business decision, especially in the talk space. 

Across all clusters, talk radio is far more likely to have high streaming use when it comes to total listening hours. Listeners are more loyal to our personalities and often can’t get the AM dial in their office buildings during the day, or even if they can, they don’t want to hear our voices through static, so they pull up the stream. 

It’s never been easier to listen to talk radio stations, thanks to our station apps and websites (although welcoming some sites to the 21st century would be a good idea). So, given the challenges many of us face on the AM band, why not push our audience to the stream and make sure the stream sounds just as good as the over-the-air product?

The tricky part in putting together a quality stream sound is trying to balance what ads are programmatic, which ones are sold locally, where is the unfilled inventory and what is filling that gap?

And unlike your over-the-air product, where you can go into a studio, see what’s coming up, and move inventory around, that technology is not available in most cases. So yes, it’s a guessing game.

But as the talk climate continues to change, the best thing we can do to build our brand and trust with the next generation of talk radio listeners is to find them and engage them where they are, which may not always be next to a physical radio. That will be on a stream. How do I know that? Because if they have a smartphone, they have (access to) the stream.

Of course, the over-the-air product remains the massive revenue generator for our stations, as in most cases, the streaming revenue is not close to comparable. But then, if we look years down the road, that will likely start to change. 

To what degree? That’s unknown. But double-digit growth on an annual basis should not be out of the question when it comes to stream listening. It should be a very achievable goal, especially in our format. So our listeners who are P1’s, love the station and want to consume as much of the content as they can, can be on the AirPods in the gym, desk at work, or in their home office and listen to our radio stations. 

Heck, with Alexa and Google Home, they don’t even have to turn a dial! They just speak. So if they’re there, let’s keep them there.

There are simply too many media options today to lose our listeners due to sloppy streaming quality that makes us sound like a college radio station. Instead, listeners, who find us there should be rewarded with a listening experience that is just as high-quality as what they would get on the AM or FM band.

And if we play our cards right, it will be better, serving the industry incredibly well through a new generation of listeners.

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Barrett Media Writers

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