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Rules of the Game are Changing-and Radio Needs to Change with Them

By Paul Brenner, President, NextRadio powered by TagStation

Paul Brenner, President, NextRadio powered by TagStation

Major League Baseball recently announced a renewed push to speed up the pace of play. Games last upwards of four hours with significant amounts of pausing in the action. Commissioner Rob Manaford noted “it's an issue that's key to the popularity of the sport” because keeping baseball popular among young people is good for the long-term welfare of the sport.

"Big data is a must-have when looking for insights to satisfy the needs of today’s media buyers"

So what’s sparked the recent urgency? It likely stems from what they are learning through MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM). Like any mobile technology, MLBAM delivers unending information about the location, behaviors and activities of the game’s fan base. Research and analysis of baseball fans indicates that speeding up the game and making the entertaining content available in ever-expanding forms of distribution is critical because consumption has changed and MLB needs to adapt.

Broadcast radio is in a very similar position to our great American pastime. We have our own issue with pace of play.

MLB-like Technology could Help Radio Address Long-standing Issues

For more than 50 years, radio has been programmed as a reach medium using the guidelines of a monolithic organization’s technology-lagging measurement system and limited analysis. This approach puts radio in a difficult conundrum. While the ratings agency is the industry’s currency, the programming of radio formats designed to attract and retain the right audience at the right time–and to get credit for each listener—continues to go be misaligned with the entertainment evolution. Throw in the heavy rotation of commercial breaks and lengths in any given hour, and one must wonder how the use of better technology might help radio owners think differently.

What if the same kinds of technology used by MLBAM for audience measurement and analysis were applied to radio content and listening habits? What if the results informed a radio programmer or operator that tune-out was actually caused by something they are doing? Something they themselves can change? In a sense, addressing radio’s own issue with pace of play could help the industry in its fight against fragmented media eroding the reach medium.

Turning our attention from the audience to advertisers, MLB Advanced Media created and spun out BAMtech to use the connected audience as both a point of aggregated rights and distribution and, more importantly, as a platform for better usage measurement and audience analysis. Many media and entertainment companies have jumped on board with BAMtech, from Disney/ ESPN to HBO and even gaming companies like Riot Games. Use of big data inputs to generate more intelligent information has allowed these companies to attract advertisers by proving audience engagement and relative behaviors—the kind of data the buy-side demands in today’s connected world.

How Radio Might Benefit from More Advanced Measurement, Analysis

Big data is a must-have when looking for insights to satisfy the needs of today’s media buyers. Radio needs to use similar analysis of audience engagement, profiling and relative behaviors as MLBAM to show buyers that our reach medium produces a measurable ROI. Even local radio operations are no different in this regard. We can debate a totally different topic about exactly what kinds of distribution matters when, in fact, the consumer does not care how the content reached them—only that they received it when they wanted it.

Yet what if local radio measurement could demonstrate direct correlations between a radio campaign and real world behaviors such as physical store visits? Or perhaps identify the targeted demographic profile of the entire listening audience in the exact moment when an advertiser’s campaign aired on every intended station, whether broadcast or streamed?

Going deeper, consider any form of content, commercials, music, talk shows or promotions, and every moment of radio measured and aligned with online or physical world behavior. A morning show could demonstrate that their mentions and adoration for a brand resulted in online or social media activity, and possibly even phone calls or visits to a brick and mortar.

New song spins could be analyzed down to every single radio station that played the song and the exact profile of the audience who listened perfectly (start to finish) or left mid-song for a new station. The same music audience might tell a record label or event management company where to find the listening audience most likely to fill a venue on the concert tour. While one would not expect a particular format to change their political slant on programming, data analysis of talk shows could indicate the real-world behavior of listeners at a moment in time or over a longer period of listening.

Broadcast radio and Major League Baseball have both existed for a very long time in America. Both are, in a sense, part of America’s pastime. History tells us stories of sitting around the radio in the living room when radio was the only mass-market entertainment available. Today’s audiences have choices beyond belief–and the level of choice seems to be growing, not shrinking. Radio, as a reach medium that relies on advertising to survive, must look to big data with the intention of using audience analysis to change the way radio attracts and retains listeners. Beyond analysis for programming radio content, the industry can compete with the BAMtech’s of the world for advertising dollars only by offering the same proof of performance expected by the buyer.

The audience measurement tools exist for radio to make this choice voluntarily and proactively, much like MLB is doing today. It is time that the radio industry changes the way we prove the value of radio by providing broadcast radio measurement in a digital world.

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