Why Internet “Radio” Isn’t Catching On

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Okay, time for an actual on-topic post.  I’m talking radio.

Specifically, internet radio streaming.  Everybody points to internet streaming (and HD Radio, but that’s another rant for another day) as the savior of terrestrial AM and FM broadcasting.  You can see this most easily at the annual RTDNA/NAB convention.  I’ve always wanted to go, mostly so I could wander over to the NAB side and see what the big buzz is in radio programming.

That was, until I pulled up NAB’s vendor map.  It’s all technical.  Tips on how to improve reception, boxes that connect cell phone texting, and terribly designed automation systems as far as the eye can see.  Why would I bother spending $300 bucks on that?  Where’s the programming?  Where are the ideas to get 18-24s excited about listening to the radio again?

Nope.  It’s all about HD and internet streaming.  Which aren’t bad.  But even those are horribly lackluster.  I ask the following questions:

1. How do 18-24s (or even 18-45s) get excited about streaming and get them to actually listen online?
2. How do we make money off internet streaming?
3. How come internet streams sound so terrible?

I’m going to skip to #3 first.

Internet streams in the US are awful.  I try to listen to KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO regularly online.  Their player is huge, takes up half my screen.  That’s not a problem since I can minimize it.  But it keeps cutting out ever 15 seconds to buffer.  It’s no fun ….. to have to … keep waiting ever……y 15 seconds …… for the inter-….   net stream to finish ….. what it has to ….. say.
Icky, icky, icky.  And that’s nothing compared to the ad inserts.

Try sitting through this simple check of traffic and weather:

Do you really think your TSLs (time listeners spend listening) are going to be very good if they have to put up with this kind of abuse?

This takes me to #2.  Streaming makes us lose money.  An ad insert is exactly what it sounds.  The web department at CBS (or whichever company you are listening to) cuts out the local commercials are replaces them on the stream.  It’s all thanks to some AFTRA (the Radio/TV talent union) bullying back in 2001, where they demanded extra money if their ads aired online.  This is very bad.  Instead of getting more ears for the high-paying ads which the sales team spend weeks massaging out of clients in town, they have to play PSA, and other low paying ads.

This means streamers are actually hurting local stations:  How often do you hear a Clear Channel station encourage you to stop listening over the air and instead download their iHeartRadio app?  Do they GMs realize what they just did?  They cannibalized their audience which listens to the good paying spots (broadcast ads) and sent them over to the bad spots (wed ads, PSAs, etc.).

The ads are unlistenable.  Buffering problems?  Oh yeah.  It’s bad enough to have the stream hawking the same bankruptcy attorney at me every 5 minutes, over-and-over, again and again.  But to hear … it … tell …. me that bankruptcy … is an op…. -tion that could … work …. for … me.  Just now I heard a PSA for helping in Haiti playing at the same time as a KeyesCars.com ad.  Any wonder why I don’t like streaming?

And finally, #1.  If I’m going to not listen to your radio station on the radio, I’m probably not going to listen at all.  I hate to break it to CBS, Clear Channel, Emmis, and the like:  Pandora kicks their internet stream’s butt. For starters, it doesn’t have to keep buffering.  It’s light and easy to use.  I only hear one ad ever 15 minutes.  When I start it, I hear music immediately – not some goofy spot for Jamaica for 60 seconds and then music.  And I get to pick a more specific format than any radio station could ever provide me.

Radio is worth saving, but the current owners just don’t care.  Even CBS, which is sadly one of the few that still hires actual people sometimes, is sounding quite pitiful.  As excellent as KNX 1070’s programming is, and I’m highlighting the “X” and clicking.  It just can’t take the buffering, terrible ad inserts, two ads playing at once, etc.

If anybody goes to NAB this year, let me know if they talk programming.  I’d really love to go, but I just can’t justify spending what little money I have to have NexGen hawk equipment at me.  HD won’t save radio.  Streaming won’t save radio.  Good programming will save radio.

But if they plan to talk about what programming it will take to save local radio, then I’ll pay almost anything to go.

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