At last week's Radio Convergence meeting, the movers and shakers from radio's digital arena were on hand to discuss their challenges -- and their need to embrace online and search marketing.
"Radio has to start believing that the Internet is real," said Reed Bunzel, CEO of TheRadio.com. Until recently, radio management considered their station websites as complementary marketing vehicles that supported on-air listeners. That has begun to change already.
The largest radio station groups are very tuned into their online opportunities, with both traffic and ad dollars as key priorities. When it comes to radio stations, search marketing tops the list now. To grow traffic, these groups are focused on SEO and SEM rather than more limited on-air promotions. It's more than a local play, too.
Monetize Streams: Based on new listeners, these groups want to increase audio streams. Andrew Lindenauer, VP Operations at CBS Radio's Digital Media Group, declared “the player is the portal.” He showed the new player that enables listeners to navigate among all the CBS and AOL stations. Due the recent CBS-AOL deal, where CBS will manage the AOL stations, he expects to double their online audience and ad inventory.
Emmis, Clear Channel and Entercom digital heads also are focused on audio streams and monetizing those streams. They admit their ad inventories are not sold out, and imply their online sales operations are just starting up. All the groups are turning their attention to a mix of direct sales and ad networks.
Avoid Meatball Sundaes: Industry prognosticator Kurt Hanson introduced the Meatball Sundae problem that we all know about at SEW. Radio station sites have bolted on various online features that didn't draw traffic, like trying to sell music downloads. They need to stick to their strengths related to programming, content and personalities.
I think the major groups are pushing forward and realize they have good intellectual property that's worth leveraging online. News and sports stations are blessed with strong coverage that can be streamed and re-purposed. Coupled with online-only resources, stations like WINS.com handily compete with local TV stations and newspapers for visitors.
Music stations have their place too, by reaching new listeners who are attracted to their formats online. They can expand the presence of their personalities, and some stations are even encouraging their jocks to create more community presence by blogging there. Other stations have podcasts of the jocks, to encourage time-shifted listening as well.
It's About Survival: The radio groups are aware of what's ahead, and feel that online listeners will surpass off-line in the very near future. At the Convergence meeting, there were some off-handed remarks about learning from their local newspaper breathren, who have been hit with revenue challenges even more quickly than radio.
Radio stations seem ready to work on the inevitable cannibalization issues -- and it will be interesting to track their revenue growth online as these digital radio heads push forward.