Taking a side in "man vs. machine": Slacker employs radio programmers to craft stations

Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 12:05pm

In the company blog, Jacobs Media president Fred Jacobs suggests "the human element" -- something that's been a part of broadcast radio since the beginning -- might be key for pureplay webcasters like Slacker to compete against the 600lb. gorilla that is Pandora.

As Jacobs mentions, Slacker’s senior radio program manager Mat Bates, a veteran of broadcast radio, spoke at our RAIN Summit Midwest event at The Conclave last month. Bates spoke of lessons learned in broadcast, and how they could benefit a pureplay webcaster like Slacker: namely, music presentations crafted by knowledgeable and passionate human beings, and not computer algorithms.

The first wave or two of online music services seemed to us to be a reaction to everything bad that broadcast radio had become: lowest-common-denominator playlists with no surprises, an overload of commercials, and air talent relegated to reading promos. The (largely) non-radio people (quite often from the tech world) were the entrepreneurs of the first generation of online music and radio services, and they developed products that that renounced the "evils" of commercial broadcasting. Some would argue that in doing so, their services were prone to veer in the opposite direction: they often had unfocused playlists, no clear plan for monetization, and lacked any sense of "humanness."

And it really brought to the fore the question: Does the human insight bring something to music programming that we can't (yet) replicate with algorithms and machines? And, what we think is more interesting: does the consumer truly benefit? Is the listening experience so improved as generate increased (and monetizable) listening so as to justify the costs of employing human music experts? And, is this a worthwhile branding advantage (in other words, does the listener realize and care whether her music is "curated" by a passionate musicologist, or cranked out by an algorithm and a database?)? 

Naturally, radio programmers will cling to the notion that what they do with a 300-song playlist simply can't be replicated electronically; likewise, technophiles will smugly chuckle at them. Slacker's strategy seems to acknowledge the value of broadcasting's human element. The service employs experienced broadcast radio programmers (some still working in radio), and they even insert occasional brief "jock" breaks between songs on some channels. What we find interesting is that Slacker doesn't explicitly promote this to the consumer. We can't find anything on the site, nothing in the programming itself, that makes it plain to the listener that "Hey, you're hearing this song or artist because we like it, and we think you'll like it too."

Has Slacker concluded that human curated music programming is so superior to algorithms as to be self-evident -- simply, the proof is in the listening? And that promoting the fact that "hey, we have humans crafting your listening" is just more promotional noise? 

Read Fred Jacobs blog post here.

Edison pres embraces the new tech that represents radio's consumption growth these days

Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 12:20pm

Those broadcasters who feel a need to reserve the term "radio" for over-the-air AM/FM signals received by a box on a nightstand or car stereo are actually missing out: they're missing out on the chance to show that radio is "very much a healthy, thriving, and growing medium."

That's an important point Edison Research's Larry Rosin gets across in his guest post in Jacobs Media's blog today. By cordoning themselves off in a strictly "AM/FM" world, some of these broadcasters are defining themselves by a medium that's no longer the dominant force it's been for decades. But when one considers all these other new technology delivery mechanisms "radio," it's clear that "radio is booming. When one thinks of all of radio, I have to believe there is more consumption than at any time in history," Rosin writes.

Rosin, Edison cofounder and president, encourages the industry to abandon the view that radio is limited to AM/FM delivery (which dooms it to a gradual slide from preeminence), and let on-air take its place among the variety of audio content delivery media. A good step in that direction, he argues, is to get behind Arbitron's efforts in building an "all radio" ratings system.

"In the UK, where all forms of radio are measured together, this assertion has already been made. As I travel around the globe I generally hear nothing but optimism about the medium and its expansion in creativity and influence."

Read Rosin in JacoBlog here.

Lots of mobile and social media content in upcoming Jacobs Media Summer School

Monday, July 16, 2012 - 12:05pm

It looks as though at least half of the sessions at Jacobs Media's annual Summer School event will focus on social media and mobile marketing. The event is part of the 37th annual Conclave Learning Conference this month in Minneapolis.  

Jacobs' digital/social guru Lori Lewis will speak twice, first on winning Facebook strategies, then focusing on learning from social media practices of the U.S. Armed Forces. JacAPPS CEO Paul Jacobs will present findings concerning mobile from the Techsurvey8 studym, while Jacobs Media president Fred Jacobs will also look at the study's results and share strategies for broadcasters "to differentiate themselves from new digital competitors like Pandora." Guest lecturers Michael Brandvold, and Chris Iles from the Minnesota Twins, also will discuss the smart use of Twitter and other social tools.

"The goal of our curriculum' is to give Conclave attendees great learning tools in short, concise sessions that they can implement the moment they get home," explains Fred Jacobs.

Summer School 3 will kick off The Conclave Wednesday, July 18th at 9am in the MusicMaster Ballroom of the Doubletree Park Place Hotel. Read more about the Jacobs Summer School, and register for The Conclave, here.

Our own RAIN Summit Midwest -- with keynoter Steve Dahl; presentations from knowDigital's Sam Milkman, Geller Media International's Valerie Geller, and dmr Interactive's Ed Schindler; panels focusing on multi-platform strategies, Facebook, pureplay/terrestrial competition, and streaming strategies; and RAIN publisher Kurt Hanson's "State of the Industry" address -- closes The Conclave Friday, July 20th at 10am.

Jacobs suggests judging new tech simply on its ROI is short-sighted

Thursday, June 21, 2012 - 12:05pm

Last week radio broadcast group Saga Communications announced that it would be cutting back on online streaming, turning off Internet access to its stations in markets outside the Top 100, and place geographic limits on its big market streams so only local listeners can tune in. Saga (and they're not the only radio owner) simply isn't seeing the return-on-investment for the money it spends in bandwidth and royalties (RAIN's coverage is here).

Veteran radio consultant Fred Jacobs suggests that broadcasters need to look at technology investments as the "price of admission" for competing in a new media world -- and not judge their value simply on whether these efforts are "revenue positive."

"We continue to have this conversation in radio about the ROI of streaming -– to the industry’s detriment," Jacobs wrote in his Jacoblog. "There are some activities that inherently generate revenue while contributing to the brand. There are other endeavors and investments that simply aren’t going to make money -– at least in the near term. Not every strategy and tactic pays off in dollars."

Jacobs reminds radio that Pandora's strategy, from Day One, has been to be "everywhere." Pandora's efforts -- with apps for every significant mobile device, Blu-ray and DVR units; partnerships with automakers, game consoles, and subscription TV services -- clearly reflect that. And while the broadcast industry has its own "Radio heard here" strategy, groups that judge the value of streaming (and Facebook, and mobile apps, and social media) strictly based on cash-flow are not sticking to the game plan.

"In our new media world, every time there’s an article about how another radio owner or operator isn’t going to stream, is ridding itself of more local talent, or cutting back on investment in content, I have to believe that financial analysts, investors, and yes, broadcast radio’s competition just shakes its head," concludes Jacobs.

Read Jacobs' Jacoblog here.

Jacobs Media hosts Techsurvey8 Rock formats webinar today

Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 12:10pm

Jacobs Media today will host the second in its series of radio format-focused webinars featuring findings from its recent Techsurvey8 study.

Today at 1pm CT (2pm ET), Jacobs will provide data on the digital and social media habits of Rock/Classic Rock/Alternative/AAA listeners. Since prior Techsurveys focused solely on rock radio, today's presentation will include trending from past surveys.

Jacobs kicked off the weekly series last week with the Country radio webinar. Formats still to come include Sports, AC/CHR/Hot AC, Christian, Variety Hits, and News/Talk. Participation in each webinar is free to participating stations that purchased local data from Techsurvey 8. Otherwise, it costs $99. Register here.

Jacobs, Localytics urge radio to consider local listeners when developing mobile strategy

Wednesday, May 2, 2012 - 11:40am

A Cambridge, MA company that analyzes mobile app usage offers some interesting findings about how listeners use  radio mobile apps.

Perhaps most interesting is Localytics finding that over half (54%) of a station's listening via its mobile app comes from within the station's broadcast range [note: for this figure, Localytics used only listening over wi-fi -- not mobile data networks -- since it is more accurate for determining a user's metro area location].

Apps (and Internet streaming in general) have long been considered most useful for listening to out-of-market broadcasts. So much so, in fact, that for a long time many local broadcasters didn't find value in streaming efforts, as they seemed to only benefit out-of-market (and thus, not of interest to local advertisers) listeners.

But broadcasters should be aware of this Localytics' data point on radio app usage. Certainly, local listeners might turn to a mobile app when in spotty coverage areas within broadcast range, or in those situations where an AM/FM radio isn't convenient. But perhaps more importantly, radio should recognize the mobile platform as a means to enhance their brand with interactivity and additional content.

"Radio stations with associated smartphone apps can give their listeners a more varied and flexible experience both within and outside of their normal broadcasting region," says Localytics.

Jacobs Media and jacAPPS president Fred Jacobs agrees. His company recently presented the findings of their TechSurvey8 study on radio listeners (see RAIN's coverage here). Jacobs told Localytics, "When we asked our respondents which type of radio app they prefer, more than half opted for individually branded apps which allow for more features and customization. This is where radio is going.”

Read more at Localytics.com here.

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