Our 2013 Radio Industry Trend Watch

Now that the news cycle has slowed down we can finally look forward to our expectations of the stories we’ll be seeing regularly during 2013.

More Deregulation

Chicago Tribune Company WGN News CorpThe FCC is currently deliberating on whether to lift the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule. Such a move would count each type of media a company can own separately and eliminate waivers to retain newspapers and broadcast properties in the same market. Cox would be able to keep The Atlanta Journal Constitution, WSB-TV, and add to to its 1 AM and 4 FM’s in the Atlanta market. CBS would no longer have to count its two television stations in Philadelphia alongside its 3 AM’s and 3 FM’s potentially paving the way to add as many as two more radio stations in that market.

The greater impact will be felt in the newspaper industry, especially as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation attempts to acquire some of Tribune Company’s larger papers. With only a few companies that own radio and television stations as it is, there isn’t much more consolidation that can be done in radio. This won’t trigger the amount of deals that we saw in the crazy days of the late 1990’s although it will give some room to groups like CBS and Cox to fill out their clusters in markets.

Los Angeles

In 2012, we saw a shakeup in New York as both Sports stations found outlets to enable moves from AM to FM. It helped that there were companies with financial issues to make the moves possible. As it stands now, Los Angeles is the only top 10 market without a commercial News, Talk or Sports station on FM. Just as the confluence of circumstances led to a market shakeup in New York in 2012 we see Los Angeles seeing a similar outcome in 2013 of sales and format changes.

Helping matters is that Los Angeles has more stand-alone commercial operators than any other major market. As ESPN’s lease of WRKS showed, all it takes is one move to trigger others. Will it be CBS placing its Sports Network on one of its owned stations that triggers a shakeup? Either way we don’t think there’s any way 2013 ends without at least one commercial spoken-word FM in Los Angeles.

Radio With Pictures

IHeartTV SweetJackTV IHeartWe’re cheating a little on this one. On January 2, Cumulus registered SweetjackTV.com and in late December IHeartTV.com was transferred to Clear Channel. Is this the year that the radio industry makes online video a priority?

The radio industry as a whole has been slow to evolve into content producers regardless of form. Some have built great web platforms to compliment their on-air product, but there has been little movement into video.

There is a service called Vadio that offers music video streams that matches the music currently airing on stations. But outside of some brief video blogs or webcams there hasn’t been much push to bring video content to station brands. There is nothing stopping radio brands from producing full fledged video extensions of their product.

A major trend at this year’s Television Critics Association Press Tour has been the transition of Podcasts to television series. Sure there’s the syndicated Dish Nation, which uses morning show talent to talk about gossip items, but where’s the local content? Where’s your talk host doing a panel roundtable on local issues on your website? Live music from your performance space? Have a popular segment you do on remotes? Turn it into a game show. All of these are extra items to gain local sponsorships and bring new audiences to your content via viral sharing.

Will Talk Revitalize Itself

New Jersey 101.5With audiences aging and many getting sick of the same old rhetoric, political talk radio is at a major crossroads. Liberal Talkers drawing low ratings and advertiser support disappeared from Boston, Columbus, Portland, and Seattle. Clear Channel dropped Conservative Talk in Atlanta, was part of the drop from three to one station in the format in Boston, and ceased FM simulcasts of AM Talkers in Fort Collins, Huntsville, and San Diego. Advertisers are still reportedly jumping from Rush Limbaugh and other talkers.

Meanwhile All-News and NPR stations are thriving in PPM markets. Podcasts have proven an audience exists for non-political talk by focusing on every niche separately. Can radio find a way to once again turn Talk radio into something not reliant on every talking point coming from the Republican party? Of course that may rely on investing in more local hosts and turning back towards local issues. Such a concept works for Townsquare Media’s “New Jersey 101.5“. It baffles that so few stations have worked on cultivating such a strong brand around local talk.

Our Hope

Lastly, we doubt this will happen but the industry is in serious need of redeveloping a farm system of talent. And this ties into some of the other topics we’ve mentioned. With the rise of voice tracking and Premium Choice programming, the places of entry into the industry is dwindling. A few weeks ago while listening to a weekend airshift on a major market station, I noted that the personality was really good and should be on a weekday shift somewhere. Turns out she’s working in another similarly sized market in such a position. In the past those would be proving grounds for behind the scenes staffers and talent at smaller market stations to earn their stripes. We need that back.

Eventually Elvis Duran will finally age out being able to do CHR. Ryan Seacrest will get that 15th job that makes his radio show no longer viable to maintain. Rush Limbaugh will walk away. Unless you’re a retired professional athlete looking to get into sports talk there are limited paths to broadcast careers.

At least some have begun to look to alternative means of finding talent. Video bloggers are now hosting nights at Happi 92.7 Erie and a popular request show on BBC1 among others. Find the local YouTube stars and Podcasters and see if lightning in a bottle can strike. Become the place to host their web content and promote them on air if need be. Have them teach your talent how to do what they do. Find the people that have found a way to become successful on Facebook and Twitter in your town and utilize their connections to bring listeners to your stations. Just find a way to bring talented people into radio and let that talent shine.

When the top college radio DJ in the nation has no plans on making radio a career why should anybody else? Change the mindset.

Other Opinions

Broadcast Law Blog has a look on what political issues radio will face in 2013.

MediaLife has some from a sales perspective.

Earwolf’s Jeff Ulrich gives predictions for the podcast industry for AllThingsD. All of which are things they’re taking away from traditional radio.

And while not a prediction post, Sean Ross looks at things that need to go away.

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