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How Much New Content Do You Need to Keep Listeners and Members Happy?

Looking at the output of Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu at least give us something to think about…

By Paul Marszalek

Radio has been attempting to get back to normal since the pandemic first struck, but commercial radio has struggled to match 2019 audience numbers. It’s been the same story with public radio — with the additional stories of several non-commercial Triple A stations missing their fund drive targets.

There are many causes for the lack of a rebound for many stations — the finger most often gets pointed to the change in automobile commuting. Radio’s near complete aversion of marketing is another factor.

But there’s an elephant in the room: content. With the exceptions of a very very few stations, well, how do I say this gently?

Let’s just ask the question: Radio, what have you done for me lately?

In an effort to frame that question, we can take a look at the business that got us through the pandemic — the streaming video business. Over the last two years, SVOD (subscription video on demand) exploded — perhaps to the point now that we, as consumers, are now starting to think, “How much am I paying for all this stuff?”

Paring streaming services is definitely on the table in most households. So who gets our money and who doesn’t? Is the winner the one with the most content — or just enough, as long as it resonates with me?

The graphic below, from Ampere Analysis, tracks the number of original shows in the SVOD space, by platform, since 2015. Take a look:

Since 2015, Netflix has created nearly 2500 original productions, dwarfing the competition. With that kind of fresh output, we probably keep subscribing. After that, it’s not about the number of new shows, it’s a battle of how well the “limited” amount of content resonates with me. For example, despite Paramount’s smallish output, if I’m a Trekkie, I stay on board.

One could make an argument that any of the non-Netflix streamers could still hold on to a serviceable subscriber base as long as there was some new content in the pipeline.

But what if there was none? What if there was no new content? Would that streamer make the cut?

Probably not.

But that’s exactly where radio is right now.

Commercial radio has been in the business of offering less and less for years, dragging the medium down in the minds of listeners and advertisers alike.

Public radio is, at best, at a standstill. Is it any wonder membership drives are tepid?

If your response to the question of “What have you done for me lately?” is, “We’re just trying to get back to where we were pre-pandemic,” you’re already in pretty deep trouble. That answer is not going to cut it. Plus, it’s lazy.

If your answer is, “We’re going to make podcasts,” that’s troubling for a whole different set of reasons: Pivoting from a deliberate business strategy of broadcast to an emergent strategy of podcasting is a very tricky thing to balance, and only a sliver of the highest performing organizations will pull it off. That’s because it takes a lot of time, a lot of money, and the podcast audience is not growing in a manner that is commensurate with the growth of increasingly commodity-level podcast content.

If you have a radio station, and that radio station is a significant part of your revenue stream, you have to improve your radio station. Not in the margins, not with music playlist tweaks, not with some Sunday 10pm – midnight show. You need big ideas and talent that the audience notices.

You’ve had two years to figure out how to do things differently. If you spent two years figuring out ways to do what you used to do, you very well may have been wasting your time, your employees’ time, and that of your audience.

Start looking around. Make some calls. Let’s get going already!

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