Why, Who and Where

Why, Who and Where_Game Changers Radio


Next week I’m meeting with a bunch of breakfast shows in Canada, and I was thinking about the sorts of conversations I’d like to have with them about the importance of their contribution to our industry.

I guess the central question is why is it so important that radio continues to focus on the skills and talent required to create great breakfast shows?

The simple answer to that question could be something like this.

We exist to have the largest, most engaged audiences in every market we compete in. The larger the audience and the more fan engagement, the bigger our market share.

Share equals ranking.

Ranking equals revenue.

Revenue and profit means a 10 per cent increase in your salary and an extension on your contract.

Blah, blah, da bloody blah...

Surely there’s more to it than that.

Let’s take a step back, because I think the WHY is directly related to the WHO. Developing talent for breakfast radio is important because of WHO we’re competing with today.

No, I’m not referring to that other radio show with the similar format and the same benchmark called something different that you compete with every morning. I’m talking about something much more challenging than that.

Earlier this week I heard an interview with Tristan Harris. Tristan used to be a resident product philosopher at Google (WTF! Can someone call me a resident product philosopher just once in my life and I’ll die a happy man) and has worked at Facebook and several other Silicon Valley content companies.

He talked about the 'attention economy', which companies like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snap and Google compete in. What they’re all fighting for is attention.

Your audience’s attention.

These international behemoths have the simple questions that drive their product design. Tell me if any of this sound familiar?

  1. How can I bring you to my site?
  2. How can I get you to come back tomorrow?
  3. How can I get you to stay for as long as possible?

The industry metrics are simple. How many active users do we have, combined with time on site?

Their ultimate goal is time on site.

Now, let’s compare that with the challenge of building a breakfast show. We have three key criteria.

  1. How can I bring you to my show?
  2. How can I get you to come back tomorrow?
  3. How can I get you to stay for as long as possible?

The radio industry’s audience metrics for the last 40 years has been the station’s weekly cume figure (which is the number active users combined with time spent listening).

The ultimate goal, for stations competing for people between 25 and 54, is time spent listening. (Looks like a bunch of Silicon Valley tech heads have stolen our business model!)

So, the next obvious question when you think about WHO you’re now competing with is connected to WHERE that fight for attention is happening. And the answer to that question is on your phone.

So the challenge for breakfast presenters in a 21st century 'attention economy' is not just a question of whether we better than the show who’s format we’re competing with on the radio dial. The good old days of listeners having a simple binary choice between competing stations are over.

The challenge is, are we persuasive enough and is our content strong enough to compete with billion dollar companies who employ thousands of technical experts focused on one single idea: who can generate the most attention.

Make no mistake, this is an arms race and it’s happening right now on your phone, in your car, in your office and in your house.

Here’s the reality for all of us: radio is no longer competing in a scarcity economy like it was during the 70s, 80s and 90s. If you didn’t like what you were listening to back then you could choose another radio station, but that’s all you could do.

Today, if I don’t like your show, with three swipes of my fat little fingers I can go to an infinite number of places to get the content I want on my phone.

My favourite audio presenters right now are Stephen Dubner, Jo Rogan, Sam Harris, Tim Ferris, Ira Glass and Malcolm Gladwell. Collectively these presenters have hundreds of millions of podcast downloads every week. And these people share the same real estate on my phone and sit right next to Hamish & Andy, SEN's Breakfast Show and The Grill Team on my list of podcasts that I subscribe to.

As a consumer, I don’t separate radio from audio entertainment. It’s simply a case of who’s giving me the best content right now.

So WHY is it so important that radio continues to focus on the skills and talent required to create great breakfast shows?

Here’s the answer. 

The competition for your listeners attention is now so incredibly fierce and the war is happening on multiple fronts, from soldiers who have skills in the art of persuasion that are simply off the charts.

To compete, radio needs to double down on the things that it’s always done well.

Stuff like knowing exactly who our audience is and what really matters to them (by the way, Mark Zuckerberg knows this stuff too, so it's don't kid yourself that this is an advantage anymore).

Our strengths are the art of story-telling, the skill of active listening, the art of content curation and the nimbleness and boldness to create something new, along with the discipline of team work and a strong work ethic that underpins the consistency of every successful show.

If you’re turning up to do a breakfast show tomorrow morning thinking that your 10 question quiz at 8.05 and that Masterchef interview at 8.20 will be enough to compete in today’s 'attention economy', can I respectfully suggest a rethink.

At 5am tomorrow morning, when you get together to talk about the show you’ve got planned for your listeners, just remember there’s a huge army of 'product philosophers' wearing hoodies combined with just the right amount of facial bum fluff sitting in bean bags in offices all over the world having just finished their fifth Red Bull working feverishly on a piece of content that is designed to take draw your listeners attention away from you.

Breakfast radio has always been tough, but in todays 'attention economy' where every Tim (Cook), Mark (Zuckerberg) and Larry (Page) want a piece of your audience, it’s never been more challenging.