Arbitron Client Conference Day Two: Scary Talk About In-Car, Straight Talk About Sports, Plain Talk About Politics

| December 7, 2012

By Holland Cooke
Radio Consultant

ANNAPOLIS — Recently, one auto maker announced that it will no longer factory-install AM radios.  In this case, it’s because the high-end car’s high-tech composite body material would interfere with reception.  Still, the specter of AM’s fade was jarring, particularly to those in news/talk/sports radio, now actively migrating to FM, but still predominantly AM formats.

Again this week, another such harbinger, this one a whack-on-the-side-of-the-head to FM broadcasters too…

“Always is a long time.”
- Ford executive, asked “Will AM/FM radio always be available in-car?”

He was interviewed by Jacobs Media for the Arbitron Client Conference session “What the Connected Car Means for Radio,” co-presented by Fred Jacobs and Valerie Shuman, VP of The Connected Vehicle Trade Association.

Yes, there is such a group, evidence not that the-future-is-now, but rather that the in-car media future arrived last decade, with Ford’s trailblazing Sync, and GM’s On-Star, and other Jetsons-like new-tech now increasingly commonplace.

“Local content” will ensure radio’s place in the mid-dashboard array now being called “the stack,” in the opinion of that Ford exec.  His words would’ve comforted the several hundred radio folks attending, had news not been breaking that Clear Channel firings were underway nationwide .

And don’t rationalize that it’ll take time for new car sales of new media tech to nudge-aside radio.  Shuman pointed to the-elephant-in-the-car: “If you have an Aux jack, you have a connected car.”  Simply plug in your smartphone.

“The connected car” will be more than just info-tainment apps.  Shuman illustrated “automated assistance systems” now being developed.  “Cars will talk to other cars” and stop lights, and roads, and, and, and; for two reasons.

•  Safety: “The weak link in the driving chain is the driver,” she noted, citing highway fatality statistics.  We’re already seeing cars that parallel-park themselves; so collision-avoidance technology will simply continue to evolve.

• Convenience: The radio traffic report as we know it will be obsoleted by crosstalk between a network of sensors and other automated data-gathering.

So what’s radio to do?  Shuman sounded like a full-fledged programming consultant, challenging us with familiar fundamentals:

• How do consumers consume content

• What does “Programming” mean now?

• How will you make money in this new environment?

Sports Radio’s Past, Present, Future

It’s radio’s hottest format, now leading the talk radio FM migration, and next month CBS and NBC-branded longform feeds join a field where ESPN Radio and Fox Sports Radio are already major players.

The format’s appeal is obvious:

• Music radio has issues.

• Sports is “the male soap opera,” one panelist quipped.  High-affinity content, star-studded, and full of suspense.

• Sports is real sales-friendly.  Play-by-play sells without numbers.  And, in the wake of Rush Limbaugh’s Sandra Fluke episode, we keep hearing the term “safe programming” from national advertisers.

• And the availability of new networks’ longform has owners thinking they can run HR-light.

But how much sports talk is too much?

“There’s plenty of product (networks) but the shelf space (stations) is taken-up.”
- CBS Radio senior VP/programming Chris Oliviero

The secret sauce for surviving a shake-out?   Oliviero says, “It’s the power of personality.  Hire the right talent.”  And when making play-by-play deals, make it clear to the team that, outside the games, personalities “need the freedom to take the team to task.”
Citing ratings data, Arbitron’s John Snyder noted that the strongest daypart for sports talk is afternoons.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Herman Cain”

The businessman turned author whose book tour turned into a presidential primary run returns to WSB/Atlanta in January, when he’ll also take-over retiring Neal Boortz’ syndicated show.  “Connecting the headlines to your bottom line,” Dial-Global has subtitled his show.

“A lot of people stayed home on election day because they didn’t know what to believe.”
- Cain says the USA is suffering from “economic & structural ignorance.”

Loquacious Cain is a crowd-pleaser alright, earning the only standing ovation this two-day conference awarded; notwithstanding some pointed remarks during Q&A from African-American attendees.

Herman Cain reckons that “people are looking for three things from radio:”

• “Information…the right information.”

• Entertainment

• Inspiration

And we managed to make some news.  First-up during Q+A, I congratulated Cain on his new gig, and — based on his summer Sean Hannity Show fill-in — I predicted his success.  And I noted that, after their Romney landslide predictions, Dick Morris and Karl Rove had been benched by Fox News Channel.  I asked Cain why, and what he thought of that.  Without hesitation, he said “I agree with that decision.  Their credibility has gone into the toilet.  It was a smart business decision. It’s called ‘protect your brand.’”

Cain gets it.  Quoting canny WSB programmer Condace Presley, he offered that “Radio is content-rich and platform-agnostic.  Take the message to where they are,” (iPhone, iPad,etc.).

More of my Arbitron Client Conference notes Monday.

See/hear more from consultant Holland Cooke at www.HollandCooke.com; and follow HC on Twitter @HollandCooke.

 

 

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Category: Analysis