Every other day of the week station executives look for ways to best the competition in the fight for listeners and advertising.
Thursday morning, however, some of the biggest names in the radio industry will sit down together to share insights into the future of radio and how they and their groups are spreading their brand identity and reach in a changing media era.
Panelists for the Group Executives Super Session Breakfast, 7:30–8:45 a.m., include Amador Bustos, president and CEO of Bustos Media; David Field, president and CEO of Entercom Communications; Dan Mason, president and CEO of CBS Radio; Mary Quass, president of NRG Media and an NAB board member; and Jeff Smulyan, chairman of the board of Emmis Communications Corp. Dick Ferguson, former NAB Joint Board Chair will serve as moderator.
HD Radio, multicasting and Internet strategies all offer new ways to grab listeners by the ears. But the question is not just how listeners are reached; increasingly the question is where they are reached.
With iPods and now the iPhone taking the youth culture by storm, broadcasters are forced to start thinking in terms of on-demand programming: podcasts, vidcasts, text messaging, social networking and live streaming. Getting the kids to flock to your station without offering such interactive features is going to be tough.
Quass says the future of the radio industry lies in such applications.
“Radio is well positioned to provide the content and drive the audience on mobile platforms,” she said. “We have to be on every device, and remain as ubiquitous as we are now. Radio must be where the audio audience is, regardless of the delivery system.”
“Radio does need to embrace these new online and mobile enhancements, but that is all they are, enhancements, not saviors for radio,” said Bustos.
Bustos said if attendees only remember one thing from the super session it should be “that local radio continues to be the primary source of music sampling and community information.”
Also on the minds of radio execs: the HD Radio rollout. As of late July, nearly 2,000 stations had converted to digital broadcasting. But is that number regarded as high, low or as expected since the FCC approved the nationwide rollout in March 2007?
“I expected about this many stations to be [on in] HD at this point in time,” said Bustos. “But I did expect there would be more receivers in autos and homes by now. I think we are on track when it comes to the transmission facilities, but lagging on the receivers’ side.”
“I believe that the number of HD stations is great given the time frames,” said Quass. “Because I love new technology I have a tendency to expect the adoption of a new technology to spread more quickly than it does.”
“The Hispanic community is just beginning to learn about the DTV transition scheduled for February 2009,” said Bustos. “They are even less familiar with HD Radio technology and availability.”
Bustos says that while the HD Radio alliance “has done a great job, within the means of prudent investment, to get the word out,” HD Radio’s acceptance by the masses won’t happen until receivers become more mainstream.
“The big knowledge and usage avalanche is going to come once the receivers are in greater common use.”
Quass says her company continues to monitor the opportunity to convert some of its stations, but “the current market conditions make these capital expenditures challenging.”
While much energy is focused on these new media spaces, concerns remain about the competitive threat of the recently merged satellite radio companies, although few seemed worried about a direct effect of the merger on local terrestrial radio.
“It is an unfortunate decision by the FCC but in the final analysis it will have little impact on local radio,” said Bustos. “Broadcasters’ active opposition was much more of a principal fight to ensure more competitiveness and to have the FCC uphold its own original licensing rules.”
Quass wonders if perhaps the merger will backfire on the satellite industry in the court of public opinion.
“The fundamentals of the satellite business have not changed,” she said. “In some respects the merger may create more public perception problems for the satellite company than before, as subscription prices rise, the choices become more narrow and listeners find they can do without the service.”