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King of the Hill: How Broadcasters Can Rule the Music Discovery Arena

The CEO of Slacker Radio notes three strategies for traditional broadcasters who want to maintain a competitive advantage in the music discovery arena

The author is CEO of online music streaming service Slacker Radio.

These days the avenues for discovering new bands and artists are many. More than ever, television, movies, social media, in-store play and streaming services, among others, all provide the opportunity to hear for the first time the next Hendrix, hip-hop MC, pop diva or Black Keys.

However, even in this age of The Internet of Things, traditional radio reigns supreme as the number one music discovery resource. According to Nielsen’s 2015 Music 360 Report, 61 percent of respondents reported using AM/FM or satellite radio to identify new music. Coming in second is word of mouth at 45 percent. While many would think social media and music streaming services would dominate music discovery, fewer than 30 percent of respondents reported using either of these avenues to find new talent.

That being said, broadcast executives shouldn’t sit back and assume terrestrial radio’s position as the premier music discovery source can survive without adaptation. Radio’s main competitors, music streaming services, are growing in popularity and making music discovery a top priority as they work to diversify themselves to capture larger audiences. For traditional broadcasters who want to maintain a competitive advantage in the music discovery arena, below are three strategies for consideration.

1. Music Discovery isn’t just brand new music.

Being able to say you heard the next big act long before they hit the mainstream is always fun, maybe even a little elitist but that’s another story. The truth is that hardcore music lovers and causal listeners are united by their love of finding music that is new to them. A millennial that loves Kanye West but has never heard of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five may find the 70’s hip-hop group aligns with their musical palate. While a listener who grew up listening to Led Zeppelin may find Them Crooked Vultures, the latest project from Led Zep bassist John Paul Jones, a welcomed introduction.

Playing new music is an important aspect of building and maintaining a healthy listenership. However, dropping a surprisingolder track into a Top 40 set list, or a recent release into a classic rock power hour to cross generational divides, is one way broadcasters can introduce listeners to music that’s new to them.

2. Hire communicators

Throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s many traditional broadcasters strayed from what they did well – creating emotional bonds with listeners through the use of DJs. Audiences demanded less talk and traditional radio over compensated after misinterpreting what was said. The truth is listeners want talk, just not fluffy marketing speak. Audiences are hungry for people who sound real and communicate authentically.

In response, terrestrial radio should focus less on cutting their air staff and instead on broadening their outlook when it comes to identifying and nurturing on-air talent. Radio must understand that YouTube, Vine, and podcasters,not just radio, may produce the personalities needed to connect with their audience through story telling and genuineness. The old school radio DJ with the booming voice is simply out-of-date.

3. Build out your ecosystem

Terrestrial radio currently faces a challenge; their digital competitors in the space have the luxury of specific features built into their services to keep listeners engaged, such as skip and favorite buttons. Traditional broadcasters don’t have these tools. Executives must convene and identify a plan to compete with these user-based tools, which drive the digital world. Not doing so may lead to their eventual demise.

This does not mean traditional radio should simply rebroadcast the content they air on terrestrial. This strategy doesn’t speak to personalization, a feature, much like discovery, that today’s consumers have come to expect. According to Gartner, by 2018, companies that invest in personalization will outsell their competitors by 20 percent.

Broadcasters do have options. They can either build a digital presence themselves to start offering content more broadly or partner with businesses already experienced in digital media to get creative and find new models. Numerous industries have chosen the latter, with ABC and Tesla serving as examples.

Thanks to mobile apps like Shazam, where a listener can identify a song on the radio in seconds, terrestrial stations are great resources for finding new music. However, now is not the time to relax but the time to innovate. Streaming services are working around the clock to identify how their analytics, along with human curation and personalization, can create the ultimate music discovery experience. If traditional radio doesn’t heed their initiative, it may eventually be dethroned as the king of music discovery.

Duncan Orrell-Jones is CEO of Slacker Radio. He is former senior vice president of network business at Nintendo of America and former senior vice president and managing director of Disney Interactive Media Group, Asia Pacific. He has served in executive positions at Disney’s Feature Animation, Disney Toon Studio, and Broadway Theatrical Productions groups.