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Why a Simulcast Stream Might Not Be a Good Idea

A Michigan grad student explores the downside to this common practice

Portions of a Michigan State University graduate student’s research have been published in the newsletter of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, exploring the practice of online simulcasting.

Working on a Master’s thesis, Ben Rickert devoted his research to studying traditional and Internet broadcasting and differences between the two media. According to his study, approximately half of U.S. radio stations are streaming, with the majority simply simulcasting their terrestrial signals.

In the newsletter, Rickert pointed out advantages to this approach, including the ability to further leverage existing content.

But he raised concerns too, arguing that:

  • Early simulcasts of AM/FM proved unsuccessful in establishing the FM audience” — AM broadcasters bought up FM frequencies early in their adoption, only to broadcast the same content, giving existing AM listeners little incentive to upgrade while making licenses for FM-only companies difficult to acquire.
  • Simulcasting ignores advantages of the streaming medium” — Web streaming offers the potential for a much more interactive user experience, as well as an easier method of tracking listener demographics and monitoring activity.
  • Simulcasting assumes the online success of the traditional advertising model” and “Simulcasts are financially dependent on terrestrial radio” — Due to expensive copyright royalties, Internet streaming giant Pandora enacted limited use of free accounts alongside the introduction of subscription-based accounts, a move that would be unheard of for an over-the-air station. The long-term solvency of streaming radio has yet to be proven, Rickert writes.
  • New research indicates that online listeners prefer approaches other than simulcasts” — A study from research group Coleman Insights found that streaming customers were “twice as likely to choose an Internet-only brand of radio stream over a simulcast as certain characteristics of AM/FM streams were being devalued.” Additional research by Bridge Ratings backs up this claim.

As the Internet increasingly is saturated with AM/FM streams and all streaming stations are in direct competition with each other, Rickert says success will be based on the “quality, exclusivity and uniqueness” of the content, putting streaming in a league of its own.

Streaming Is More Than a Supplemental Medium,” Ben Rickert, The Michigan Broadcaster