So Many Choices…

I try not to blog about the industry that I work in (’cause doing so can come back and bite you). However, I read an article about satellite radio (XM and Sirius) in the Sunday New York Times, and while the article wasn’t the usual “death of radio” narrative that has become common among those who miss the “good old days,” it was interesting to read how satellite is trying to pave a middle ground between the Internet and terrestrial or “regular” radio. 

What’s “middle way” XM and Sirius are paving?  Well, let’s start by looking at the what’s on both ends of this spectrum. On one end is the Internet and the problem with that beast, as most bloggers know, is that the Internet has so many sites available, that it’s tough to stand out in the crowded field. 

On the other end is our friend radio — which has a narrow playing field that’s confined to the AM or FM band. Commercial radio has the ongoing problem of making sure they have enough of a market share (i.e., listeners) so their advertisers can get sales results and keep buying commercial time.  This means radio programmers and owners tend to target a certain segment of the radio audience because they are seen as the “money maker” demo (i.e., demographic).  Stations compete to keep these listeners by programming a certain format that their market research tells them the “money maker” demo wants to hear.  

When it comes to music stations, many stations are playing it very safe by trimming their play lists to songs that “test well” with their target demographic. Tighter play lists means songs are going to repeat more during the programming day, and that means new artists (or even established ones) won’t be able to get their songs played on a station because station owners and programmers are afraid to take a chance on songs that might cause listeners to flip the dial. 

Trying to be in the middle of all this is satellite radio. What satellite is doing is hiring established music artists and giving them a radio show where they play whatever they want. Often times, they play their own music — which adds an extra dimension by doing the VH1 Storyteller thing and talking about how certain songs came about. The people that are heading up XM and Sirius are hoping that the “art of the DJ” will come back. But they aren’t hiring DJs to practice their art. Nope, they are hoping Eminem, Bob Dylan, and Snoop Dogg can bring that art back. 

I’m not a musician, but I’m learning to play a musical instrument. But that doesn’t make me qualified to headline a major concert. So, why do the folks in the satellite world think that musicians will make good jocks? Well, star power has a lot to with it. And as a business move, having a bunch of big stars on your channels spinning songs for an hour (where listeners have to pay to hear it) is better than having some no-name jock who might know how to mix a good set, but no one has heard of. Oddly enough, the satellite business model hasn’t worked for one of radio’s biggest stars (that would be Howard Stern), but it seems people like hearing what’s in Ludacris or Bob Dylan’s record collection.   

So…I’m curious: with all the choices we have these days (mp3 players, CD players, radio, satellite, the Internet, and even your old cassettes and LPs), what makes you want to flip to another medium to listen to music?  I’ll meet you in the comments section. :-) 

–PK 

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