In his opening remarks at Tuesday's RAIN Summit Dallas, consultant Walter Sabo emphasized the need for radio to develop "original, exclusive content" to weather the transition to the digital medium (see coverage of, and listen to, Sabo's opening remarks here), and even made a point that he was looking forward to the afternoon's "Innovating Online Content" panel (which immediately followed his opening).
Moderator Sean Ross (right, himself VP/Music & Programming at Edison Research) deftly led the conversation among four leading programming executives through what they're currently developing, what's working, and the staffing and monetization challenges of financing the production of compelling content.
And one could sense the sincerity of Ross, lifelong radio devotee himself, when he implored his panel for a strategy to "repatriate" today's 22 year-old to radio. To that last concern, ESPN Radio Director of Digital & Print Media Revenue & Operations Cory Smith (left, with the two RAIN Internet Radio Awards won by ESPN Audio) suggested that maybe getting young people to actually listen to the AM/FM broadcast wasn't the point. We "give content to listeners in the format they prefer," whether on-demand, video, blogs, SMS..."let the user decide," he said. "Pushing everyone to radio might be a real challenge."
"We're moving to a world of 'segments' and less a world of 'streams,'" Bob Kempf, NPR Digital Services VP, agreed. What could be of interest to a new generation of young listeners would be what he called "algorithmically-driven segments" -- think content delivered based on that listener's preferences.
TuneIn Programming Senior Manager Scott Fleischer said it's as simple as understanding the content priorities of our hypothetical 22 year-old; restated simply by UK Radioplayer Managing Director Michael Hill as "fish where the fish are."
Hill and Kempf concluded (and often agreed while at it) by passing along some programming wisdom. On the perennial issue of understaffing at programming departments, Hill make an unconventional point: "Radio has always been, and we should keep it, a 'lightweight' medium," he said. There's a danger in "becoming the incumbent" -- that is, slow and inflexible and stifling innovation. "Keep on the lookout for disruptors" on your staff, he suggested, "those willing to experiment." He and Kempf agreed that partnering outside your department (or company, even) can help lighten the load.
"Yes," continued Kempf, "experiment, keep development lightweight," and makes sure and test and assess what's working and what's not as often as possible. "Measure, measure, measure."
But how do you finance all that experimentation? How do you get the best ROI when you come upon something that does work?
"Stop underselling your digital assets," Hill stressed. "Put a good, solid price-tag on them." Kempf added, "Be patient." The transition to digital will happen, "the audience is going to be there, the revenue will follow."
Please listen to the entire "Innovating Online Content" panel via SoundCloud below, and watch for more coverage from RAIN Summit Dallas this week.