The Dismantling of Mass Appeal

Broadcast radio's problems are generally not founded in poor marketing, unpopular programming or bad perception.

It may be simpler than that.

It just might be that the age of technology where everything - entertainment, food, insurance, even pets - can be customized, personalized and tweaked in which the consumer's world is becoming one where the concept of mass appeal is rapidly disintegrating.

And while network TV, once the bastion of mass appeal entertainment, still has its mass hits like "The Big Bang Theory" or even "The Walking Dead", its audiences are being chipped away by Netflix and Hulu and YouTube,  companies that specialize in personalized entertainment.

Broadcast radio has not escaped the effects of this cultural change.

Since the heyday of radio starting in the 60's and to this day, radio formats or highly narrowed presentations of music or talk, have successfully been built on generations or cohorts. Top 40 radio has always appealed to youth,. Women of a certain age have made Soft Adult Contemporary Music stations popular for years.  These groups of similarly aged, lifestyled or geographically co-located consumers allowed broadcasters to target specific types of radio listeners.  Often, the more narrow the target, the higher the ratings because those narrow-casted radio stations highly appealed to a smaller segment who listened much longer.

For people to constitute a generation, typically  they must have similar life experiences. Our world has been grouping consumers in 15-20 year cohorts since Mad Men on Madison Avenue discovered segmentation. Unfortunately, targeting consumers in this mass approach today is going against the momentum of societal changes due to technology's impact on behaviors.

Swimming upstream is not producing the kinds of engagement marketers - and radio stations - have been used to.

Technology is changing rapidly, and there is a time coming when it arrives at such an advanced point that we can’t even imagine how much more our lives will be impacted. Today's cohorts or generations are finding less and less in common because technology is allowing the narrowing of choice to infiltrate everything.

And this is broadcast radio's challenge.

Successful marketing, advertising or programming to a mass of consumers of one age group, even one lifestyle group is already showing signs of being less effective.

Broadcast radio can proclaim 245 million listeners every week according to Nielsen's latest estimates at the time of this writing, yet behind the curtain the amount of time these listeners spend with radio each week is declining for just the reasons mentioned here. Technology is allowing customized, personalized programming that consumes a percentage of the time previously spent with radio as well as television and newspapers.

The danger is thinking about these people in big buckets anymore when with all the data at our disposal, marketing, radio programming, appealing has now become a one-to-one process.

It is becoming more and more difficult to develop consensus understanding of generations, cohorts or audiences.

Broadcast radio has the tools that will enable it to achieve digitally what it cannot through their AM and FM signals.

The business has begun to take advantage of such tools, but the dismantling of mass appeal is a development radio needs to get ahead of - quickly.

Dave Van Dyke
Bridge Ratings