We live in interesting times for radio. Unlike other forms of content, say video, images or text, the radio landscape remains in a state of turbulent flux. On the one hand Pandora and Spotify, followed by a blooming cohort of streaming services, have redefined “radio” to mean streaming music by means of smart algorithms. A mixture of human curation and algorithms is also used, experimentally, to provide a discovery experience. You see the strength of algorithms is also their weakness: it is called “optimization”. The algorithm learns things about the listener and provides content to suit her tastes and lifestyle. This is great. In fact, this is what most of us expect nowadays from a digital content service. Unlike past times when we had to be present at a specific time and place in order to experience something - e.g. our favorite radio program - now we expect that content to be delivered to us in our own time and place, and to also suit our mood.
In other words, the world has turned upside down, which is a great thing indeed. Algorithms are a solution for a digital streaming service because, through optimization and learning, they can respond to each listener individually. But there is a caveat, and it is called the “bubble”. The listener gets trapped into a bubble around her expressed interests. Like a digital prison she is doomed to be fed with the same stuff all the time. Algorithms are exciting at first, but become boring after a while.
That’s why human curation of content is such an important aspect of the right mix. Research has shown that for 80% of our listening time we listen to music and content played for us by others, and only 20% is when we play music for ourselves. In the medium to long run we all prefer if those “others” were humans, rather than software programs.
Real radio in the changing landscape
For traditional radio stations that stream on the web the changing landscape is a huge challenge. Unlike music streaming services “real radio” is by nature programmatic. Trying to fit an old way of doing things into this new, anarchic, on-demand, minimum attention-span, low-loyalty world is a tough deal! Real radio needs to change and adapt. In fact, we have to rethink real radio from scratch.
I believe that the most important question we need to ask is “what are the essential elements of real radio that create unique experiences for the listener?”
This should be our starting point. Real radio is not only about music, or talk, or news, or whatever; it is mostly about personalities. The emotional connection between the listener with her favorite DJ is what creates the magic. Real radio is also about social, collective, tribal listening. There is something different, and uniquely human, about experiencing a show when you know that there are also others that experience it with you at the same time. A third essential element of real radio is real-time interaction, that you can call in and talk to real human being, that you can become part of a communal experience that is happening now.
How can we keep all that essential magic that is unique to real radio, and yet deliver it to the end listener in new formats and ways, at her own time and place? How can we integrate the real radio experience to her way of life - that includes using multiple mobile devices, interacting on social media, multitasking, and generally breaking down her time in very small, and very precious pieces? How can we sustain loyalty in a world where our lifestyle is mostly fragmented?
Technology for real radio
Imagine a real radio that can discover the listener, in as much as the listener can discover the real radio. Imagine content that is scalable; a podcast for example that can be made as long or as short as the listener wants. Imagine real radio that is geofenced, so that a listener can enjoy a unique listening experience directly relating to a specific location, say a historical site - or a time, say a festival, or a celebration. Imagine a real radio that is predictive; that can tell what kind of content would be appropriate for the particular listener before she knows it - and surprises her and engages her even more. And then imagine a new social radio, which is not a copy of Facebook - but is event-based and participatory in real time.
These are some of the ideas we are working on….so stay tuned to Radiojar!