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Long Tail should factor into programming decisions online and on AM/FM

Posted on: 02/14/2008

From Radio World Online, by Skip Pizzi: We’re all aware that one of the primary social trends empowered by digital technology has been generally increased consumer personalization of products and services.

An example of this phenomenon is evidenced in the music world by the movement away from blockbuster hits and toward “catalog” material and emerging or lesser-known artists…

A digital inventory allows the complete “Long Tail” to be kept in stock at all times, and as a result, the comet’s head is shrinking and its tail is getting fatter.

Closer to home, what impact do you think this consumer trend might have on the popularity of traditional radio formats?

In Long Tail terms, these formats are the very essence of a “head-only” selection, including purely the most popular hits. If this approach no longer adequately reflects consumer purchasing preferences, it may not hold as much value for the music industry as it once did.

One outcome of that understanding provides direct fuel for the new push toward performance royalties for terrestrial airplay of music recordings. If airplay doesn’t sell records like it used to, then the music industry is incented to seek a more direct form of payment from broadcasters themselves…

On the other hand, there are other purveyors of music radio — Internet and satellite broadcasters — that do more closely embrace the trend toward greater choice and diversity with narrower formats.

They can do it because their environments allow them to operate more simultaneous services on a full-time basis. That and other efficiencies of digital processes (automation, etc.) allow them to build a viable aggregate audience with fewer listeners per service than terrestrial radio requires.

Ironically, this is not because these new media operators have more channels per se. The largest terrestrial radio companies actually own a far greater number of channels than any satellite or Internet radio service operates, but because of the geographic distribution of terrestrial channels, the same narrowing (or “niche-ing”) of formats cannot be applied there…

Consumption patterns are shifting, and these may significantly affect radio formatics, particularly for music.

Here are the high-level bullet points that influence any course corrections that terrestrial radio might consider:

  • As blockbuster sales decline and niches grow in importance, music promotion will move away from traditional radio formats and seek more specialized outlets.
  • As big names sell fewer records but continue to receive most terrestrial radio airplay, music labels will seek increased compensation to make up for sales losses through new royalty payments from broadcasters.
  • Metadata matters, particularly for less well-known artists.
  • One-to-many is giving way to many-to-many, and unilateral purveyors of taste (e.g., radio programming gurus) are giving way to “communities.” These virtual communities are defined along multiple axes, one of which is geographical. Terrestrial radio’s limited coverage can be turned to a strength for such localized communities.

Read the entire article at Radio World Online.

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