Left of the Dial

“I’ll try to find you, Left of the dial” – The Replacements

I went on my usual bike ride this morning. It’s a great way to clear the mind and just think.

My mind’s been on digital media a lot lately. Just count the recent posts on podcasting and exploding TV and you’ll see that’s true.

On top of that, I’ve been working on some stuff I can’t blog about that are right smack in the middle of this stuff.

Television, Radio, Film, and most of the other major forms of media are facing big changes. I want to be on the ride side of these changes. We’ve got some bets in place already and are working on making some more.

Radio in particular is on my mind. And so when The Replacments brilliant song Left of the Dial came on my iPod as I was fighting the wind north of 96th street this morning, I knew I had the title of my post.

There are a number of technologies in the market today and more are coming to the market over time that are going to move large numbers of listeners “left of the dial”. Satellite is the first. Between XM and Sirius, there are over 3.2 satellite radio subscribers and that number is growing fast. The recent Stern and MLB deals will almost certainly drive these numbers a lot higher next year.

Then there’s the iPod. Everyone is wearing an iPod these days. 2 million iPods were sold in the third quarter. Expect that number to be north of 3 million this quarter, possibly even higher. People listen to their iPods in their cars, their homes, and their offices. That’s territory radio owned until recently.

Add to that the threat of podcasting and other forms of digital audio distribution (like Audible’s radio shows) and you’ve got an even bigger threat.

We’ve seen this movie before in cable television. First came satellite. That took a big dent out of the growth in cable. Then came DVRs.

But the cable companies have responded. Check out this talk that Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, gave at Wharton (where I went to business school). Roberts said:

“We think that with this new platform, we have to reinvent television,” Roberts noted. “Television today is a one-way experience. It seems totally clear to me that the personalization of television is the future. Everybody wants to do what they want, when they want. And we happen to have a platform for that, where our competitor, satellite, doesn’t. So all of our energy is to give our customers, on demand, the ability to get as much content as possible.”

Well I hope we start hearing the same thing from Mark Mays (who was made the CEO of Clear Channel this week), Joel Hollander (who runs Infinity Radio), David Fields (who runs Entercom), and the rest of the leaders of the radio business.

Radio is going digital too, as readers of this blog know by now. HD Radio is the new platform for radio. With it, the radio business can be reinvented too. For everyone’s sake, we hope they move fast. Because if they don’t, we’ll all end up Left of the Dial.