Impact Media

For the past 50 years, the media equation has most often been solved for the largest audience.

That is changing and its happening pretty quickly, brought on largely by digital media.

I think the media equation is going to get solved for attention, passion, relevance, and meaning going forward.

I need a good word for the combination of all of those metrics, but for now I am going to use impact.

I often come to these realizations by a series of conversations and this one was brought on by three of them.

The first was a lunch with a friend in the music business.

The second was an email exchange with my high school friend and frequent commenter Tony Alva.

And the third was an extended discussion about video blogging with Heather Green of the terrific Business Week blog called Blogspotting.

At lunch with my friend I heard how record labels have for years focused on radio to market their music and the impact that has had on the kind of music that the labels have chosen to market.

FM radio is a mass medium by virtue of the limited space on the dial.  In most major markets, there are maybe 15 FM radio stations.

Each station tries to build the largest possible audience it can for its chosen format.

The way they do that is by doing research on what the listeners like and dislike.

This research, called "call out research" is focused on finding music that will keep the listeners from switching stations.

The result is mainstream, bland music that nobody dislikes enough to switch stations.

The record labels have been so hostage to the radio stations that they have simply given them the bland boring music they want.

And so we have two industries fighting for their lives right now as a result.

Back to my friend in the music business.

He told me that radio is losing its grip on the record labels and music discovery and marketing are moving online.

Kids don’t listent to radio anymore to find new music.

Bands don’t wait for a record deal and radio to market their music.

The action is on MySpace, iTunes, MP3 blogs, Audioscrobbler, MusicMobs, etc, etc.

Smart record label executives know this and are turning away from the radio formula and embracing the Internet.

But there is no call out research on the Internet.

Instead there are link counts, page views, downloads, and a host of other buzz metrics.

And these buzzmetrics measure impact more than audience size.

The music that is working best on the Internet is not bland and boring.  It inspires hate as much as love.  But it has impact.

That’s the future of the record business.

So back to radio.

When I told Tony Alva about the JD Powers report on HD Radio that I posted on yesterday, he said, "too little, too lae".

He thinks radio has lost the young listener and will never get it back.

I am not so sure.  And here’s what I told Tony.

The radio dial of 2010 is not going to look like the radio dial of 2005.

You’ve got 100 channels of XM, 100 channels of Sirius, you’ve got HD FM which will allow as much as 5 channels of programming for each fequency on the dial using multicasting technology, so that makes something like 75 channels of HD FM, and you’ve got HD AM which will allow music programming due to improved sound quality.

So that’s like 300 channels of audio instead of 15.

And the radios will be tri-mode by then and who knows if Satellite will stick to its paid model.

My bet is that we’ll see a hybrid model where some of the satellite channels will be free and ad supported and others will be paid.

I suspect the same will be true of the mulitcasted HD FM stations.

So radio will look like cable television, with a huge amount of choice, most free and ad supported, some paid and advertising free.

In that world, my bet is impact will rule and "call out research" will be history.

And in that world, the record labels may return to radio to supplement what they are doing online.

On to the video blogging discussion.

Heather is working on a piece on video blogging.

She’s done a ton of homework and I think its going to be really good.

I will leave it to her to tell that story.

In thinking about the impact of video blogging with Heather, it struck me that the next big move in cable and satellite TV is for the operators to put RSS subscription services into their set-top boxes and recievers, the way that iTunes just did.

Once they do that, TV viewers will be able to schedule and watch way more than what’s in their channel guide.

Among other great stuff, they will be able to subscribe to the delicious funny video feed and be entertained every day by real people.

Talk about reality TV.

And I think the impact of this new form of video entertainment will be huge.

So that’s what’s been spinning around in my head the past week.

I’d love to hear what you all think about it.