Opportunities and challenges for radio (MIDiA Research)

In an encompassing and deeply researched report, UK-based MIDiA Research has produced a manifesto for broadcast radio, laying out challenges and opportunities for the future. Titled Radio is Switched On Again: Strategies for 2020 and Beyond, the densely-packed 24-page document is for subscribers only, but MIDiA kindly sent a copy to RAIN News for review.

Covid-19 is not necessarily the hook for this research, but it is mentioned as a potential turning point. Mainly, though, the study documents and summarizes a heritage of challenges radio has faced in the evolving digital age, and projects strategic lines forward as digital audio use soaks even deeper into society, partly driven by Covid-19 disruptions. From the introduction:

“This report looks at the changing role of music radio specifically, and the sector’s current and future challenges, particularly those arising from the competitive threat of on-demand streaming services. We look at how radio has gone from a tastemaker of new music to a validator, how the recent COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a radio revival, how radio’s last bastion may be the car and what radio network brands can do to survive and even thrive, in the streaming era.”

Some of the key insights are not necessarily new, but they are as cogent as ever: Streaming services taking share, influence, and ad dollars; the growth of podcasts affecting how ad buyers perceive audio opportunities; radio’s ageing chief demographic; outdated audience measurement.

At the same time, the report has a bullish feeling to it as it presents the broad-stroke opportunities: The human factor demonstrated effectively during Covid-19; radio shows trending on Twitter “for the first time in years”; good revenue retention.

When it comes to laying out forward-looking strategies, the report’s authors (Keith Jopling and Mark Mulligan) put a focus on a central mandate: “Radio networks need to develop new business models and revenue sources, a strategy that requires having brands with meaning to consumers across platforms.”

If the report can be described as a fabulously researched and details S.W.O.T. presentation (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), MIDiA is plain-spoken about the T part of that, identifying four ferocious competitive threats:

  • Spotify elbowing into the morning commute with “Your Daily Drive,” a personalized station if you will.
  • Smart speakers replacing radios in the home.
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto becoming essential installations in the car.
  • Streaming services “moving headling” into podcasts, placing bets that all radio-style shows will become on-demand.

“Just what is the radio industry to do in response?” MIDiA asks. “It has been a frustratingly slow process, but radio is transforming.”

One key graphic from the report that MIDiA is circulating to the press is “Radio’s four focus buttons for regenerating audiences and revenues:

MIDiA’s full report “Radio Is Switched On Again / Strategies for 2020 and Beyond” is now available to subscribers. To discuss radio strategies in more detail with Mark Mulligan & Keith Jopling contact stephen@midiaresearch.com or press@midiaresearch.com.

Brad Hill