At the European Radio and Digital Audio Show in Paris, a three-day exhibition and presentation conference, one of the panels turned its focus to the future of radio in the next few years. A persistent and sometimes controversial point was whether to rebrand the radio industry to “audio.” As noted onstage, European radio is a few years behind American radio on this question — Philippe Generali, CEO of RCS, noted that iHeartMedia routinely calls itself the “largest audio company in the U.S.”
Other panelists were James Cridland (radio futurologist and founder/editor of Podnews) and Alexandre Saboundjian (CEO, Targetspot). The conversation was moderated by Gary Kline who runs a consultancy in Atlanta. This panel was conducted in English; every other word we have heard spoken at this event has been in French.
There was general agreement among the panelists that “audio” put a larger, more contemporary umbrella over the radio industry in an increasingly digital and on-demand era. Saboundjian focused on the sales side, saying that advertisers wanted to buy “audio,” not “radio.” Answering an audience question, he said, “You need to organize your company to appeal to your clients. The danger is big companies like Google taking revenue.”
In fact, the session started off with James Cridland sketching the competitive landscape. shadowed as it is by behemoth new competitors to radio — Spotify, Apple, Google, Amazon. (Or, in a different acronymed lineup that was invoked during the discussion, GAFA: Google Apple Facebook Amazon).
Saboundjian expressed a moderate stance, that radio must adapt, but it is not a red-alert emergency of a business model falling apart overnight. Philippe Generali countered that moderation with an argument: “It must be done today. You have to call yourself an audio company. Own and defend that you are an audio company.”
Cridland’s take: “We’re not in a business of running transmitters, AM, FM, or DAB. Some newspapers thought they were in the business of operating a printing press. They’re not in business anymore. The news organizations that survive are in the business of running a newsroom.” At the same time, Cridland (an outspoken advocate of, and consultant to radio) observed that the personality and one-to-one connection of radio is a key strength, especially compared to music listening in a streaming service. “A human being is a real asset,” he said.
Wrapping up, Alexandre Saboundjian and Philippe Generali agreed that good content is what the business is all about, no matter what it’s called. They both emphasized that advertisers want data, and that U.S. radio is driving down that road.
James Cridland: “Radio isn’t going away fast. We should take advantage of podcasting and other new types of audio.”