Monday, July 6, 2009
Radio: Paralysis by analysis
If everyone’s a research expert there are no research experts.
Traditional media, radio included, suffer from a severe case of paralysis by analysis.
If one research study shows radio time spent listening down, counter it with another study that “proves” radio’s reach and frequency continues to expand.
It’s the path of least resistance. Most gravitate and believe research that tells us what we want to see and hear.
It’s called believing your own hype – and it’s lethal.
It’s why many conservative talk show hosts are successful. The converted love being preached to.
That’s where the research business has gone south. No one wants to be proven wrong.
Research loses credibility when it stops asking the right questions at the request of its clients.
There are few things easier to do than manipulate research results. Just ask misleading questions and avoid those too obvious or controversial.
It’s so uncomplicated to generate an eye-opening, smack-you-across-the-face research study to make one believe it’s essential that the consultant or research organization that did it be hired to save the business.
Radio confuses what it wants with what is probable and when in doubt it goes for mystification, not perfection.
These researchers don’t care about the facts. It’s just like guilt is not as common as most people believe. Killers and radio researchers probably laugh as much as anyone else.
I used to enjoy going to industry conventions and gatherings where you’d actually leave with more knowledge than you had when you arrived. It’s not like that anymore. Over the summer, we’ll have a few of those warm-up gatherings like the Conclave that’ll take your time and money, leading up to the big shebang NAB Radio Show convo in September. The usual suspect researchers and consultants will once again team up to present their latest research “findings” for radio. Let me predict. They’re going to tell you what you want to know and what they want you to believe. I didn’t say they’d be factual.
The radio industry purged nearly all programmers, managers, and even CEOs that achieved success with a dose of their gut instincts. There are chains where those challenging on-hand research are considered precarious and insubordinate – even if it’s old, dated, or from another market.
I have another word for these guts and glory programmers and managers. Futurists. They possess the skill to connect dots that haven’t been connected yet and they’ll often go against the grain of traditional research.
Not all industries dislike futurists. The Silicon Valley nurtures them. Steve Jobs locks them up in a room and says, “Create something! Create anything!"
You can’t measure futurist gut and instinct with research. The latter deals with what already was - not what is to be. Gut decisions are supported by running proposals and objectives by those you’ve surrounded yourself with – your colleagues, mentors, and support staff. Gut is measured with competitors and reality checks. Instinct is derived from your knowledge, passion, and – of equal importance – pride of product.
Researchers are terrified of them. Futurists use research as a map – not the end-all. They reference research like MapQuest – making sure they don’t miss a twist or a turn on the way to their destination.
Misleading research also damages the reputation of the radio industry. Take last week’s Media Post headline: Radio Tops with Teens.
Now, read this line circumspectly: Nielsen found that 16% of teenagers around the world consider radio their "primary source" of music, with another 21% identifying it as a "secondary source" of music. But the numbers lag far behind MP3 players -- identified by 39% of teenagers as a primary source of music -- and computers, preferred by 33% of teens.
Around the world. Catch that?
Looking for teens listening to the radio in the U.S.? Try low-income families. Those that cannot afford other means of music delivery have no choice other than free terrestrial radio. They can’t afford an iPod, iPhone or some reasonable facsimile. Prove me wrong.
Who did the research for the NAB and RAB's lame Radio Heard Here campaign? Is there even one person gullible enough to fall for these new promos?
You’ve heard the latest NAB joke, right? There are radios in the heaven of the NAB but no NAB in the heaven of radio.
Who came up with the research that HD Radio on the new model Microsoft Zune will break that medium to the masses? Do you know anyone that owns a Zune?
The headline in yesterday’s on-line daily Ad Age said it best: Jackson's Death Marks Turning Point for Media Players. Radio didn’t deliver the news – or even advance rumors. It broke on TMZ.com and spread on Twitter. By the time radio got around it – that is, figuring out what format to carry the breaking story on and how to interrupt the voice-tracking – it was old news.
It comes down to this. Radio-oriented research has become so tainted and so implausible that it’s not taken seriously by anyone other than those in the industry that want to believe in the improbable.
If radio’s so brilliant why are a half dozen, maybe more, chains in a budgetary black hole and thisclose to bankruptcy?
Maybe the radio researchers are banking on the old saying that even liars, thieves, bankers, politicians, and whores become respectable if they stick around long enough.