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Don’t Be Afraid of the Paywall

The advent of in-car smartphone apps and Wi-Fi have given people easy ways to access commercial free alternatives to the advertiser saturated content on the dial.

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I was talking with a former radio colleague of mine a few months ago. We got into a rather lengthy discussion about online radio listening and on-demand content.

We segued into a discussion about subscription-based services.

“It’s shocking to me why radio operators don’t put their content behind a paywall,” I said.

“Hell no,” he replied. “We could NEVER do that!”

“Why not?” I queried.

“People would never pay to listen to our shows. If we started charging them money to listen to our content, they would just go somewhere else!”

That line gave me a EUREKA moment. What my former colleague said is perhaps the radio industry’s biggest problem- they don’t have enough faith in their own content.  

A someone who spent nearly three decades working for terrestrial radio stations in eight different markets across the country, this pains me. Radio is missing out on a golden opportunity to break open new revenue streams that they desperately need. The solution has been sitting in their studios the entire time.

Radio’s biggest asset is their content. And more operators need to double-down on that. Company to company, market to market and station to station, radio still boasts the biggest portfolio of local and syndicated talent in the country. Yet, they don’t maximize the revenue from this talent. Instead of putting a dollar value on that content, they’d rather give it away for free and make money the way they have for 100 years…spots and dots.

Radio’s efforts to generate new revenue streams have been mixed, at best.  I’ve seen first-hand the dabbling into things like e-commerce, e-mail marketing, SEO and website building.  Eventually every new fad I’ve witnessed championed has, for the most part, fizzled out within a year or two.  Why?  Because nothing they come up with is innovative.  Everything I’ve seen radio get into had already been done by the Groupons, Go Daddy’s, Googles and Amazons of the world…and those companies did (and continue to do it) it far better.  

Radio is using an antiquated revenue model, relying too heavily on selling ads to survive. One problem, spot revenue has been on the decline for well over a decade. Advertisers are seeing higher ROI by investing in more non-traditional campaigns to get their messaging out. 

What’s worse, radio has seen serious listener erosion for a long time. In large part because younger consumers have grown tired of having to soldier through 20+ minutes of commercials in a given hour (or even one of those damn “Kars4Kids” spots).  

Time and time again, consumers (younger ones, in particular) have proved with their wallets that they will pay a few extra bucks for quality commercial free content, on virtually every platform. Hell, its as if they’re conditioned to do so.

Netflix Revenue in 2019 was over $20 billion.

Disney+ managed to gain over 60 million subscribers in less than a year.

Spotify did almost $7.5 billion in revenue in 2019.

SiriusXM is now a $2 billion company and has already swallowed up competitors in Pandora and Stitcher.

Huge multinational corporations like Apple, Sony and Amazon are pouring cash into developing original audio content.

And the list goes on and on.

The advent of in-car smartphone apps and Wi-Fi have given people easy ways to access commercial free alternatives to the advertiser saturated content on the dial.  

Everyone has already left for the party and radio is still in the bathroom fixing their hair. The truth is, they look fine and should have been at the party hours ago.  

There will always be room for ad-supported content in the audio world. But the reliance on it needs to be drastically reduced and a big part of the needed shift should include the building of paywalls to support subscriber-based content.

As I prepared to write this column, I did a little-self exercise. How many commercial-free subscription services do I actually have?  

Here’s my inventory:

You Tube Premium

Amazon Prime Video

Netflix

Hulu

Disney +

CBS All-Access

HBO Go

New York Times

Spotify Premium

The Economist

The Athletic

SiriusXM

TuneIn Premium

NFL Sunday Ticket

Crunchyroll (my husband is a big fan of anime)

DC Universe

Shudder

World of Wonder

That’s a lot. And by the way, as anyone will tell you, I ain’t rich! But what’s an extra $15 dollars a month if I get to see John Oliver and Bill Maher every week? What’s an extra $25 a month if I can listen to Stern?

And to be honest, if my favorite terrestrial radio talent were pushed behind a paywall, the decision for me would be easy.

As a die-hard (and constantly suffering) Detroit Sports fan, I’m an almost daily listener of Mike Valenti’s on 97.1 The Ticket. His Monday shows after Sunday Lions debacles are must-listens. If I can get the Radio.com app to NOT crash on me, I make a point to be logged on to his live stream.

That being said, If Entercom were to tell me that I’d have to pay $5.99 a month to listen to his show online, get commercial free access to his podcasts (and maybe some additional bonus content), I’d sign up without even giving it a second thought. I’m guessing a decent chunk of his nearly 200,000 weekly listeners would do the same.   

Even if say, 5% of his audience (10,000) agreed to pay that subscription fee, that’s $60,000 in revenue. How many radio stations would turn down a $60k annual these days?  

All is not lost. There are some operators who are moving in the right direction. No one does digital better than iHeart. Yes, they have the largest scale, but they have also invested more than anyone else in top tier talent as well as the technology to deliver it. In 2019, their podcast revenues alone were about $100M. A big reason for that is because they’ve approached things fearlessly. Sure, they have ad-supported content online. But they also created a space for the paywall as well. iHeart Radio Plus and iHeart Radio All-Access are upgrades to their digital content services that unlock different features such as ad free artist radio. On a smaller scale, Good Karma is starting to do the same as they continue to grow their footprint.   

Radio has, for the most part been far too conservative. They’re the guy at the poker table that gets bluffed easily, may win a few hands, but would rather fold than call. At some point, they’re going to have to push all their chips into the center of the table. Otherwise, like that overly cautious poker player, they’ll continue to slowly hemorrhage money until it’s time to call it a night.

BNM Writers

The NFL Weathered the Storm, Fans Once Again Are Addicted

The NFL Playoffs kicking off this weekend, nearly 18 months removed from the NFL’s latest soiree into politics, yet the league is as strong as ever.

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The NFL has us all wrapped around its finger. 

Don’t take my word for it, just look at the numbers. As we get set for the NFL Playoffs kicking off this weekend, we are nearly 18 months removed from the NFL’s latest soiree into politics, yet the league is as strong as ever. 

The NFL’s regular season viewership rose 10%, which is a bounce-back from a 7% drop in 2020. 

About 17.1 million viewers tuned in to regular season games on TV and online. It was the highest regular season audience for the NFL since 2015, according to a statement from the league. With the audience for traditional TV falling, NFL games continue to dominate the ratings, ranking as 91 of the top 100 telecasts this season, the league said.

So what happened? 

Well first we need to look backwards: 2020 was a perfect storm. The NFL did go political to a degree, adding “social justice” phrases to the end zones and the backs of players’ helmets. It was not as in-your-face as what the NBA did, but it was noticeable. It bothered a portion of fans who may have temporarily stepped away from watching football in a boycott. Add to that an incredibly tense 2020 election season, along with being in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was natural to expect to see a decrease in viewership.

Oh, and let’s be honest, the mostly empty stadiums were just ghoulish. 

But the NFL weathered the storm. Because that’s what it does. It’s the best product on TV and it’s brought many back into the fold as things have gotten back to normal in 2021. 

It’s also why I never boycotted the league. First off, I knew I wouldn’t last long. We all need outlets from the insanity of the news cycle. I knew myself too well. And if I was going to boycott, I was going to do it right. I never thought I could do an NFL boycott “right”.

Was that weak of me? I know I certainly took the backlash from some of my listeners. But based on the ratings numbers we are seeing this week, it seems like many who were tough talkers in 2020 have quietly come back to the league with their tail between their legs. 

For the record, I’m OK with that. I won’t be admonishing anyone over it. The NFL puts on a first-class product. And let’s be honest, the NFL knew that they could toe the line of doing “enough” on the social justice front to appease those requesting it, while allowing time to heal wounds of those not wanting it, and not hemorage their audience in any significant way.

It turns out the NFL was right. Once again. We can’t get enough. Republicans, Democrats, Independents. And we’ll be tuned in starting with Wild Card Weekend on Saturday. 

So as we get ready for another season of NFL Playoffs, there’s no conversation around politics infringing on the product and the league is dominating TV ratings in a way no other sport or show is coming close to duplicating. 

The NFL weathered the storm, the stadiums are full, fans are back, and we’re all, once again, addicted. 

It’s OK to admit it. I am. Will you? 

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BNM Writers

Children Are Paying a Heavier Price Over Covid

“Too many parents, studies, and experts are concerned with the overall mental and physical health of a child that it’s impossible to ignore any longer.”

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Image: Halfpoint/Shutterstock

Here we go again, another COVID surge. Big businesses will thrive, small businesses will get by, restaurants will struggle, but for the most part, we can handle another wave. Schools, however, I’m not so sure.

Since everyone will try and decipher where I stand on the issue, let me be upfront. I’m triple vaccinated, I don’t like to wear a mask, but I do, when asked, and usually after a few minutes in a store, I pull it down so it’s not so annoying. I have an toddler at home who is not yet school age.

Schools are the front lines of this war. Kids who are forced to wear a mask to protect other kids, teachers, and themselves is seen as a small inconvenience for the greater good. 

On the other hand, kids who are forced to wear a mask are having their self esteem destroyed, their ability to interact short circuited, and their mental health continues to suffer. They’re falling behind in their learning, and their overall general health is bad and is getting worse.

Schools have been able to find common ground on much tougher issues (bullying, drugs, violence, kickball) so why can’t we find an acceptable alternative when it comes to masks?

It’s all masks all the time or no masks ever again.  

The latest numbers in St. Louis have 54 children ages 18 and younger in the hospital and 10 children in the ICU.

Each one tragic, and if I were a parent, I would want to call out the national guard. But, too many parents, too many studies, and too many experts are generally concerned with the overall mental and physical health of a child that it’s impossible to ignore any longer. If you disagree, look at the mental health of the adults around the kids. We parents aren’t handling this pandemic well so what chance do our children have?

Conversely, some parents are petrified of the great unknown when it comes to Covid. Children get it at a much lesser degree, and not as severe, except when it’s your child.  

Politicians aren’t helping the situation either. They are using the issue to gain attention from their respective fringes, hoping it will propel them to a higher office. They win when we stay angry with each other. If one were cynical, one would say they don’t want a solution. Fixing the problem doesn’t help them.

During the polio outbreaks of years ago, schools would delay openings, cancel schools, and parents would limit who could play with their kids because “they have polio over there”. It wasn’t ideal, but in the 1930’s you had one parent home to help. ( In fact, radio, back in the day was part of the solution. Radio helped with the virtual learning. It was the zoom of its day.) Today with both parents working it’s much more difficult for a family.

At some point we have to arrive at a new normal. It’s been two full years and now our third February. We can’t continue to have virtual learning, and school board meetings where parents are screaming at each other like junkyard dogs. At what point do we put down our weapons,  and come up with a compromise?

While one parent worries about the long term negative effects of the vaccine, the other parent worries about the long term negative effects of COVID. It seems like they should be able to understand each other.

In some ways there is no answer, but in others, we must find one. The children are watching.  We are making them pawns in our political fights. We are using them to propel our political agenda. I worry what long lasting negative effects all of this will have on them long after COVID is gone.

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BNM Writers

CNN Remains Top Destination For New Year’s Eve Celebrations

“From 11p-12:30am, CNN drew 3.3 million total viewers, matching its second-best ever total audience of that date’s time slot.”

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The calendar changed from 2021 to 2022, and cable’s No. 1 non-sports destination for New Year’s Eve celebrations, CNN, remained so. Once again at New York’s Times Square were hosts Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen. Some of the guests featured were actor Leslie Jordan, performer Katy Perry, Academy Award winner Regina King and King’s former “227” co-star Jackee Harry.

For the 90-minute period of 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Eastern, it drew 3.3 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, matching CNN’s second-best ever total audience (with New Year’s Eve 2017) of that date’s time slot. It was during that time frame when the night’s most viral moment took place. Shortly after the clock struck midnight, a ticked-off (and tipsy) Cohen criticized the “victory lap dance” by “horrible” New York City mayor Bill de Blasio.

CNN’s full 4.5-hour telecast averaged 2.12 million total viewers including 746,000 within the key 25-54 demographic (from 8 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.). This marked a 35 percent decline in each key figure from their record-setting New Year’s Eve 2020. Still, it delivered cable’s best adults 25-54 performance of the week (ending Jan. 2) outside of ESPN’s football coverage, Paramount’s “Yellowstone” and TLC’s “90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days.”

Cable news’ runner-up telecast for the week among adults 25-54 was CNN’s continued New Year’s Eve celebrations from New Orleans, Louisiana. It was hosted by a visibly-inebriated Don Lemon alongside fellow CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota and “Daily Show” comedienne Dulce Sloan. The special, which began at 12:30 a.m. Eastern, averaged 1.455 million total viewers including 614,000 in the 25-54 age range. While it dipped to its lowest total audience amount since 2014, the telecast ran until 1:30 a.m. Eastern, meaning the figure included the steep drop in viewership after 1 a.m. Eastern/midnight Central. Prior to Dec. 31, 2019, CNN had concluded Lemon’s portion at 1:05 a.m. Eastern. This was the first year Lemon spent New Year’s without Brooke Baldwin, his longtime fellow co-host on the occasion; Baldwin had departed CNN back in April.

In the overnight on CNN, a rerun of “New Year’s Live with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen” from 1:30-3:30 a.m. drew 755,000 viewers (with 252,000 adults 25-54); at 3:30-4:30 a.m., a re-airing of “New Year’s Live” with Don Lemon (remaining uncensored) posted 369,000 viewers and a still-above-CNN’s-total-day-average of 124,000 adults 25-54.

Over at Fox News on Dec. 31, their one-hour 2021 retrospective “Who Can Forget” at 8 p.m. drew 1.35 million viewers (172 adults 25-54), followed by the 1.85 million (including 242,000 adults 25-54) who tuned in to Greg Gutfeld’s one-hour New Year’s special at 9 p.m.  “All-American New Year 2022” from 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. averaged 1.85 million total viewers and 359,000 adults 25-54 — approximately twice more than last New Year’s Eve.

Also during the week, from federal court in New York City, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was convicted on federal charges of luring underage teenage girls to engage in sex acts with American millionaire Jeffrey Epstein. The jury had deliberated for five days before they found her guilty of five of the six counts charged against her. The verdict occurred on Dec. 29 at 5:10 p.m. Eastern. Fox News Channel was the top cable news outlet in breaking news coverage with 2.9 million viewers and 386,000 adults 25-54. Although no labels from Nielsen indicated the news event on CNN and MSNBC, the 5-6 p.m. hour of CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper” drew 822,000 total viewers and 173,000 adults 25-54; MSNBC’s “Deadline: White House” from 4-6 p.m. delivered 1.12 million viewers and 134,000 adults 25-54.

On upstart NewsNation, their “Rush Hour” program on Dec. 29 from 5-6 p.m. posted 119,000 viewers. Oddly enough, it was the least-watched weeknight edition from Dec. 27-31; overall, “Rush Hour” averaged 156,000 viewers for the week.

Cable news averages for December 27, 2021-January 2, 2022:

Total Day (December 27-January 2 @ 6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 1.225 million viewers; 187,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 0.531 million viewers; 58,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.529 million viewers; 110,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.224 million viewers; 74,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.164 million viewers; 38,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.154 million viewers; 28,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.094 million viewers; 12,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.093 million viewers; 12,000 adults 25-54

Prime Time (December 27-January 1 @ 8-11 p.m.; January 2 @ 7-11 p.m.)

  • Fox News Channel: 1.749 million viewers; 232,000 adults 25-54
  • MSNBC: 0.774 million viewers; 75,000 adults 25-54
  • CNN: 0.743 million viewers; 170,000 adults 25-54
  • HLN: 0.245 million viewers; 82,000 adults 25-54
  • CNBC: 0.191 million viewers; 60,000 adults 25-54
  • The Weather Channel: 0.156 million viewers; 34,000 adults 25-54
  • Newsmax: 0.111 million viewers; 14,000 adults 25-54
  • Fox Business Network: 0.063 million viewers; 13,000 adults 25-54

Top 10 most-watched cable news programs (and the top CNN and MSNBC programs with their respective associated ranks) in total viewers:

1. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 12/27/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 3.128 million viewers

2. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 12/29/2021 5:00 PM, 10 min.) 3.015 million viewers

3. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 12/28/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.940 million viewers

4. Special Report: Maxwell Verdict (FOXNC, Wed. 12/29/2021 5:10 PM, 50 min.) 2.897 million viewers

5. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 12/30/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.762 million viewers

6. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 12/28/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.690 million viewers

7. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Wed. 12/29/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.519 million viewers

8. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Mon. 12/27/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.415 million viewers

9. Hannity (FOXNC, Tue. 12/28/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.325 million viewers

10. Special Report with Bret Baier (FOXNC, Mon. 12/27/2021 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 2.277 million viewers

14. New Years Eve Live with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen (CNN, Fri. 12/31/2021 8:00 PM, 270 min.) 2.124 million viewers

62. New Years Eve Live (CNN, Fri. 12/31/2021 12:30 AM, 60 min.) 1.455 million viewers

65. Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC, Wed. 12/29/2021 9:00 PM, 60 min.) 1.432 million viewers

Top 10 cable news programs (and the top HLN and MSNBC programs with their respective associated ranks) among adults 25-54:

1. New Years Eve Live with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen (CNN, Fri. 12/31/2021 8:00 PM, 270 min.) 0.746 million adults 25-54

2. New Years Eve Live (CNN, Fri. 12/31/2021 12:30 AM, 60 min.) 0.614 million adults 25-54

3. All American New Year’s (FOXNC, Fri. 12/31/2021 12:00 AM, 60 min.) 0.462 million adults 25-54

4. The Five (FOXNC, Mon. 12/27/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.406 million adults 25-54

5. The Five (FOXNC, Thu. 12/30/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.401 million adults 25-54

6. The Five (FOXNC, Wed. 12/29/2021 5:00 PM, 10 min.) 0.397 million adults 25-54

7. Special Report: Maxwell Verdict (FOXNC, Wed. 12/29/2021 5:10 PM, 50 min.) 0.386 million adults 25-54

8. The Five (FOXNC, Tue. 12/28/2021 5:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.379 million adults 25-54

9. All American New Year’s (FOXNC, Fri. 12/31/2021 11:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.364 million adults 25-54

10. Tucker Carlson Tonight (FOXNC, Tue. 12/28/2021 8:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.361 million adults 25-54

74. Forensic Files “Who’s Your Daddy” (HLN, Tue. 12/28/2021 11:30 PM, 30 min.) 0.206 million adults 25-54

115. The Beat with Ari Melber (MSNBC, Mon. 12/27/2021 6:00 PM, 60 min.) 0.155 million adults 25-54

Source: Live+Same Day data, Nielsen Media Research

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