Its clear that radio is strong and that it remains strong in spite of pronouncements of its death and predictions that it will soon be crushed by new technology. What is not clear is whether radio will eventually erode deeply or even succumb to the impact of those technologies. But it is certain, however, that the digital natives (the generation who have grown up with digital) are changing the way media must behave. Those of us in all media have converged, and we are in an era where we have to be radio and audio, video, Web, social media, and more. And we'd better be there in mobile, which is a huge wave crushing desktop viewing and listening.
Like it or not, radio is changing because the world is changing. Perhaps we'll remain strong by doing exactly what we've been doing, but I think that's risky. We must all be doing more, going beyond the status quo and serving our listeners in new ways to keep them engaged at all levels and on all devices. It's for that reason we need an official, widely acknowledged call for innovation.
The big innovation in radio of late is the NextRadio app, which takes advantage of the FM chips that are already in most smartphones. It's the best possibility for keeping radio relevant in the tech world and should be embraced and supported by 100 percent of radio stations. But NextRadio alone won't be enough.
Radio needs an investment fund to provide venture capital for the innovations that will keep radio relevant in a technology-driven world. As Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Association said at our DASH conference, "Radio had a chance to invent something like Pandora before anyone ever heard of Pandora, but it didn?t."
There is still time. iHeart offers customized streams, but reinventing Pandora isn't what radio needs. It's been done, and done well. Radio as an industry needs to create the next disruptive technology, to invent, ourselves, the technology or platform that takes radio to the next level.
We need a radio venture fund, with about $50 million in capital, to invest in 20 to 40 companies that are inventing technology that radio companies could own. Technologies that are disruptive and that will give radio our next big opportunities.
And that fund needs to be non-political. Rarely do fund investors sit on the boards of the funds in which they invest ? and that's important, because those of us in radio are often blind to things that may disrupt us. Instead, we need some smart Silicon Valley fund managers who can see disruption clearly and who know that we are not only putting up our money, but putting up airtime to make adoption of new technologies faster.
Each radio company has its agenda, and, though most have a spirit of cooperation for the benefit of the industry, each will protect itself first. And that's a problem because executives making "committee" decisions about a unified effort will always have their own companies' interests at heart. Which is reasonable, but it's also why these executives shouldn?t have final say on potential investment decisions.
There would need to be some predetermined criteria for companies being considered for investment ? in particular, they'd need to offer something radio companies would clearly benefit from owning. The fund could be set up to be proportional to investment, meaning even the smallest companies could participate with skin in the game.
Radio not only needs innovation to support our future, we must invest deeply in young minds who can help us see what we cannot see because we are blinded by our past.
This is my call for innovation. Are you in?
Eric Rhoads is the publisher of Radio Ink. Phone and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Eric on Twitter: @ericrhoads
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