The End of (Radio) Days?

16 Mar ’06

I’ve blogged before about the impact of podcasting on radio, and more recently, about the opportunity for internet radio in a wifi cloud world. Podcasting has certainly affected my use of radio, and having all of my audio media digitized and available – in-house, in-hand or in-car – has changed the way I use it. All in all, audio has become much more relevant. But what about radio?

While it’s tempting to think of radio merely as the transmission technology, of course it’s much more than that, and like any other form of old media it’s now engaged in a struggle for its soul, its relevance and its future. One has to ask, in an age when anyone anywhere can publish or broadcast globally with just a few clicks of a mouse, what makes radio special? And as far as the Canadian experience is concerned, with so many in the U.S. rushing into podcasting (lately, every day brings an announcement like this), why are Canadian broadcasters so agonizingly slow to recognize what is happening around them (and is Tod Maffin the only Canadian putting all of the pieces together)?

And so it’s interesting to see the submissions start rolling in to the CRTC’s commercial radio review. The Globe reports today on the Canadian Association of Broadcaster’s submission in terms that are almost pre-apocalyptic (hence my hyperbolic title for this post):

Conventional radio stations are losing their grip on the iPod generation as younger listeners shift to new technology, such as MP3 players, satellite radio and the emerging world of music-playing cellphones, the industry is warning Ottawa.

In a lengthy document submitted to the federal broadcast regulator yesterday, the industry paints a bleak picture for itself as new technology permeates its market, eroding audiences and eating away at advertising revenue.

“It is generally agreed that teens have abandoned conventional radio in favour of other audio platforms including peer-to-peer file sharing, music downloading and iPods,” says the CAB, which represents Canada’s radio companies.

“The key question this raises is whether today’s teens can ever be repatriated to conventional radio.”

In a word, no. But if the radio industry changes its distribution system to allow its content to be consumed anywhere by anyone at any time in any way – and oh yes, without DRM – well, maybe. But if, as the Globe article suggests, the Canadian radio industry instead intends to maintain its fascination with how the different participants are comparatively regulated, well, we might as well turn out the lights, close the doors and go home. It’s over, or will be, soon. For more info, see “Internet“.

One last thing. The Globe story on the review process also points the way to what strikes me as the surest strategy available to obliterate the relevance of Canadian radio. Consider it cultural DRM, or how to make your content irrelevant in a world of 100 million channels without really trying:

The Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, a lobby group that supports private broadcasting and Canadian content, warned the commission to beware of broadcasters seeking weaker concentration of ownership rules or reduced obligations to produce local content.

“As Canada’s economic relationship with the U.S. draws clear, it becomes more important than ever to strengthen Canadian cultural sovereignty,” the lobby group said. “If any changes are desirable, they should move in the direction of strengthening these obligations.”

There are no more walls. We can’t keep it out. Content is not about ‘obligations’. Build a system that allows any Canadian anywhere to freely create, publish and broadcast, and you will have your cultural content. Podcasts and vidcasts from all points of the compass, about every aspect of Canada, with a voice that will shame the media monoliths. But until then, with Friends like this, who needs etc. etc.

Previous post:

Next post: