Talking Tech (03/10/08)
He knows the ins and outs of every gadget and gizmo on the market: what they can do, what they canít, and ó most importantly ó how tech-challenged users can make them actually work.
Every weekend Leo Laporte helps his listeners figure out what all of those buttons do, what those error messages mean, and how the dizzying array of new technologies hitting the market each day actually can make their lives easier. His program, The Tech Guy: Leo Laporte was launched into syndication this year by Premiere Radio Networks, and is heard weekends from 2 to 5 p.m. ET on nearly 50 affiliates, including KFI/Los Angeles, KGO/San Francisco, WMAL/Washington, DC, and KOGO/San Diego.
Like most of us, Laporte carries around a few favorite devices he just canít live without. While many industry watchers expect consumers will soon be carrying around one device that gives them phone, Internet, and music player capability, Laporte says he isnít all that eager to embrace the one-size-fits-all mentality, noting that most people like to have the best device for each job. And if a combination device canít do everything exceptionally well, he questions whether people will embrace it.
While the shape and function of tomorrowís digital devices remain to be seen, Laporte believes todayís radio business has the goods to exploit all of these emerging technologies and expand on the industryís key strengths. ďWe know how to make great content, how to build community, and how to create interactivity,Ē he says. ďWeíve been doing it for years.Ē
Looking ahead, Laporte adds, ďWeíre in the business of creating audio content. The good news is that thereís gonna be a huge and growing demand for audio content.Ē
RadioInk: How can radio move to the forefront of digital technology?
Leo LaPorte: Iím going to get a lot of hate for saying this, but some of the things that radio focuses on miss the point. Stations should think about why people listen to radio, and respond to that. People donít listen to iPods because they sound better; they listen to iPods because they can choose and control the content. In fact, a lot of times they're listening to commercial radio, which has done really well with podcasting. Podcast time is radio listening, just on the listenerís schedule. If youíre gonna win back that iPod generation, you have to look at the negatives that drove them to the iPod in the first place ó repetition, lack of variety, too much advertising, too much talk. Youíve got to respond to that, and some of that is a technological response. Stations that aren't yet podcasting ought to be. The question comes down to: What is your business? Many radio people think it has to do with a tower and electricity and a transmitter. Really, your business is creating content and delivering that content to a big enough audience that you can sell it to advertisers. If you start thinking of yourself as a content creator and distributor, podcasting and the Internet provide a really great resource. The good news is that a whole new generation of listeners is being created; people who like listening and are interested in audio.
RI: What do you see as traditional broadcast radio's strengths?
LL: Thereís never going to be a replacement for live news radio and live talk, because you canít put that on a portable device and listen to it later. You donít care what happened in the Tuesday election on Wednesday; you want to know what happened Tuesday night. Radio has a real advantage in that regard.
Talk radio is the first and only interactive broadcasting. Weíve been doing this since before the Internet. Successful radio stations create communities. A web page or a podcast isn't about creating a show or a site; it's about creating a community. Radio has done that for years. I would say 90 percent of the skill set that radio broadcasters have applies really well to the modern age ó we just have to look at our distribution channels and be flexible about the ways people listen to us. We know how to make great content, how to build community, and how to create interactivity. Weíve been doing it for years.
RI: Should radio be doing more original content for podcasts?
LL: Yes, but it doesnít need to be original. Re-packaging existing content is fine. NPR has done very well just taking their existing content and putting it on iPods. It works because a lot of people who listen to NPR can't listen to Morning Edition live.
The failure of podcasting has been that weíve got 100,000 people who have no idea how to create audio content creating real crap. So a lot of people listen and think podcasting is terrible. One of the reasons that I got into podcasting is because I know how to make audio content. Weíve been very successful taking podcasting existing radio shows, as well as creating new content just for the Internet. Thereís a real audience for that. Itís a huge opportunity for radio.
Itís that old story of the people in the railroad industry who thought they were in the business of trains, not transportation, Weíre not in the business of radio towers, weíre in the business of creating audio content. The good news is that thereís gonna be a huge and growing demand for audio content.
RI: As technology makes telecommuting feasible for more workers, doesn't that audience dwindle away?
LL: Telecommuting comprises only 3 percent of the work force. It may go up, but thereís still about 145 million people getting in their car every morning. The commute isnít gonna go away; the average commute is 20 percent longer than it was in 1980. Three million people commute across state lines now, and some super commuters spend at least 90 minutes each way. These people are listening; thereís no competition in that car except for the cell phone and the guy in the rearview mirror. That audience is a huge opportunity for people who create audio content, and nobody does that better than radio.
And even if you work at home, youíre not watching TV, youíre listening to the radio. In a way, people who are telecommuting are easier to reach because they can listen to streaming radio. Broadband penetration in this country is now 65 percent, itís huge. Youíve got to get out of the mindset of: I bought this big transmitter and I have this big tower, so I need to use them. You need to start thinking about what you could do with all this content.
RI: What do you think of the prospect of in-car Internet access, and the possibility of listening to in-car streamed audio?
LL: Technically it's very difficult, and I donít see the demand for it. This is another case where you can go down a real rabbit hole. Weíve got satellite, weíve got broadcast, I donít know if we really need streaming in a car. Frankly, people who want anything but live news or talk are listening to their portable devices anyway. But it is an interesting challenge. If youíre doing live news content or sports that you canít get via broadcast, streaming is the only option for you.
RI: Are you concerned about how the ongoing royalty debate might affect the future of streaming?
LL: I think the whole royalties debate will go away sooner than later. The record industry is the poster boy for a business that doesnít understand whatís happening, and is fighting tooth and claw to preserve its old model. But theyíre starting to suddenly get it. They have to realize that radio is the best promotional vehicle theyíve got. Talk about greed ó theyíre killing the goose that laid the golden egg! A record company that wants to penalize streaming radio and radio broadcasts is gonna lose its artists, because the artists are going directly to the audience and putting this stuff out on the Internet. If they see the record companies stymieing them, they will turn away from the labels.
Radio should be careful not to get in that position. If you think about it, radio is the original social network. The opportunity is stunning, and thatís when the artists come to you. MySpace succeeds because independent musicians go there to get the word out. Theyíre bypassing the record companies, theyíre bypassing radio. The thing weíve got to realize is that itís a new world, itís a new landscape. With broadcasters it's traditionally been: We talk, you listen. But radio has always been community focused. We know how to listen to our listeners. We just have to do more of that; listen to what theyíre asking for and give it to them. Thatís the beauty of it ó we have the skill set, no one else does.
RI: Do you expect MP3 players will go the way of Walkmans, especially as on-demand content becomes increasingly available?
LL: Itís a vain hope to think that once people get control of their content, theyíre ever gonna give it back. I think people are going to carry portable audio devices for a long time and, frankly, we'd better hope so. Look what happened with the transistor radio ó it transformed radio. It took radio out of the livingroom. Thatís the kind of transition weíre seeing now.
But thereís always a market for somebody who says: Iím sick of everything on my iPod, I wonder whatís new. Or someone who wonders what happened last night in the election. Those are opportunities for radio. Those are needs the iPod canít fill. But I think itís futile to think people are going to get tired of carrying them, because iPods are going to get smaller and smaller. Theyíll be in your earpieces, theyíll be in your eyeglasses. That problem will be solved.
RI: Can the digital radio platform give people that kind of control through on-demand offerings?
LL: Sure, that's possible. But, if a subscription on-demand service has to compete with a $5-a-month, all-you-can-eat service or the listenerís own record collection ó which heís already paid for and has on a device the size of a pack of cards ó itís a tough sell. Music radio has a tough row to hoe, but there are opportunities. If you listen and youíre open, youíll find them. Introducing new music or re-broadcasting live concerts are places for music radio to succeed. But the notion that music radio with on-demand or something else can replace the iPod by giving people what they want? I donít know. Thatís a tough one, because you're not only competing against other terrestrial radio stations in your market, youíre competing against iTunes and Microsoft and every website in the world that wants to offer music. Itís a much more competitive landscape.
RI: How can radio bridge serving traditional listeners with those who demand more?
LL: The nice thing about this new technology landscape is the incremental cost. Itís not like you have to reinvent yourself completely. You can continue to do what youíre doing while also looking at ways to repackage and reuse what youíre already creating to appeal to that younger audience. My kids never, ever listen to the radio ó never ó and I think thatís pretty common. Teenagers have changed a lot, and theyíre the future audience, right? When I was their age, radio was everywhere. That was our community. They donít need radio to do that anymore; they have MySpace, Facebook, IM. Theyíre not on the phone either, by the way. Sometimes people grow up and out of things; I donít think this particular behavior is going to change, so radio is faced with a graying of our traditional audience. The good news is that we can continue to do what we do best; we just need to think of other ways to deliver that so it appeals to a new, younger audience. And itís totally possible. Focus on the one thing that we can deliver that an iPod can't: a sense of community. Thatís what people want; theyíre desperate for it, frankly, and radio is very good at it.
RI: Do you think consumers will eventually carry around a single device that does it all? Phone, e-mail, audio?
LL: What you often get with a device that does everything is the best of nothing. I prefer to use best-in-class devices, so instead of trying to type on an iPhone, which is a pain, I use a Blackberry because itís got a keyboard; and I still carry an iPod because I want the best-in-class music player. My cell phone is a lousy music player. I donít think consumers will give up all the features they want just so they can carry one device.
RI: Whatís the next big thing?
LL: Itís really hard to predict because technology is very discontinuous; there are sudden shifts that nobody could predict. But you can make some pretty clear statements: Internet access will be everywhere, and that means interactivity is everywhere ó and not only the ability to stream. This is really good for radio in terms of advertising, because whatís going to change technologically over the next decade is how advertisers reach an audience, and what they expect in terms of numbers and response. Radio is in a good position to deliver something that television networks canít deliver: an engaged audience and true interactivity. Thatís where weíve got to pay attention to ubiquitous Internet, because thatís what gives us interactivity. It gives us an audience that can respond back everywhere. When you look at Google and Microsoft's effort to acquire Yahoo, itís all about online advertising and location-based advertising. And radio is the original location-based advertising: Iím down here at the carpet store, come on over.
Let's face it: Itís a scary time. Media is changing. Devices will get smaller, more portable. Many of these devices ó not the iPod unfortunately ó are coming with built-in radios. The fact that Apple with its 80 percent market share has decided not to include radios tells me thereís not a lot of demand for a radio in these things, but we can hope.
Interestingly, though, cell phones are becoming audio devices. A lot of people have approached me interested in offering podcast streaming on cell phones. I think thatís an opportunity for radio. In some ways the cell phone is the new transistor radio. That will become an important platform for us, and we have to think about ways to use that. Letís create content that engages an audience, gets them to listen, and takes advantage of these new technologies. Weíve been doing interactivity for a long time; letís step it up and go to the next level. Interactivity is absolutely whatís next for media, and radio is in really good shape to take advantage of that.
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