"In the both the movie and music businesses, there are an army of individuals responsible bringing art to life. What's one of the biggest differences between the two? In the movie business the "crew" is respected. In the music business the "frauds" are respected." —Sa'id (Amir Said)
Why is the NFL's business model so solid, and why is there so much talent parity throughout the league? I'll tell you why: It's because the NFL values veteran leadership. Indeed, the NFL routinely recycles proven winners at coaching and front office positions.
In contrast, the major record companies have traditionally relied on leadership that was never REALLY proven at all. In the old music industry, a "hit record" was secured through the avenues of traditional media and controlled distribution channels. So when traditional media gave way to new media and when new distribution channels opened up, fraudulent music experts were exposed.
Success of Miami Dolphins: One Example of NFL's Solid Business Model
The competitiveness of the Miami Dolphins football team is not a fluke. It is a direct result of Bill Parcells' proven leadership. On the other hand, the so-called proven track record of some of the music industry's greatest names is not the result of their leadership, but instead the benefit of a rigged playing field that virtually guaranteed hit records—so long as the general public only had real access to just a few artists already in the machine. And now that music listeners have real access to choice and variety, it should come as no surprise that many of the music industry's most celebrated leaders have nothing really to celebrate at all.
In case you haven't noticed, radio broadcasting is increasingly losing its influence over the general public's music listening (and buying) decisions. In his rather organic and illuminating study, author and Wired Magazine Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson notes that "in 1993, Americans spent an average of twenty-three hours and fifteen minutes per week tuned in to the radio;" and that by the spring of 2004, that figure "had dropped to nineteen hours and forty-five minutes" (a 15% decline), bringing traditional radio listenership to a "twenty-seven year low." To be certain, traditional radio listenership continues to spiral downward. In fact, if the current rate of decline simply holds up, 2009 will show an 8% decrease in traditional radio listenership. This means that since 1993, there will have been at least a 25% nosedive in traditional radio listenership—a rather precipitous drop, to say the least.
Where Have All the Traditional Radio Listeners Gone and Why
There are many reasons why radio listenership continues to decline at such a rapid pace. Radio behemoth Clear Channel and its one-size-fits-all radio centralization—what Anderson rightfully regards as Clear Channel's bland homogenization—has indeed played a role. And we can not overlook the fact that the increasing lack of artistry found in the music industry-pushed "hits" has also prodded some music listeners away from the radio. But these factors represent the under card. The main event—if you will—is choice and variety.
Remember when we "heard it on the radio?" Well, yeah, that was back when we really had no choice. Let's remember: Traditional radio represents the old “hit” music model of narrow choice and low variety; no choice or variety meant that you had to listen to the radio and whatever traditional media deemed as a hit. But the web age has truly brought more choice and variety through a myriad of more music listening options. With the expansion and popularity of the internet as well as the advent of the must-have iPod and other MP3 players, many traditional radio listeners peeled away from the radio and moved towards those options that, in effect, allowed them to be their own personal radio programmers.
So Who’s still listening to the radio?
Whether due to unchecked arrogance or denial, broadcast radio culture has failed to see the writing on the wall. Indeed, instead of opening up their programming and shifting to a more variety-based structure, radio stations (particularly in the urban market) are pairing down their playlists, essentially walling them off from the threat of any real variety. So entrenched is this culture that many of the same household radio personalities from 1993 are still on the radio in the same regional markets. This certainly begs the question, How can the very people who have been behind the wheel during the decline in radio listenership still be given the keys to drive broadcast radio towards new horizons? The answer, of course, is: They can't!
In fact, I would argue that many of these held-over radio personalities have been left in place just to cater to those music listeners who have yet to escape the traditional radio programming model. After all, if there is as much as 75% of the once-mighty radio listenership, one can understand why the grand old music industry is still supporting the old radio model. For the music industry—which is seemingly dedicated to bleeding manufactured formulas dry—is always the last to know when something new has emerged, and something old has died.
(1) Anderson, Chris, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, (New York: Hyperion, 2006), 35.