||Are Apps the Great Hope for Radio?
It was the slug line of the year 2010: "There's an app for that." As the rising penetration of smartphones increases, businesses of all types are scrambling to roll out their own apps.
That includes radio stations, and some are exceedingly optimistic about what apps might do for listenership.
"Smartphones could do for radio what the Sony Walkman did in the '80s. Radio became portable and we saw growth in AQH and cume (people tuning in and people listening in any given 15-minute period)," says Steven Ludwig, president of the recently launched Verge Radio Network, a syndicator of radio content.
Already there are radio apps galore.
Clear Channel has its iHeartRadio, which provides access to the company's entire portfolio of stations, and there are hundreds of apps for particular stations like Entercom's WEEI/Boston. Personalities like Dan Patrick rolled out their own personalized apps.
But will apps really boost listening? Or is the apps craze just that, the latest pipe dream of an industry, terrestrial radio, cringing from the threat of such successful audio apps as Pandora, Slacker Radio and Napster?
There are two arguments on the subject.
Here's the first, from Jeff McPherson, co-editor of ThinkMobile.com, a web site focused on mobile devices and applications.
McPherson dismisses apps as a craze, little more, not the solution that will put traditional radio on a par with the likes of Pandora.
His reasoning is simple: "People are not tuning out of terrestrial radio because they can't get radio on their phones. They are tuning out because the programming on radio is not as appealing as what is available to listeners in other ways."
McPherson says the ability to customize services like Pandora is driving app downloads for those services.
"If terrestrial radio stations simply stream what they broadcast, most people will not be attracted because that has the same limitations that currently exist with over-the-air radio," he says.
Here's the other side of the argument, from Verge Radio Network's Ludwig.
First, he says apps are just plain good for radio's image. "Regardless of the net effect that we can show today, being an early adopter as an industry we could gain a lot of credibility with audiences and advertisers."
Radio apps also enhance radio's mobility, enabling advertisers to reach consumers that much closer to the point of purchase, and that's a big plus. The consumer is on the move, be it in a car or on a train or a bus, and hears the ad as he or she is about to get off, ideally in front of or near the store.
Says Ludwig: "The only thing that can get closer are mobile phones," which the consumer can use inside the store.
Ludwig also argues that apps can play a role in maintaining P1 listeners, those who tune into one station more than any other. "You can say with high confidence that listeners who use your app once a day are P1 to the station. And especially with PPM we know P1 listeners are very important."
The tough part, of course, is getting people who download an app to use it regularly. A recent study by the research company Localytics revealed that more than 25 percent of the apps downloaded in 2010 were used only once.
For apps to really work, stations must offer more than simply a station logo and a play button.
"What we have found is that the ability to listen is only a small fraction of why somebody would download a mobile app and keep using it," says Ludwig.
The station must offer that listener an opportunity to engage in a two-way relationship with the station.
That may sound pie-in-the-sky, but in fact that sort of relationship is very much a part of radio's history, actually more so than with any other media.
Besides being a reliable source for local information, radio was the original social medium, connecting listeners to stations and DJs with requests and dedications. Apps can fill that role by allowing them to shoot requests and comments to the station via the Internet.
"Listeners love the ability to engage with the hosts and with each other through a mobile app," says Ludwig.
The timing is certainly right.
While radio has been slow to take advantage of the Internet, of late more and more stations have begun driving traffic to their web sites with a mixture of interactive features and unique content.
"Radio in combination with the Internet makes a very strong one-two punch. Mobile apps can act like a mini-web site that is way easier to maintain," says Ludwig.
Done right, Ludwig argues, apps can rebuild the original relationship listeners had with radio that made it such a popular medium in the first place.
(Source: Media Life Magazine, 02/15/11)