Friday, December 4, 2015

The Radio Revolution

In previous posts I've discussed the power of radio and why it is still very much a relevant and valuable medium. As listenership of terrestrial radio has declined large, profit-driven media companies have responded by consolidating services making content virtually indistinguishable from one region to another. But change is in the air and it is revolutionary.

Internet radio is poised to dramatically change the way in which we experience the medium. Consider the following: Internet radio has unlimited broadcast range, it is not subject to regional and government agency restrictions regarding content and it is relatively free. The latter refers to the fact that listeners need to have access to the Internet, but it's fair to say in 2015 that would be a good chunk of modern human civilization.

In terms of availability, both mediums can be easily accessed in virtually any context. For example, 68% of Canadians now own a smartphone, up 24% from the previous year. These devices provide listeners with quick and easy access to streaming content. Apps for streaming Internet radio, such as TuneIn Radio, are free to download and simple to use. In addition, the vast majority of those who listen to radio at work use a computer, therefore choosing between terrestrial and Internet-based broadcasts is a matter of a mouse-click.

The ultimate advantage of terrestrial remains on the road, as a soundtrack for many commuters and long distance drivers, but this too is changing. Many automakers are actively investing in WiFi technology for their vehicles. This technology relies on mobile data plans which most consumers already have on their mobile devices. In addition, most automotive sound systems now accomodate inputs from external devices or accept Bluetooth audio streaming from a smartphone, so even without built-in WiFi, access to streaming content on the road is relatively simple. While streaming Internet radio can eat into data caps when we consider the meteoric rise in the popularity of smartphones coupled with new players like the automotive industry, competition has already begun to drive the trend towards larger data caps for fewer dollars.

Another factor to consider is the explosion of free wireless Internet. More and more restaurants, coffee shops, malls and even public spaces are offering free WiFi to their customers. Businesses and municipalities recognize the value of accessibility to free WiFi for consumers, tourists and citizens alike. Government funded public WiFi is available in many North American cities. Locally, you can find free WiFi in popular locations such as Old Montreal and at the observatory on Mount Royal. In many ways, the investment in the infrastructure that supports free and easy access to the Internet has far outstripped that of traditional broadcasting.

So why don't more people switch to Internet radio? The truth is many already have, but most are still clinging to the traditional model. There are a number of reasons for this. Force of habit, lack of awareness, loyalty. Indeed the biggest challenge facing Internet-based radio stations is getting listeners to understand the technology and change old habits. It's a matter of getting audiences to rethink a traditional medium in a modern way.

Like any revolution, it begins with letting go of what we know and embracing what can be. To find out how CJIM is changing the face of rock radio in Montreal I invite you listen right here

- Graeme McDonald