musings on marketing, media, public relations....and life, by David Reich
Reich Communications, Inc.
Reich Communications, Inc. is a boutique public relations agency in New York City offering full service in a variety of areas, with specializations in business-to-business; advertising, marketing and media firms; transportation safety; non-profits, and select consumer products and services.
For more info, call us at (212) 573-6000, email to david@reichcommunications or text to 914-325-9997.
We are located at 228 East 45th Street, Suite 11-South, New York City 10017
Television is still, by far, the dominant mass medium in the U.S. But it's light years away from what it was 30 – 40 years ago, before cable took hold and before everyone was hooked up online.
It’s a different world, for sure. With literally hundreds of channels to choose from, plus on-demand and streaming programming, there's a dizzying array of program content. Some programming on cable and, lately, streaming services like Netflix and Amazon rivals feature films in terms on content quality and production value. In response, the broadcast networks have finally stepped up their game with some quality shows. Yes, broadcast still has plenty of lowest-common-denominator drivel led by mindless comedies and "reality" shows, but many are now calling this the new Golden Age for TV, based on content quality.
Nielsen says the hard-to-reach Millennials (18-34), highly coveted by advertisers, are spending 17 percent less time watching TV than a year ago, but it still averages nearly 22 hours a week. Across all age groups, adults spend an average of 36 hours a week in front of the tube. Boomers (ages 50+) watch much more TV -- 47 and a half hours weekly.
Probably the biggest change – and the biggest challenge for advertisers -- is how we watch TV. Even Boomers are now frequent DVR users, watching programs at their own convenience. But Millennials in particular are getting their TV across a spectrum of platforms, and traditional TV is quickly losing out as the primary way they watch TV. Increasingly, they watch TV on laptops, tablets and smartphones, usually with an absolute minimum of ads.
Radio, which doesn't get much attention in media circles, comes in a strong second. Across all age groups, we spend just under 13 hours a week listening to radio. Millennials listen less at 11 hours.
Smartphones account for 7-1/4 hours a week across all age groups. Millennials use their smartphones a lot more -- nearly 10 hours/week. Tablets account for 3-1/2 hours across all age groups and 3-3/4 hours for Millennials.
Yet another challenge for advertisers, of course, is how much their ads, regardless of the medium, are actually viewed.
When it comes to preferences in music, movies and media, different age groups don't agree on much. But a recent poll by the Pew Research Center shows Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials do agree on which news sources they feel they can least trust.
All age groups say sources they trust least for accurate reporting are Buzzfeed and three widely-syndicated conservative radio shows hosted by Glenn beck, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.
Although many listen to the opinionated radio shows, they may tune in more for the entertainment value than for trustworthy news reporting.
The Pew study found more of a discrepancy by age groups when asked which news sources they can trust. Millennials (ages 19-34) say they rely on two faux-news shows, The Daily Show and the recently-ended Colbert Report. Almost as scary is that this group also lists Al Jazeera America as one its most-trusted sources of news. Boomers and Gen Xers, maybe with wisdom that comes with age, said they don't rely on any of those programs for reliable information. They say they get much of their news from local TV.
Troubling, to me at least, is that newspapers didn't figure into the picture for reliable news. (And where do you think local TV gets many of its story leads? The morning paper.)
On Aug. 28, 1922 -- 92 years ago -- radio station WEAF in New York City aired a ten-minute pitch promoting affordable co-op apartments in Jackson Heights, Queens. The developer paid AT&T, which owned the station, $50 for the airtime.
It was the first ad on radio in the U.S., bringing dramatic change to a new form of mass communication.
The ad helped the developer sell several apartments, which brought the interest of retailers including Macy's and Gimbels, who soon became sold on the power of radio advertising.
It's interesting that David Sarnoff, who headed RCA, which soon after bought WEAF, had been vehemently against using broadcast stations for commercial purposes. RCA established stations and aired free programming simply as a way to create consumer demand for the Radiola radio sets that RCA built and sold. He eventually gave in and NBC, which Sarnoff built, had stations throughout the country whose programming was used to sell ad time, eclipsing revenues that came from selling the radio sets themselves. For decades, primetime programming on the major radio networks was produced by ad agencies and paid for by their clients.
That $50 spot 92 years ago has evolved into a $140 billion industry, with ads supporting 11,350 radio stations throughout the U.S. -- 4,726 AM stations and 6,624 FM outlets.
Radio used to be such an exciting medium. In smaller cities and in the suburbs, radio served a special function -- providing very localized news and information for areas often overlooked by the major media located in the big cities.
When I was growing up, there was a station in Hartsdale that served lower and central Westchester County with local news and talk, with music actually selected by the deejay rather than off a computerized playlist generated by a programming consultant in Dallas or wherever. Those were the glory days of local radio.
Since the 1930s, the Westchester station had the call letters based on the initials of the man who founded it - Frank A. Seitz. I think he was an engineer and may have actually built much of the equipment in the early days of the station.
I began listening to WFAS during the summers off from college. I was dating a girl who lived literally in the shadow of the station's awesome transmisson tower, which rose high above the tract of suburban split levels. Coming home from a date, I'd tune into the station because the all-night deejay was a guy named Sonny Mann (real name John Manna, I later learned) who did a jazz show. Jazz was, and still is, my musical passion.
Sonny would play long jazz cuts and when he spoke, it was in a slow, soft voice so unlike the typical fast-talking deejays who shouted at you back in those days. And in the background, as he spoke he had some soft jazz playing -- the piano of Red Garland.
At school, I got involved with the college FM station and for three years did a weekly jazz show. I patterned it after Sonny Mann's show, with a repeating cartridge with some soft piano jazz that I'd play underneath my talk between songs. I loved doing that show and sharing my favorite music with unseen listeners.
So one summer night during Sonny's show, I picked up the phone and called to request a song. We got to talking and I mentioned I did a jazz show on college radio upstate. He invited me to stop in at the station anytime when he was on the air. And so I did a few days later.
I remember driving up to the station, which was in a small building right in front of that awesome tower that looked even more awesome at night, with its blinking red lights. I rang the bell and this older guy, a bit disheveled, came to the door and invited me in. It was Sonny.
We chatted for a while and then he asked me to pick out some tunes I'd like to hear. I found something by Billy Taylor, Quincy Jones, Oliver Nelson and a couple of others. Sonny said he liked my taste.
During a break between songs, he said he had a guest in the studio, a guy who did a jazz show on a college station. He put me on a mic and and asked me about one of the tunes I had chosen, which he was about to play. Nervous as I was, speaking on a real radio station, I was able to explain what I liked about the song coming up next. And then Sonny played it.
He said he was going out back to have a smoke. He said if he wasn't back by the time the song ended, to just go ahead and play some of the other stuff I had selected. He showed me the program log and said if he wasn't back by 20 past the hour, to read the commercial on this page, and about 5 minutes later to read the weather update which I should rip off the AP ticker in the newsroom. And he reminded me, just in case, to do a station ID on the half hour, which I knew was an FCC requirement.
Sonny went out and I played some music. I read ad and the commecial, and I did the station ID. I played more music, talked a little about it and, because it said so in the program log, I read another ad and a public service announcement. Sonny must have been out there smoking the whole pack.
Finally, he came back and told me I was doing a great job. I asked where he was all this time -- probably close to 45 minutes -- and he told me he had gone for a ride in his car, listening to me while joy-riding. That's when I got nervous -- what if something had happened while I was manning the station alone?
But nothing happened. Sonny came back on after a tune finished, thanked me for sitting in and told people if they were ever up in Potsdam NY to listen to my "Jazz Scene" show on WTSC-FM, 91.1 FM.
I spoke with Sonny from time to time after that, until the station cut his show and started airing a syndicated show -- I think it was "Delilah." A few years later I happened to read Sonny's obit in the local paper.
It all comes back to me now, as I read today that WFAS, now owned by radio giant Cumulus Media, is leaving that studio in Westchester, moving to The Bronx, changing its call letters and switching to an "urban" format. Although the transmitter will be in The Bronx, programming will originate from Cumulus' offices in Tribeca in Manhattan, where the company has studios for the several other stations it owns in NY, as well as the shared news operation.
This is typical of what's been happening in local radio over the past 25 years or so. I shouldn't be surprised. But this time, for me, it's personal.
So long WFAS, with fond memories of Sonny Mann, who ended his show every night at 6 a.m. saying, "Straight ahead."
About 2-1/2 years ago I discovered, quite by accident, a local news site called Patch. After looking at it more closely, I realized the Patch site I had come across was one of about 900 Patch sites reporting community events, local news and even local business openings and high school sports news. It was all under the corporate umbrella of AOL, although I later learned it began as an offshoot of Google, which eventually sold it to AOL.
As a Public Relations person, I saw Patch as presenting a wealth of new opportunities for client news placements, especially in the face of so many other local media placement opportunities disappearing. I've watched with dismay as local dailies got bought by big publishers, who then shut the locals down or merged them under the umbrella of what became a regional paper, while they laid off much of the local reporting staff. And at the same time, the other major local news and information source -- local radio -- has undergone change that has too often eliminated local news.
So Patch was a PR person's dream -- a media outlet that was genuinely interested in covering truly local news that many other "local" media outlets just couldn't bother with.
Some Patch sites were really good, and others were mediocre at best, with local editors who simply picked up and reprinted verbatim whatever news releases they received.
AOL had been losing money on this venture from the start, with some reports saying the loss is between $200 - $300 million. The company closed down several dozen Patch sites last summer, as it laid off about 350 people -- almost a third of the total Patch workforce, which included editorial and ad sales. And it looks like the Patch experiment will be coming to an end, possibly as soon as the beginning of the new year as AOL is finally taking its losses and pulling the plug.
Media pundits are placing blame all over the place. Some say AOL expanded Patch too quickly. Others say it never seemed to have the "passion" for local news that was needed for it to click with local readers and advertisers. Some insiders are saying AOL had too heavy a hand in things and made it difficult for the local people to establish Patch as a local brand.
The closing of Patch will hurt local news coverage, but maybe only for a short time. As more journalists get laid off from daily newspapers closing down or reducing their publication frequency from daily to a few dayus a week, some reporters may see an opportunity to be entrepreneurial and start local news sites. There's no big start-up expense like buying presses, newsprint and delivery trucks, after all. And some local "traditional" media like radio stations and community papers, dailies or weeklies, may see similar opportunities to enhance their local news coverage and generate added advertising revenues by selling the local news sites on their own or as add-ons to ads they sell in print or on the air.
There is a natural hunger for local news and information, since what happens down the street often impacts us more directly and more immediately than what happens across the country or across the ocean. I think whatever gap is left by the demise of Patch will eventually be filled, possibly in a better way.
Quality radio lost a real pioneer yesterday. Pete Fornatale, who was one of the innovative leaders in the early days of FM rock radio, died at 66 after suffering a brain hemorrhage two weeks ago.
Listeners in the New York area have known him for more than 40 years on Fordham University's WFUV and on WNEW-FM back in the late 60's and early 70s when that station was breaking new ground in radio and in music. More recently, we'd see him hosting on TV when PBS stations would run classic rock concerts during their fundraising periods.
I remember hearing Pete soon after he started on WFUV. I was in college in the late 60s and I got involved with the college FM radio station, first playing soft pop (we'd call it elevator music today) and then a twice-weekly jazz show. There were two stations at my school -- the AM rock station that played only in the dorm, and the FM station that, with its 10-watt signal, made it into the town and, on a good day if the wind was blowing right, got as far as the Canadian border 20 miles north. I gravitated to the FM station, since the AM was programmed in the style of the fast-talking, screaming rock DJs that were popular at the time. I was never glib in front of the microphone, so the slower-paced FM format better suited me.
I remember coming home on breaks and tuning to college stations in the area, to hear what others were doing. WFUV stood out like a beacon, and the calm and intelligent conversational-style DJs like Pete Fornatale were a welcome change. And on FM, especially college stations that were mostly commercial-free, the DJs could play longer album cuts -- even entire albums -- without interruption.
Pete Fornatale went on to commercial success on WNEW-FM in New York, which was the radio beacon for album rock -- what we then called alternative rock. He was on with other low-key DJs like Jonathan Schwartz (still heard these days playing and talking about Sinatra-era music on local radio here and also nationally on satellite radio), Alison "The Nightbird" Steele and Meg Griffin. These DJs didn't shout silly slogans at us. It was almost like they were guests in our living room, bringing some great records to play on our turntable and sitting across the room chatting with us about the music and the musicians. It was a novel concept back then, and Pete Fornatale was a master at it.
Thinking about Pete makes me recall the earlier days of radio 40 years ago. As someone who was on the air back then, it was a great time. The DJs pretty much played what they liked, with little or no interference from station management. These days, at most commercial stations the DJs are tightly confined to a list of what to play and when to play it -- often computer-generated from one of the major radio programming companies in Texas and elsewhere in the heartland. And half the time, no one bothers to say what songs you just heard or who performed them. It's like radio has lost its soul.
Radio used to be personal and local. Now it's largely automated and syndicated, with the local DJs doing little more than sequeing between music and ads. In many markets local radio news and public affairs programming is minimal or nonexistant, since the FCC 20 years ago lifted the requirement that broadcasters using the public airwaves devote some of that time to public service and news.
Thinking of Pete Fornatale brings back many memories of great radio listening. And luckily for me, it brings back personal memories of the fun I had sharing good music on the radio with unseen listeners.
Thanks, Pete, for helping keep radio's soul alive all these years.
Looking for an illustration for this post, I stumbled across some silent footage taken at my college radio station back when I was in school. This isn't me in the pictures, but this is the studio where I used to do my shows. Thanks to Ted Perkins for the video.
So bigmouth Rush Limbaugh is in the news again, for saying something stupid and offensive. That's nothing new, but this time it seems to be different.
Political views aside, I've never cared for Limbaugh. He always struck me as a loud, obnoxious know-it-all -- like the fat schoolyard bully nobody liked, but who we all tolerated and simply kept our distance.
Advertisers are jumping ship in droves -- more than 30 so far -- but I don't think it will hurt him in the long run. And because he airs on Clear Channel, the biggest radio company in the country, he'll survive and he'll stay on the air. I would imagine that many of the advertisers who've dropped his show have temporarily moved their ad buys to other Clear Channel programming, which diminishes financial pressure the company might feel to drop Limbaugh and replace him.
What makes the situation different from other times radio personalities have been caught saying stupid or offensive things is that it's happening in the age of social media. Facebook, Twitter and the rest have amplified the outrage so advertisers can't ignore it -- especially when it spills onto their own social media outlets. To placate the vocal objectors, it's easiest to move the ads somewhere else that doesn't have a big target on it.
Many of the advertisers will probably come back to his show once things quiet down. Understandably, they don't want to be seen as condoning the nastiness that Limbaugh got called out on. But most will be back because he does draw a large audience. And in the interim, as Wayne Friedman points out in his TV Watch column on MediaPost, the gap will be filled by marketers who have lower content qualifications -- the direct marketers, per-inquiry and internet marketers hawking health supplements and ED remedies. Perhaps those are more fitting for Limbaugh anyway.
Broadcasting & Cable Magazine reports that the FCC is in the process of conducting a series of studies to determine the impact, if any, on news coverage by allowing multiple ownership and cross-ownership of media outlets.
Before FCC rule changes that took place in the early and late 2000s, companies were prevented from owning more than 1 or 2 radio stations and/or a TV station in a market. Media companies, particularly newspaper publishers, had been able to own a local TV and/or radio station in their market, but only one. Examples included The New York Times, which owned classical station WQXR; The Dallas Morning News, which owned WFAA radio and TV; The Tribune Company, which owned The Chicago Tribune and WGN radio and TV (the call letters stood for World's Greatest Newspaper) and The Daily News, WPIX-TV and an FM station in New York.
But media companies got greedy and the FCC, in 2007, supported their greed by permitting them to own an unlimited number of media outlets in a single market. So the big broadcasters, now part of even bigger media comglomerates like Universal (NBC), Comcast/Viacom (CBS), Disney (ABC) and News Corp. (FOX) bought more media outlets. Newspaper giant Gannett joined in. In the New York market, for example, one company now owns both major all-news radio stations along with several other music stations, a major network affilate and some of the cable companies that deliver the TV station to consumers' homes. Another media conglomerate owns 2 of the city's 6 major commercial TV stations, and two of the city's four major daily papers.
Multiple outlets enable the media companies to share resources including news reports, trimming costs and helping profits. For PR folks, it often means fewer places for us to pitch stories. For the news-consuming public, it often means less variety in reporting.
The FCC, according to Broadcasting & Cable, is not seeing any negative impact on news coverage due to multiple and cross ownership. But I fear the FCC is evaluating the quantity of news, not quality of reporting.
The danger of having so much of the media owned by a few big companies can be felt in many ways. These companies -- only 5 or 6 now -- have the power to lobby for regulations in their favor, such as further easing of cross-ownership rules. With only a few media companies in control, there's the risk of less news getting out to the public, along with a decrease in the variety of editorial viewpoints.
The public risks becoming less informed than ever on things happening in government and in business that impact us all.
So as media fat cats get fatter, the public that relies on the media for news and information may end up with less news and information, if not in quantity, then possibly in diversity of coverage and point of view. And that's not good news.
Local is a key word when it comes to news. We need to know about national and international news, but it's often the things happening right down our street or at the local town hall that impact us most directly on a day-to-day basis.
So it's ironic that local traditional media outlets are struggling. We know all too well of the downward spiral in the newspaper business, but local TV and radio are also fighting to stay alive and relevant.
Local broadcast is a big business. A study by the National Association of Broadcasters and reported by MediaPost estimates that the local broadcast business employs more than 300,000 people directly and in support businesses, generating more than $49 billion annually to the nation's GDP. Local broadcast is big: 1,370 commercial TV stations and more than 11,700 local radio stations. The industry supports tens of thousands of jobs in advertising and PR, as well as dozens of other support and related fields.
On top of these impressive economic statistics is the huge societal impact of local TV and radio. In addition to being a widely-used source of free entertainment, radio and TV are also primary sources of local news and information for most of us. A separate report just out from Arbitron says although radio's ad revenue is still down nearly 20 percent from a few years ago, its audience is bigger than it's ever been. Radio reaches 74 percent of the U.S. population, a one percent increase over a year ago. In raw numbers, that translates to 174.3 million listeners every week.
Despite its size, local broadcast faces some huge challenges. It continues to fight for a bigger slice of the advertising pie, now battling cable and satellite broadcast services and the growing number of local online news and entertainment platforms.
It’s not news that the shape of news in the U.S. has changed over the past 10 years or so. More than ever, it’s become about building ratings and readership, while context, relevance and sometimes even accuracy seem to be less important.
The reasons for this change are manifold – increasing pressure on the bottom line of newspaper publishers and broadcasters, the public craving for juicy gossip about stars and celeb-wannabees and the media’s willingness --eagerness, it often seems – to feed us the latest on bad behavior by the likes of Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen.
Over the years there have been some steady beacons in the news business, especially in the area of investigative journalism. Public broadcasting – NPR and PBS – have consistently done a good job filling a gap too often left by the major commercial media outlets. Brett Zongker, writing for the Associated Press, makes note of this in a story today that talks about more than $90 million that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has used over the past three years to focus on “new journalism initiatives, including a $10 million local journalism initiative that is paying for the creation of five regional centers that will help local PBS and NPR stations cover news that affects wider geographic areas.” Much of this is going to reporting that informs the public about happenings in business and government, thus holding those institutions accountable. This has been happening at the same time as so many newspapers, TV networks and local stations have been cutting news and editing staff and shutting down news bureaus, doing less enterprise journalism.
The AP story points out how funding stations through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting provides insulation, of sorts, from pressure by the government on stations whose programs might be seen as contrary to official government positions on issues. Thus, stations can feel more at ease to exercise journalistic integrity and report news as it is, rather than how the government or an advertiser might prefer to have it told (or not told).
Yet even as those same public stations provide a valuable role in a free and open society, they are coming under fire by some who want to drastically slash funding that comes from our tax dollars. Many Conservatives, who see public TV and radio as no friend, are using the current fiscal crunch as an excuse to cut funding, as a way to silence that important voice.
Some funding for public TV and radio comes “from viewers like you,” and those of us who are members of public TV and radio stations should try our best to continue that support. But the bulk of funding for public broadcasting comes from our taxes, and we must remind our representatives in Washington that maintaining independent news resources is a very important function that cannot be cut. There are certainly many other items in the Federal budget that are bigger and far more wasteful than the money that helps support public broadcasting.