A short walk on the NAB Show floor in Las Vegas illustrates the message National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith delivered during his annual “State of the Industry” speech today. “We are witnessing the convergence of media, entertainment and technology that is enriching all of our lives,” Smith said.
Radio and local TV stations may have a one-to-many architecture that is the envy of other media platforms, but Smith said broadcasters need to adapt because the way Americans access broadcast content is changing rapidly. “We need to believe in the virtuous cycle—the idea that adopting new distribution platforms serves to build our overall audience and engagement with them,” he said. “And with our core service, we need to embrace our strengths: We are live, local and targeted. We are the most trusted source for news and information for those events that shape the world and our communities.”
Smith told the crowd gathered in the Las Vegas Convention Center that for radio the goal is to be on as many devices as possible to guarantee consumers have access to AM/FM content regardless of their hardware choice. He used his platform to thank the four major wireless companies—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon—for unblocking access to FM radio in their handsets. But Smith also shined a spotlight on the last remaining hurdle. “NAB is also urging Apple to provide its customers with this feature, but they have not done so yet,” he said, using statements made by the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency of broadcast radio’s role during an emergency as a prime reason the tech giant should embrace FM on its menu of devices. “We hope our friends at Apple are listening and will soon make this potentially lifesaving technology available to their customers,” Smith said.
Streaming radio services continue to make inroads with consumers, but Smith reminded his audience that research shows broadcast radio continues to be the “dominant choice” for audio entertainment. With automakers remaking the dashboard, Smith said the NAB is working alongside industry players on various software development projects that will ensure AM/FM has a place in the connected car. Ford Motor Company executives are scheduled to address the Radio Luncheon at the NAB Show on Tuesday.
Change doesn’t always come easy and Smith acknowledged in his address that what’s happening can seem “both unsettling and exciting” for the industry. “But there are some things technology will never change,” he said. “Listeners and viewers will always want that local connection that broadcasters provide—with the weatherman who tells them if a storm is approaching, or with their favorite [disc jockey] who warns them of the traffic building up ahead.” And he noted there’s still no reason to worry about radio’s future, pointing to Nielsen data showing a record 268 million people tune into broadcast radio every week. “Technology hasn’t changed our commitment to serving our communities,” Smith said. “What has changed is the way we deliver our highly valued content and services.”