Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Shortwave radio – back to the future?

By Paulette MacQuarrie, co-host, Media Network Plus
Around the world today, there is a growing fascination with the internet amongst commercial and public broadcasters. No great surprise – there is a lot of money to be made in online advertising. In a recent Audio4cast report, last year in the UK, listening to Internet radio grew by 55% and for the first time crossed over the 3% of all radio listening share threshold.
However, this fascination with a new “toy” and the revenue stream leaves a huge audience in the lurch, because shortwave transmissions are increasingly being sacrificed on the Internet altar.
This defies common sense. For one thing, there are much more people in the developing world than in the developed world. Read: larger potential audience. However, in the developing world, relatively few people have access to the internet, and those who do often find the service sketchy to say the least. Whereas shortwave radios are very inexpensive, and the broadcasts are free, reliable and widely accessible.
So how wise is it for broadcasters to abandon a huge audience base that is starving for news and entertainment from the developed world?
JWT Intelligence in its December 27, 2010 report "100 things to watch for in 2011” puts South Africa’s growing middle class at #2. According to the report, McKinsey forecasts a 35 percent rise in African consumer spending power through 2015, and marketers are targeting high-growth countries including Nigeria, Angola, Kenya and Ghana. Also, at #95 on the JWT list wasUkraine, which has suffered drastic cuts to shortwave transmissions from Radio Canada International and, more recently, BBC. Then there are the cuts to China, of all places. Talk about a huge audience in a high-growth country!
If broadcast media moguls are abandoning large audiences in favour of a smaller (albeit more affluent, ones) then clearly they are motivated merely by dollars and cents, rather than by common sense.

However, let’s hope the big broadcasters continue to focus on short-term ROI rather than long-term audience building. Why? Because their short-sightedness leaves the field open for new visionaries in the shortwave world to fill the void with better programming and service.

People like Keith Perron of PCJ Media, whose knowledge of, and affection for, shortwave broadcasting knows no bounds. Others, like veteran Swiss broadcaster Bob Zanotti and his colleague (known as “the two Bobs”) who have been broadcasting for decades to loyal listeners. Such broadcasters have created legacies for, and formed bonds of trust with, their listeners … who are much less inclined to skip around the radio dial than online listeners with myriad choices of programming designed to attract attention to itself rather than edify its audiences. Then there’s Andy Sennitt of Radio Netherlands, and many other too numerous to mention here. But they know who they are, and so do you. J
These broadcasters recognize the huge audience potential in the developing world, not to mention overlooked revenue potential from increasingly cash-conscious advertisers who are looking to emerging markets. Like in the early days of radio advertising in North America, today there are vast opportunities for advertisers to reach listeners in countries climbing out of poverty and oppression via shortwave radio. Like in those early days, they have virtually (pardon the expression!) captive audiences to whom they can introduce their products and services.

However, I truly believe that shortwave broadcasters will be more responsible (and responsive) than the current crop of commercial and public broadcasters. I believe that the focus of shortwave broadcasters is (and always has been) on creating and nurturing audiences that are less materialistic and shallow, but rather more green, more responsible, and much more appreciative (and demanding!) of quality programming in entertainment and news.
There is an inherently interactive quality to shortwave radio that would (were they cognizant of it) make traditional broadcasters who are abandoning shortwave and flocking to the internet turn green with envy.

So in a strange twist of irony, the internet has actually created an unprecedented opportunity in the world of shortwave. I fervently believe without a doubt that exciting times are just around the corner in shortwave radio … for broadcasters and listeners alike.

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