Thursday, February 15, 2007

Rant: Streaming

I spend a lot of time listening the online streams of radio stations from markets large and small - to hear what others are doing; as inspiration for my own product; or to steal a killer idea before a competitor does. And its obvious that most radio stations don't put much thought into streaming. Poor levels. Sloppy execution. Missed opportunties.

Quoting Dennis Miller: "I don't want to get off on a rant here...but..."

I think I can understand the attitudes of some GMs and PDs. Why spend too much time with streaming as Arbitron won't give us credit for online listening? They won't unless your stream is 100% simulcast with your on-air content including commercials. And you can't stream your on-air commercials due to AFTRA regulations. Fred Jacobs covered this on his blog last month.

So with that we hear on too many streams: sloppy execution in and out of breaks; ad-insertion/substitute audio that doesn't match the level of the on-air feed (which either jolts the listener with its loudness or causes him to strain to hear because its too low); mismatched audio levels between elements in the filler audio; and silly per-inquiry spots not compatible with the station formatics. Would any PD accept this with the regular terrestrial signal?

Isn't the quality of your product is judged by your listeners whether they are listening off the air or off the web? If you supply and promote a streaming option, listeners deserve (and expect) the same quality they hear with the over-the-air product. And anything worth doing is worth doing well. I don't want to get off on a rant here...but...

Spend some time and listen to your stream. Is the level of your inserted "internet only" audio the same as your primary audio? Are the levels of the various spots, promos and other elements within your inserted audio consistent? The unfortunate reality is that inserted audio or "ad-insertion" technology typically involves a separate server either in-house or thousands of miles away at your streaming provider and doesn't pass through the same audio processing as your air feed. Ever watch the cable channels on TV and notice what often happens when a local spot is inserted by your cable operator?

How smooth are you in and out of stopsets? Is any audio upcut? Does anything get abruptly cut when you return to air feed audio? Find out the reasons why. All little things. And easy to fix.

How are you using the inventory created by the AFTRA issue? If your sales staff is selling it, applaud them. If they're filling it up with per-inquiry ads that are not format-compatible, complain. Not long ago I was listening to a soft AAA station on the net. Very good radio. Then the station went to break and on the net I heard a PI spot for some colon cleanser product. And the level was much louder than the on-air feed. Ruined the moment. Did that spot really have to air?

Chances are there's opportunities for promoting the station and developing relationships that you might not be able to do on-air. Extended morning show "best of" bits. Promos for other dayparts and programming. Classic rock "deep cuts" - with appropriate staging so those listening online feel they're in an exclusive club.

Other ideas: How about 60 or 90sec vignettes highlighting local music and bands? Its a way of showing a little love and bonding with that community. "Behind The Mic" - 60 second profiles of your air talent, similar to the written bios we read on station websites. Brainstorm together and I'm sure you'll come up with a dozen ideas real fast. Feel free to share.

Don't let it get stale.

Listen like a listener. Create a listening experience that equals or exceeds the terrestrial signal. If you don't think its important now - then when?


Fred Jacobs said...

Good comments, Dan. I like your blog.

Radio Promotions said...

I love the vignette idea, and your internet stream "breaks" are a great place to cycle listeners into events happening on your radio station and do some net contesting that drive them there as well.

Radio Promotions said...

Love the vignette idea and the stream breaks are a great tool for cycling listeners back to the station with promos and contesting. Great BLOG Dan!

Dave Martin said...

Bravo Dan! Well said. All the best,

Anonymous said...

Dan - see if u can talk to the people at WKGR FM West Palm Beach - their stream sucks and not only do their levels go up on the stream spots - but there are random points where the stream spots will pop up in the middle of a music set blocking most of the next song - and the way their station is set up - an actual break usualy follows