Satellite radio and handheld devices
By far the most common criticism I hear about gospel music blogs from industry insiders and decision makers is that there’s too much carping and not enough ideas. Looking through my file of nasty-grams and other love letters from industry types, I see that I am regularly challenged to (as one email I selected more or less at random put it), “support the industry with answers not questions, ideas not criticism.”
My response is usually to challenge my critics to read more carefully. While this site pretty prominently claims to be at least in part about criticism (and so critiques are pretty much truth in advertising here at least), there’s a fair amount of ideas and answers (potential and speculative, but possible all the same) being bandied about (a non-sg friend of mine who lurks on the blog as an alien outsider commented just the other day on how many intelligent and insightful commenters this site is fortunate to have; I agree). Indeed, a good portion of the sg blogosphere offers up ideas and possible answers pretty regularly by my count. Are these ideas and answers that people in positions of power like or are willing to take up? Not usually, I gather. But that says at least as much about the people in positions to do something as with us bloggers in our pajamas and bed head.
And/but in the spirit of ideas and answers, here’s a guest post from regular reader and often insightful RK, responding to my recent post on satellite radio. I pretty quickly get out of my depth in these matters, so I can’t really comment intelligently one way or another on a lot of what’s said here. But I like the foresight and long-range orientation of RK’s thinking.
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As I know you are well aware, I am more bullish on the future of satellite radio than you are (and, provided that the Sirius-XM mergers is approved by regulators, will be much, much more bullish). I am more often than not pleased with XM Enlighten’s airplay; however, what excites me most is its potential to become a flagship, gold-standard Southern Gospel property.
Most people who have the means to listen to satellite radio (either by means of a new car subscription or trial, home unit, internet streaming, in-flight audio, etc.) are full participants in today’s on-demand society. We live in a world of TIVO, custom-made mp3 playlists, 6-disc CD changers, movies on-demand, and the like. The willingness of today’s sophisticated consumer to listen to 15 minutes of SG music they don’t particularly care for in waiting for that song or artist they do like is not as great as it once was. This issue is, of course, more pronounced when you’re enduring 45 minutes to an hour or more of substandard music and commercials on AM or FM-based SG radio.
I’ve come to believe that the greatest promise for SG and satellite radio lies not within dashboard car units, home stereo applications, or streaming internet feeds, but instead with portable handheld devices. As Mark Cuban says, if you want to look at the future of high-tech developments, look at the portable devices in the pipelines. We are probably less than five years away from a single small device that will combine a cell phone, PDA, mp3 player, digital movie player (adaptable to large TV’s), and satellite radio (or even live TV) receiver. We are already seeing devices that combine three or more of these applications.
Where satellite radio plays the key role in this is in its ability to deliver live, fresh content at any place in any time. Live, programmed content in television and especially music drives too many sales (downloads) not to have a key place at the table, whether delivered by mobile broadband, satellite feeds, or terrestrial wi-fi. Satellite radio providers have invested far too many dollars (billions) in both content and infrastructure to be left out of this emerging equation.
This is where digital downloads at the “point-of-listen” (as oppose to online stores) come into play. Imagine listening to live radio in the car, at work, at home, etc, through a device and hearing a song you like. With one touch of a button, you can then instantly bookmark the song for DRM-protected download for a free or reduced price to listen to on-demand for a finite period of time. Then, for an additional price (hopefully small!) you could buy the song to do as you wish with either free and clear or with only limited DRM restrictions.
The music industry knows it must have a stronger connection between live radio (still the primary driver for music purchases) and digital downloads. It means bridging the gap between what radio (satellite or terrestrial) isn’t delivering—immediate impulse purchasing—and what download stores aren’t providing—full-length evaluations and better promotion of new music. Bill Gaither has used television infomercials to hawk Homecoming videos for impulse purchasing for years. The profitability pipeline for new music (or videos) will continue to wither when prospective buyers spend more time pillaging through and purchasing older music releases (as happens today) without being given a real reason or means to discover the new stuff and immediately pay for it.
If new technology and new devices permit terrestrial radio to do “point-of-listen” purchasing, what are the odds that low-budget, low-tech SG radio and its shoestring record labels get in the game? If the content of SG radio remains so poor, what would even be the point??? It is only through satellite radio that Southern Gospel has even a faint hope of a level playing field when it comes to the live content and point-of-sale platforms of the future. (Furthermore, it is my hope that as radio stations get a cut of digital sales directly driven by their airplay, it will serve two great purposes: 1) for profit-motive to drive programmers toward better quality music; and, 2) for that same profit-motive to drive programmers to force SG record labels to offer digital downloads.)
Not to sound sanctimonious, but it is almost by the grace of God that Southern Gospel has been given a foothold and a beachhead (albeit tenuous) in the world of satellite radio. Billions of dollars have been invested in outer-space satellites, Howard Stern, Oprah, Major League Baseball, NASCAR, and such, and yet Southern Gospel makes the cut with very little monetary investment, infrastructure requirements, or consumer demand. It is far better for the genre to be in this bundle of content than outside it.
The value of XM Enlighten (or another SG satellite offering that might supplement or supplant it ) to the SG industry and genre lies not in what it is today, but in the potential it has as radio and live content technology evolves. If it takes riding Howard Stern’s coattails to get this genre into the 21st century, then so be it.