The enlightened Luddite.

smulyan-ludditeI was interested to see, as you probably were, the comments by Emmis Broadcasting CEO Jeff Smulyan during a panel discussion at The Radio Show; here we quote from our own newsletter from last week:

Smulyan is not a big fan of streaming, saying he’s “never made a penny” from it; he feels that “people will fall in love with radio all over again” when they have to pay data costs and suffer short battery life from streaming. He said, “If streaming is the answer, we’re going to be a hobby, not a business. It’s not the same business.”

I sat with Jeff at a conference couple of years ago, and he said the same thing. Basically, he thought then, and thinks now, that streaming is a complete waste of time and money.

Well, now we know what was behind the birth of NextRadio—Smulyan wanted to figure out a way of shoehorning our traditional medium into the digital age. In other words, rather than joining them, he’d rather beat them.

And you know something? He just might be right.

The problem we face in this fast-moving technological age in which we live is that everything has a shelf life of about five minutes. It used to be that a technology would last for decades, if not a lifetime, so we didn’t really think in terms of the fact that everything that ever has been invented and ever will be invented is merely a stepping-stone to something else—in other words, a transitional technology.

Interestingly, broadcast radio has had a shelf life of nearly 100 years (or more, depending on when you start counting), and depending on whom you talk to, our delivery system has plenty of life left in it.

In these pages and elsewhere there have been articles and information about the fact that online streaming is a very inefficient way of delivering content. Unlike broadcast media, there is a cost for each and every consumer of the product, and the more consumers who are consuming the product simultaneously, the more stress is put on the system.

Sure, there are myriad solutions to this problem and the situation is getting better—or at least it was, until the specter of whatever the opposite of net neutrality is. We are all fighting the good fight to support net neutrality—the concept that access to the Internet should be equal to all, absent the tiered pricing model big carriers would like to impose—but, much as I hate to admit it, the smart money says that our future will involve several levels of Internet access, and most people will not be enjoying tippy-top speeds.

Even now, with the blazing speed of 4G (at least that’s what was promised), buffering is nearly as much of a problem as it ever was—probably because whenever there is an improvement in speed of the Internet, playback technology “improves” to chew up even more bandwidth.

And that, my friends, is why NextRadio makes a lot of sense. Since it is essentially turning your smartphone into a traditional FM receiver, you are consuming no bandwidth and enduring no buffering.

Based on his remarks, I wouldn’t exactly call Mr. Smulyan a futurist. In fact, one could logically conclude that he is a throwback, resolutely ignoring what’s happening now and what they say will happen in the future. But we can all be grateful to Mr. Smulyan for refusing to give up on the venerable medium that is kept all of us well-stocked with trade dollars for a lot of years.

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