To Stream … or Not to Stream?

While many small market stations are finally figuring out how to build the cost of streaming their stations online into their budgets, we are hearing not-so-distant rumblings about the advisability of doing so in the first place.

On the one hand, we have Team Harker, consisting of Harker Research’s Richard Harker and Linda Shrader Bos, issuing periodic dispatches from the front lines of research warning that streaming can have a negative effect on your over-the-air listenership.

Then we have the estimable Jerry Lee, who owns one of the nation’s few non-corporate-owned—and top-rated to boot—major-market stations, who resolutely refuses to stream, with apparently no ill effects.

And then there are all the engineers who tell you about all the laws of physics which impose fixed limits on the number of people who can simultaneously consume a stream, and the fact that there is a cost per audience member in a streaming situation, as opposed to the relatively overhead-free scenario of transmitter-and-receiver.

I certainly have no better set of facts than Team Harker, I would never presume to tell Mr. Lee how to run his radio station, and I understand enough of the laws of physics not to challenge the engineers. But I’m not sure the rest of us should be guided by their advice and example.

This is one of those situations where, despite evidence to the contrary, extending your brand online is just the right thing to do. We are beginning to see some money coming to us as a result of our online efforts, but nobody is claiming that the amount is significant right now. Will it ever be? I don’t know. But I would ask Team Harker to look at their numbers from the other side: I submit that in the long run, the brand that is your radio station ultimately benefits from its content being available on myriad platforms.

In our article on the Promotions page this week, we mentioned in passing that it is always better to be where the crowd is already than to try to drum one up on our own. The same is true of the multimedia world in which we live: it is our responsibility to be where the people are, whether that be listening to the radio, their computer, their tablet, their smartphone, their new RadioPlayer, or whatever is next and whatever sticks.

We cannot afford to be stranded on some deserted technology island. Judging from the number of new media plays that want to co-opt the term, “Radio” remains an incredibly powerful brand. Just don’t get fooled into thinking that the term will always refer to the transmitter/receiver model. If you do, you will be stranded, and the rescue may never come.