Disney Say’s Goodbye To Radio

Ben Milton

Ben Milton

You know the old question about a tree falling in the forest?  My radio version of that is “How do you call yourself Radio Disney if you don’t have any radio stations?”  I know, they still have 1 FM in LA but the recent decision to shed 23 of its terrestrial signals begs the question, are they still in the “Radio Business”?  More importantly, are you still in the “Radio Business”?

My reaction when I heard the news wasn’t that of dismissal or justification for keeping the FM signal that the station I work for has.  It was “What do they know I don’t?”  This is Disney we are talking about.  They own some of the biggest names in content.  We are talking about the guys who own Star Wars, Marvel, ESPN and so on.   Why would they shed a distribution system for their own content in such a dramatic fashion?

The answer came to me as so many answers come to me, in the form of research.  Not my research.  Not the research of any of the industry insiders I know or follow.  It came in the press release that Radio Disney put out.  There was only one number I needed to see and it all made sense.

18% of their listeners consumed their content via AM and FM.  That’s a telling number.  Not an insignificant number.  But with any research it’s important to not only look at the number but to look at the trend.  Numbers can lie.  Trends usually don’t.  I don’t know for sure but I believe that Radio Disney was watching that trend very carefully over the last couple of years.

I think what happened is Radio Disney watched that trend and decided it was no longer profitable to be in the “Radio Business”.  They decided they are in the “Content Business”.  I don’t blame them.  I want to be like them.  Who cares what technology you use as long as you have someone on the other end that finds value in it and consumes it?

I think we got so enamored with being in the “Radio Business” that we forgot it’s really about content and not delivery systems.  I don’t want to be in the “Radio Business” and foolishly insist that listeners find me on only 1 system that doesn’t necessarily match up to their lifestyles.  I think we should be aggressively looking at ways to get our content out to the public.  We have great personalities waiting to be discovered by people on a national and global level and yet limit ourselves to local terrestrial signals like they are life itself.  It’s about content not a delivery system.  If you have great content you should make it available to everyone.

I worked as an engineer for many years within the industry.  I wasn’t very good at it but I do know one thing, those transmitters and towers are expensive!  What if you were in Radio Disney’s situation and a majority of you listeners consumed your content on a platform that cost you a fraction of what that transmitter, tower lease, electric bill and engineer cost you?  From a purely business standpoint that sounds great!  Why shouldn’t we all be racing to make our internet claim?  The only reason is a stubborn failure to let go of a technology in favor of content.  We love being in the “Radio Business”.

I know it’s going to take a lot of work.  We have to figure out how to monetize and attract listeners.  But it’s being done already.  Until now we never had a company make a successful transition to the web and satellite.   Radio Disney has broken the 4 minute mile.  Rather than dismissing them as foolish we should seriously investigate how and why they made that transition.  Then take a good hard look at our own content and business model and decide what business we are in.

One of the great things about Disney is that their stories have happy endings.  I think they just warned us that being in the “Radio Business” is not going to lead to that picture perfect Disney ending.  Get back to making great content and get it out to as many people as you can.  We are all in the “Mass Media Business” aren’t we?

Ben Milton

August 26, 2014