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When Copyrights Trump Commercial Creativity (Spoiler: Always)

copyrightI was listening to radio this morning and heard a spot for a local restaurant trying to be relatable by exemplifying how hard it is for working adults to find time to eat breakfast. They preached the importance of the first meal of the day. And wouldn’t you know it? They have a quick, easy, affordable breakfast sandwich you can pick-up on your way to the office to help solve your problem. Not a bad spot overall, but at one point the announcer says, “before you know it Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho it’s off to work you go!” and then fairly quietly layered underneath was the unmistakable original recording of the seven dwarfs singing the song.

That’s a problem.

  • It’s not an original work created by the advertiser.
  • It doesn’t qualify under “fair use” exceptions.
  • The song isn’t in public domain. The only songs that are public domain in the USA are songs and musical recordings published in 1922 or earlier. This song was released in 1937. (Check out the website here with examples of public domain works http://www.pdinfo.com/)

So, that means either Disney licensed copyright permissions to a local breakfast joint in central coast California or the restaurant and radio station stole it. It probably wasn’t intentionally and in fact, it was a solid creative choice, but the law doesn’t factor in intent, creativity or ignorance.

What should they have done? Here’s some advice from business law firm Brooks/Pierce:

“To secure a license for a musical work, you will need to contact the publisher directly. You can obtain publisher contact information using the repertory databases maintained by ASACP (www.ascap.com), BMI (www.bmi.com), SESAC (www.sesac.com), and/or the Music Publishers’ Association (www.mpa.org). If a sound recording license is also needed (e.g., for dubbing an original recording), you will also need to contact the record company directly. Record company contact information can sometimes be obtained by the music publisher and is often also available on the copy of the recording (e.g., the CD liner notes). Publisher and record company contact information may also be located on the U.S. Copyright Office’s website (www.copyright.gov).”

That’s a lot of time, work and likely money for a :07 sample of a song in a :30 radio ad that you’re charging 50-bucks a spin for on your radio station.

Here’s the kicker. Even if the radio station didn’t produce the spot they can be held liable for copyright infringement. (Production Directors and Traffic Directors listen up!) Penalties can range from $150,000 to $250,000 per infringement and up to 10 years in prison. And in this case, Disney doesn’t shy away from going after little guys, because once you knowingly allow one entity to infringe a precedent is set. Typically a cease & desist will be the first action taken, but I wouldn’t press your luck.

Be careful out there.

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Clocks, Spots and Sponsorships – Oh My!

commercialsI recently monitored seven news-talk radio stations across the country to analyze their spot loads, sponsorships, and programming clocks. The stations were all Top 20 radio markets with varying ownerships (iHeart Media, Cumulus, Bonneville, Cox and others).

Among my findings…

Stations average just over 16 minutes of commercials and promo time per hour in morning and afternoon drive. That includes blinks, :10s, :15s, :30s, and :60s. That being said, one station was as high as 20 minutes each hour while another was a low as 12.

On the whole, these stations seem to abuse the PM drive listeners more than the morning drive audience. Nearly all are guilty of loading up more commercials and longer stop sets on the drive home. Several stations increased the spot load by three minutes in PM drive, another punished listeners with a seven minute commercial break.

Six of the seven stations have neglected their live streaming presentation with overlapping audio, announcers cut off, out-dated spots, commercials replaced by extended (120 second) show promos or worse (four minutes of PSAs). Luckily, no one was using rights-free music to fill the void.

As it pertains to sponsorships, five to 10 “name mentions” per hour for news tags, traffic center, studio sponsors, etc. seems to be the average. These are name mentions only with no call to action. However, I listened to one station that only had one element sponsored the whole hour — and it was a little sad. On the flip side, there was a station that sponsored everything and sometimes with as many as three different clients simultaneously. That particular station had a whopping 23 sponsored elements in each hour.

The clocks were all different; some had long segments and long spot breaks while others chose bite-sized segments and easy-to-swallow commercial breaks. There are stations trying to sweep the quarter-hours to increase AQH, others are driving for occasions with non-stop teasing, and then there are the hosts who just talk and talk and talk in hopes of extending TSL — or more likely they’ve abandon all formatics in favor of their ego.

It was an interesting exercise that reminded me about the importance of balance. Like with everything in life, radio shows need balance. Too many spots, too long of a segment, incessant commercial breaks, or a NASCAR approach to sponsorships all get in the way of the listening experience. Oh, and stations please assign someone to listen to the web stream often, take notes, and fix ‘em.

Top 10 Posts of 2014!

Each year I find it gratifying to look back and take stock. It’s been a fun, frustrating-at-times, insightful, enlightening, empowering year thanks in a large part because of you. What I write on these pages is a reflection of what I’m experiencing in the world as it relates to radio. Here are the posts that drew the most attention this year for one reason or another.

photo 310. Stop Questioning, Start Creating. This was a talent-focused piece on how to best engage listeners and a plea for the world to stop asking so many questions. It’s an engagement device that really doesn’t work as well as you think it does.

9. 1,000 Miles of Radio Listening. This entry was inspired while moving my family from Seattle, WA to Atascadero, CA. It reflects my time in the role as a real radio listener. (Spoiler: Radio remains, to my dismay, mostly cliché, predictable, forgettable, and crammed full of poorly written commercials.)

8. Radio is Overloaded. I WANT to love radio, but I am increasingly dissatisfied with the return on my investment of time.  Gang, we got a spot problem. There’s way too much clutter.

PETE CARROLL LOMBARDI 27. Building a Championship Team. Sometimes we need to look beyond the four walls of the studio or station to be inspired for greatness. This entry focuses on Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and how he built a World Championship team.

6. How to Quit Your Radio Job in 10 Steps. There is going to come a time when you want out of your radio station. Here is how to do that with dignity and grace.

5. Fun Cannot Be Formatted. This was a 50% inspiration and 50% kick in the ass. A major portion of people in radio have forgotten how to have fun. The future success of the industry depends on the spontaneity of personalities and giving them permission to try new things and fail.

4. Six Tips for Co-Hosting a Radio Show or Podcast. Co-hosting a radio show or podcast seems like it should be easier because there are two of you, but that also means there are twice the problems. Here are some tips to get you started in the right direction.

3. Making Sense of Another Radio Firing. Anthony Cumia, the second half of Opie & Anthony, was fired by SiriusXM over the weekend for a series of offensive tweets he made about African-Americans after a woman physically assaulted him in New York City. I examine the firing from a radio perspective.

Leykis12. Seven Hours with Tom Leykis. This my takeaways from spending the day with former radio star turned internet radio star Tom Leykis. Tom doesn’t hate radio. He says he’s been doing it too long, made too many millions off of it and has too many friends still in it to hate it. “I love radio. NOT the appliance, but the concept.”

1. Prepare for the Pink Slip. This entry is the most viewed blog post of 2014 and it also originates from my day with Tom Leykis. It is full of advice from Tom to those of us still working in the traditional radio business.

1,000 Miles of Radio Listening

photo 1I recently moved 1,000 miles from Seattle, WA to Atascadero, CA. The trip south allowed me to listen to radio of all shapes and sizes. I recorded some of it for the Radio Stuff podcast (Episode 55 here). From KIRO-FM and KINK-FM to Medford Public Radio, Northern California’s Super Station, college radio, sports talk and more I was put back into the position of being a radio listener. I was searching for information on breaking stories, companionship, and entertainment. I got some of it some of the time, but mostly I was disappointed.

Shocker, I know. I try to keep positive though. I love radio and I want radio to thrive. But folks, we’re doing a pretty crappy job much of the time.

The trip was full of stations filling time with rambling monologues, jabbering support players, concert calendars racing through bands and venues so fast you can’t keep track, uninteresting guests, screaming sports anchors, and an automated station offering me “today’s low temperature” as the first thing in the weather forecast at 10am, 11am and Noon. It was one of four recorded breaks on a network of stations. Ugh.

photo 3Radio remains, to my dismay, mostly cliché, predictable, forgettable, and crammed full of poorly written commercials.

The most memorable and rather enjoyable moment of listening for me came from a show called “Fudge Packers.” It was a late, weekend night show featuring two gay guys discussing current events and taking phone calls. It was unpredictable, entertaining, original, and shocking at times – in a good way.

Sadly, from my travels and listening, the listener experience is flagrantly being ignored or at the very least forgotten.

Fun Cannot Be Formatted

BFRFThis week, I came across an alarming number of people who talked about radio and the lack of fun, enjoyment and entertainment it brings to them. Some of the reaction was predictable. On the Radio Stuff podcast we talked to teens about radio.

“I don’t laugh to jokes on the radio,” one girl said.

Another guest talked about racing to turn off the car radio to avoid the onslaught of commercials and having to endure songs he “hates” to hopefully hear one he likes.

“I can pay $4.95 a month to Pandora avoid ads.” and skip songs.

What did surprise me was the conversation with a veteran radio host who had an epiphany when his own mom didn’t recognize him on the air, because he wasn’t having fun anymore.

What happened? Somewhere along the way radio lost its fun factor.

Paralysis by analysis.

Programmers, GMs, corporate VPs all meddling too much.

Too much focus on results and not enough on entertaining the listeners.

Yes, there is some science to radio, but there’s just as much art. And art is messy, unpredictable, and subjective.

“A leader is best

When people barely know he exists

Of a good leader, who talks little,

When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,

They will say, “We did this ourselves.”

― Lao TzuTao Te Ching

We all started in radio because we loved and enjoyed what we were doing. It seemed effortless. Now, somehow, it seems full of effort and struggle. Many radio execs are trying to “manage” their way to success instead of lead. “Say this. Don’t say that. Read this. Be out by this time. Don’t forget to tease, promote, do weather and traffic together. ” I’m as guilty as anyone, but I’m changing my tune.

 “The great Way is easy,

yet people prefer the side paths.

Be aware when things are out of balance.”

― Lao TzuTao Te Ching

I believe the key to bringing fun back to radio starts with building a trust between the programmers and talent. There needs to be room to create and permission to fail. Stations need to allow autonomy, personality, creativity, and unpredictability. Setting general guidelines for brand and success should allow the talent blossom. If you don’t trust your talent to deliver results then get new talent instead of programming them like robots.

A lot of radio people are over-thinking, over-directing, over-correcting, and over-reacting.

We need to get over it.

It’s time radio folk get back to enjoying ourselves, so listeners can experience the magic and joys of entertaining radio once again.

Six Pointers for Writing Radio Promos and Imaging

Image

Sometimes, I sit in my chair with a full cup of coffee, a cleared desk and a blank Word .doc page staring back at me waiting for station imaging to flow out of me like dirty water from a fire hose.

I sit.

I stare.

I check email.

I refresh Twitter. Just in case.

I end up writing something predictable, pedestrian, and yet somehow entirely acceptable and often times complimented by the radio station. We’ve all done this no?

Writing great production and imaging is hard. First off, “great” is debatable. Does great mean reflective of the brand promise? Does great mean encouraging listeners to take action? Does great mean you were able to fit 43 seconds of sales copy into a 30 second promo? Great is debatable.

Aside from that, it’s also hard because radio folk have come to expect a certain sound and style and anything too far off the ranch is quickly stamped out. (Raise your hand if you or your station is still using Star Wars laser sound effects.)

And it’s hard to capture a moment, an emotion, tell a story that resonates with the listener while selling them something (music, a benchmark, a contest, the news) that they didn’t know they wanted. Over the years my style has changed and evolved, as I assume yours has. Here are six of the most recent pointers I’ve picked up from various sources. Please share yours too..

SIX POINTERS FOR WRITING PROMOS and IMAGING

TIMING:  :60s are dead. :30s are tired. :05s to :20s are where it’s at. The caveat! If you’re doing a :30 or :60 chunk it up in sections so you’re delivering one message or thought every :10 or :15 seconds. So, instead of one :60, think of it as four :15s.

TELL A STORY: People won’t buy what you’re selling until they can see themselves benefiting from it. Create a world for them to imagine.

NEVER SAY “IMAGINE THIS”: While creating that world leave our phrases like “imagine this” and “picture yourself.” Just take them there. Create the world you want them to play in.

Golden CirclePEOPLE DON’T BUY WHAT YOU DO, THEY BUY WHY YOU DO IT: This is from a popular Ted Talk from Simon Sinek. The idea here is don’t sell me 10 songs in a row, sell me the experience of zoning out to some killer tunes for the next half hour while the guy in the cubicle next to me refreshes his email every 30 seconds. I don’t care how many songs in a row you play, I want an uninterupted listening experience to bliss out to because it relaxes me, makes more productive, and makes me happy.

SWEET NOTHING: Being an audio medium, sometimes the most powerful thing you can do in production is nothing. Include silence in your promo. Stop everything for one beat longer than is comfortable.

TREAT WORDS LIKE WEEDS – CUT ‘EM DOWN: I like to write my script out completely and then chop it in half. And then chop it in half again. I look for extraneous words and phrases. Every word counts. Every word reflects the brand. It’s the difference between a “chauffeured limousine” or “a limo to haul you around” or “transportation included” or *delete* you can read about that part on the website.

The Free Fall of Talk Radio

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From New York to Los Angeles, in Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, and D.C. at big stations and small there is an alarming story unfolding in talk radio. Talk stations are tumbling in the ratings and no one knows why, though there are many theories.

It’s political fatigue.

It’s too repetitive.

It’s too depressing.

It’s too angry.

It’s too boring.

It’s humorless.

It’s predictable.

It’s not entertaining.

It’s all commercials.

The list of once great stations that have dropped out of the top ten reads like a radio station all-star line-up: KFI, WABC, WLS, WMAL, KABC, KIRO, WBAP. And it’s not a fluke (pardon the pun.) This is real. Arbitron is noticing it too.

“…for the first time since we began keeping our format records, it (news-talk) recorded two consecutive books below a 9 share, finishing at an 8.7 in July. Now summer is historically the lowest time of the year for News/Talk listening, and we will be keeping a close eye on the results as August and September approach, but it’s worth noting that the format’s summer shares have declined about 10% since 2011.”

– Tony Hereau, Arbitron Media Insights Manager

Down 10% in two years as a format in the 48 PPM markets?!

Editor’s note: I’m sure radio ownership groups understand and have lowered revenue projections accordingly.

THEY DON’T LIKE US, LEYKIS. WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?Tom Leykis

Tom Leykis, former radio show host now internet trailblazer at NewNormalNetwork.com, believes he was in the epicenter of the downfall of talk radio.

“It was in 1994.”

Leykis was a guest on Episode 13 of the Radio Stuff podcast (listen). He recalled broadcasting from the NAB the year his show was launching into syndication and everyone kept talking about a panel featuring talk radio consultant Ed Shane. As Leykis recalls, this was Shane’s message:

“It’s important, for your talk radio station to be successful, that everyone have the same opinion as Rush.”

Leykis takes it a step further.

“So in other words, the secret to Rush Limbaugh’s success was not his years of experience or his time as a DJ or the fact that he had great timing or was a good comedian, that he made good use of sound, but no, no, no – the reason for his success was that he was a political conservative.”

From there after, every station Leykis approached to syndicate his show would ask what his politics were. It wasn’t always like that, “Previously, they only cared, ‘do I get ratings? Will I help the station make money? Will I make noise?’ Suddenly I was being asked, ‘Are you a conservative?’”

Leykis believes that was the moment talk radio went from being a mass appeal format to being a niche format. And the problems with talk radio today stem directly from a consultant misreading the tea leaves.

Talk radio went from Rush Limbaugh’s bells, whistles, jingles and parody songs and everything to a line up of people reading bill numbers.” He went on, “It’s devoid of humor, entertainment value or mirth. These are not radio personalities.”

He wonders aloud if anyone in the radio business getting the message?

And he cautions up and coming talkers, “Don’t go to a radio station, because you’ll never be allowed to develop your talent. Develop a podcast, develop a streaming live show, develop your own product, and learn how to sell it and become an entrepreneur.”

OKAY, SO NOW WHAT?

Maybe it is political talk’s fault. I happen to believe it’s likely a perfect storm of new media, new listener expectations, new social and political attitudes, and a general fear in radio of taking risks and being wrong – in every department.

Here are a couple of steps I believe are necessary for talk radio to attract new listeners and remain relevant.

1. DEMAND SHOWMANSHIP

Talk radio needs more storytellers and fewer alarmists. Talent need to entertain, emote and put on a show, as much as they provide insight, deliver information and add context. Radio station leaders must support talent and encourage them to be amusing, insightful, emotional, apolitical, curious, experimental, and positive while giving them permission to fail. And fail hard sometimes — without fear of being fired.

2. FIND ANOTHER REVENUE STREAM

Radio stations need to stop abusing the listeners. The quality and quantity of radio’s commercials is appalling. I mean holy smokes gang have you tried to listen to an hour of radio recently? Effective immediately commercials that don’t meet your standards or match your brand should be rejected. Be the first guy in the room to say, “Hold up! That spot sucks. It’s not going on our air.” Be bold.

And – this will be even less popular – reduce spot loads. It’s time. Thanks to DVR, podcasts, Netflix, on-demand audio, and satellite radio spot loads seem to be worse than ever. Until recently people were accustomed to sitting through commercials or flipping back and forth between stations, because it was the penance you had to pay to watch your favorite TV show or listen to a kooky talk show host. Now radio is the last place on earth (with the exception of movie theaters) where consumers are forced to sit there while commercials are crammed down their throat.

No fast forward.

No more patience.

No more listening.

Just look at the growth of online radio, on-demand audio and NPR. So what’s that mean? Radio needs to figure out a dual revenue stream. The future of financing big radio is commercials and__________. You fill in the blank.

Editor’s note: If you say commercials and banner ads, I will scream.

BOLD PREDICTION

Talk radio isn’t going to die, but it is definitely going through a mid-life crisis. The next 18-months the entire format will be redefined, programmers will be less focused on gaming PPM and more focused on listeners, commercials will sadly still suck, and Rush Limbaugh will be replaced by someone else as the face of the format.