2021 Outlook

In part two of Inside Radio’s Programming Outlook 2021, our panel of executives discusses the impact of new technology that emerged during the pandemic, from in-home, remote broadcasting to virtual artist performances and appearances that quickly became the norm. While these newer technological advances came to the forefront last year, podcasting continues to be a growth area for radio groups, especially the ability to offer locally-produced, on-demand content for listeners.

One of the most dramatic shifts in broadcasting was forced upon the industry as offices and studios were vacated in the early months of the COVID outbreak. Remote broadcasting used to mean doing a live show from a client location, station event or concert. Now, remote broadcasting is synonymous with the practice of doing a daily air shift from home.

“The story of radio’s nimbleness to adapt to new technology and leverage it to our advantage continued during this challenging year,” Entercom Executive VP of Programming Jeff Sottolano says. “I think we’ve learned that there’s a lot that can be done remotely but some things that can’t – like the in-person rapport and dynamic of a multi-talent show.”

Justin Chase, Chief Content Officer at Beasley Media Group agrees. “Nothing replaces the creative collaboration with a radio staff that can only take place together at the radio station,” he tells Inside Radio. “Once we are past the pandemic, you won’t see a lot of remote broadcasting at Beasley.”

While it may not be carried over to the degree it was in 2020, remote broadcasting will likely serve as a way to import talent from outside the market. “I think we’ll be smart about leveraging remote broadcasting to attract new talent from different parts of the country and also give high performing talent the ability to impact more brands,” Sottolano explains.

Something that will likely continue in years to come is the prevalence of virtual artist performances.

“Zoom proved to be a new shared experience with select listeners and artists,” Hubbard Senior VP of Programming Greg Strassell notes. “The interviews can be gold, and can be repurposed for on-air and digital channels. I expect we will see more audience engagement on Zoom, StreamYard and others that pushed us into digital video, much faster than we expected.”

Chase also sees an opportunity for more virtual events post-COVID. “It may be a supplementary revenue stream for events and concerts, attracting additional ticket sales of people who aren’t able, or don’t wish, to attend in person.”

Sottolano adds, “While we are all anxious to attend our first concert in some time in 2021, I think artists and brands will continue to find creative ways to connect with their audiences using virtual technology.”

While a great deal of focus has been on the new advances and changes brought on by the pandemic that will continue into 2021, there’s an ongoing extension of radio that is sure to continue to grow: podcasting. Borrell and the RAB recently revealed that eight in ten stations are producing locally-focused podcasts.

“The key, of course, is one’s ability to develop a local podcast that people are going to want to listen to,” Coleman Insights Senior VP/Senior Consultant John Boyne suggests. Simply thinking that a local show will fare better than a podcast with a national focus is a trap, Boyne says. “Instead, think about what content specifically could drive interest in your local community,” he continues. “Maybe it’s a podcast about a local sports team. Maybe it’s a podcast about a local scandal. Maybe it’s a podcast about local cuisine.”

Sottolano reminds us that “radio has been producing podcasts locally since before it was en vogue.” The company’s Radio.com platform is home to mainstream popular podcasts from outside producers, including “The Daily” from The New York Times, “The Journal” from the Wall Street Journal and “The Weeds” from Vox, alongside podcasts from some of the company’s most-popular sports-talk programs, such as “Game Time with Boomer Esiason,” “Carton & Roberts” and “The Sports Junkies.” “Local podcasts are a great opportunity for talent and brands to expand their audience and address more niche content than a broadcast format might allow,” Sottolano explains. “We are consistently thinking about how we can leverage our content and production expertise in the podcast space and make it accessible to local brands and talent.” – Jay Gleason