It’s been called a lot in its decades of life: radioconductor, wireless telegraphy or most commonly radio, and it’s certainly seen its fair share of up and downs over the years. Few industries can continue to thrive after being subjected to technological and socio-political changes that would otherwise leave the prior system archaic or useless. That is all but true for the entire media industry except for one facet: radio. Surely, the landscape has drastically changed since its inception, but radio will forever have its place.
Radio is the tireless and persevering workhorse of the music industry. We have always relied on it for company during long commutes, national crises and the seemingly never-ending workdays. In return it’s given people a sense of dependability and comfort unlike many of the other transforming, unreliable media outlets. Due to its long-standing history and familiarity to those young or old, it comes as no surprise that over 85 percent of people aged 12 or older listen to some sort of traditional broadcast on a daily basis.
Of course, although conventional radio remains a popular asset in the music industry, there are several alternative services vying to take its place. Besides the prevalent choices like Spotify, Pandora or Beats Music, there are a plethora of other up-and-coming streaming services such as, iTunes Radio, Soundcloud, Last.fm, Rdio, Rhapsody or Grooveshark. Following the popular model of Netflix, these services offer a one-time monthly fee to listen to unlimited music. The main pull here is personalization, whether it’s in creating a certain playlist or listening to music catered to your tastes. In an age where we want our media as fast as we think of it, the thought of skipping stuff we deem unappealing and playing only what we like can be extremely tempting for many people.
Many of the features these streaming services provide are not new game-changers or breakthroughs for the radio industries, but instead more evolved versions of the current system. This is especially true in the way that these services offer person specific music choices based on your musical preferences. Even though listening to your favorite radio broadcast will help you find new music you may like, it is much more likely that one of these streaming services will do it better by tailoring it specifically to your collection of musical tastes.
Based on these features alone, streaming services sound like a win-win scenario, right? Fortunately for the radio industry there are some huge flaws with these streaming services that prevent them from reaching the sheer height radio has achieved. These issues are centered in the unsustainable business model that companies like Spotify and Beats Music have chosen to follow. In order to keep the unlimited music and personalized preferences of these sites, the streaming companies have to pay substantially high royalty fees coupled with a growing cost for worldwide operation, preventing them from making enough money to catch up to radio.
In fact, the way that these services are currently structured makes it so that there is absolutely no chance of ever achieving profitability. Even Spotify, which has over 24 million subscribers, has never returned a profit, and present-day forecasts predict much of the same. Unless there is a complete overhaul in the way royalties are collected and the way that money collected from listeners is distributed, then there is an ever brighter future for traditional radio fans.
It is true that some of the music streaming services available offer a much more personalized and compelling experience than contemporary radio can today. However, at this moment, radio broadcasting is something that is still installed in almost every vehicle on the road; it’s installed in most recreational buildings, it’s at your work or home, and to find a place where it isn’t easily accessible is almost impossible. Although somewhere very far down the road traditional radio broadcasting may transform to almost unrecognizable lengths or simply disappear all together, today’s society seems to be cementing a strong future for radio.