Saturday, September 16, 2006

Siriusly Folks

So why start blog about Howard Stern? It isn't as if there isn't plenty of discussion already on the internet about Howard. There are dozens of fan websites, discussion boards and blogs already talking about every detail of his show. His radio show airs several times a day and is repeated frequently. You can check out video of his radio show on cable on demand or read blow by blow descriptions with pictures on his own website. Howard even as a large new team just to provide news about… Howard.

But despite all this, Howard gets no respect. He justifiably rails that the mainstream news media and broadcasting establishment are out to get him, and they are. There is plenty of gossip on the internet about Howard, but little in the way of serious discussion about his enormous impact on modern entertainment.

An example of this popped up just yesterday in a New York Times article "Changing Its Tune" by Richard Siklos.

The article talks about the fact that radio listening has declined 14% in the last ten years and discusses the impact that new media, like satelite radio, is having on the industry. It mentions Howard twice, in passing, lumping him in with podcasting.

What is amazing about this is there is no direct evidence that podcasting is impacting radio audiences. For starters, my own opinion is that is that podcasting appeals to a very different audience than listens to traditional radio and it's impact has been small so far. Secondly, since radio stations can and are providing podcasts of their programming, podcasting won't have a negative effect on traditonal broadcasters and can in fact increase their potential audience. Certainly NPR stations are already benefitting because their shows are natural to podcast.

But Howard is different, his recent impact on the broadcast industry is huge and can be directly tracked. Just a few months ago the mainstream media was reporting when Howard left for satellite, over night eight to ten million people stopped listening to radio stations that had been broadcasting him.

When you talk about a 14% decline in listeners, how can you not give Howard's move credit for a huge part of that? Moreover, over the past ten years many stations were forced to dump Howard due to FCC pressure, and audiences fell off in all of those markets.

Siklos mentions that Sirius and XM have a combined audience of more than 11 million, later pointing out that it pales in comparison to the 230 million that are listening to traditional stations. But what he fails to mention is that at least 4 million of that audience was added in the last year almost solely due to Howard. That before Howard Sirius had an audience of less that half a million and now is on track to top out over five million. And there is no sign that there is any limit on how big that audience could get.

For 4 million people to suddenly pay monthly for something they got for free is astounding. How can any discussion of what is going on in radio today not talk about that incredible shift? Siklos manages to interview someone who bought a XM radio for their boat, but isn't going to talk about 4 million people paying hundreds of dollars adopting a new media system to listen to one person?

So that's what this blog is going to be about. In my own small way I'm going to try to correct the record on what's really going on with the Howard Stern empire with some serious discussion about his true impact.

Sorry, no fart jokes.

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