RAB’s Erica Farber Says Audio’s Outlook Is Bright

By Alli on Audio Archives
Cover image for  article: RAB’s Erica Farber Says Audio’s Outlook Is Bright

Audio continues to burnish its reputation as the it-medium (for one take, check out New York Magazine’s recent feature on the “gold rush” of podcasting), but can this hot streak be sustained?  When it comes to taking the temperature of this industry, who better to go to for insights than one of its leading voices, Radio Advertising Bureau President and CEO Erica Farber (pictured above).  Of course, it is Farber’s job to advocate for the medium, and she finds that as she travels the country audio is all anyone wants to discuss, including smart speakers, podcasting, in-car audio and, yes, radio.

With advertisers exploring and expanding their audio ad spending, Farber is busy talking.  In the last few weeks, several reports, including the 2019 Infinite Dial, helped back up her claims, demonstrating that the audiences for digital audio and podcasting are booming, and that radio has staying power.

But the audio field is getting more crowded than ever -- both within its own world and from other media companies -- as radio broadcasters go up against podcast networks, Spotify and Pandora, as well as TV networks, newspapers and local TV stations are dabbling in audio. To grow -- or at least hold onto -- their share of ears and ad dollars, Farber says radio companies need to keep evolving and be experts in all new technology.

It’s sound advice, but also a tall order.  I got the download from Farber about how radio stations can embrace new platforms, sell digital better and be the go-to source for podcasts. 

Alli Romano:  Podcasting is the hottest topic in audio right now.  What do you see as radio’s advantages with podcasting content and advertising, and what should broadcasters do to grow this business?

Erica Farber:  There are huge opportunities.  Every meeting I have, it doesn't matter where in the country, everyone wants to talk about podcasting.  I host a podcast every week.  If you look at Podtrac’s current Top 20 podcasts, more than half were produced by radio broadcasters.  People listen to their local radio stations’ companionship information or entertainment, and now podcasting is allowing those stations to expand their content.  It also allows the audience to listen at a time that is convenient.  From an advertising standpoint, with influencers being so important a lot of these local and national podcasts are tied to [them].  That is a great way for a brand to also extend that relationship with that particular influencer, or on a particular topic, or just be part of that tribe.

Romano:  With all the research showing audio is growing quickly, what are some things you’re emphasizing?

Farber:  Radio matters and it works.  It is very important to listeners and is across all platforms and devices.  Despite all the other media options, radio is still the dominant audio source.  Especially if people are multitasking and starved for time, radio in all forms allows consumers to engage while doing other things.  So, whether it's in the car, or they're going to work, or they're shopping, they can just listen.

Romano: When you dig into the recent Infinite Dial report, what were some findings that surprised you and what does it mean for radio? 

Farber: There were a few.  Smart speaker and voice technology are just growing by leaps and bounds.  The number of households that have three or more smart devices has doubled from the past year and that struck me.  That's such an exciting thing because it's helping bring very easy access to radio back into their homes.  Another thing was in-car listening. Radio is still very dominant in the car with more than 80% of adults using it.  There's no other audio option currently that even comes close to that.  The last area that I think is interesting is the shift in social media use across platforms, especially in the younger demos.  We have to keep an eye on all of those trends.  Watching behaviors and what users are going for is really important.

Romano: Given these shifts, where do you see opportunities for radio and brands?

Farber:  Everything is going to voice activation.  We're going to see it in automobiles.  We're seeing it at home.  Broadcasters need to start sharing where to find us, and many are already doing that.  We need to let them know we’re here and what to ask for.  You will start to certainly hear much more of that as you're listening.  I think voice will also open up some additional creative opportunities for advertisers.  Even if they’re already using audio, it amplifies their messages and how they can tell that story.  The technology is allowing you to hear the spot and say, “I want to buy that now” or “let me learn more.”  This is a fantastic opportunity for brands.

Romano: The RAB and Borrell Associates recently published areportabout the growth of digital ad revenue.  How important is it to stations’ bottom line and how effectively are radio broadcasters selling digital? 

Farber:  They’re getting much better at digital.  The days of going to a client and saying, “I want to sell you radio” are over.  This past year, local radio stations generated over $700 million in digital revenue, a 13% increase over 2017.  Clients are coming to broadcasters for services like SEO, website design and social media engagement, along with digital ads and streaming.  What broadcasters can do today, which is a fantastic advantage, is when we're talking to clients locally and nationally, once you understand what the client is trying to achieve, we have so many assets available to us at our fingertips to share with that advertiser and that partnership.  Sometimes it's digital, sometimes it's traditional and it could even be an event.  Before, all we could sell were radio commercials that ran on our broadcasts.  Now we have so many more assets that we can share.

Romano:  So digital is essential to staying competitive?

Farber:  Yes it is.  Clients have so many different places that they can spend their dollars, and no one has the time to visit with every single person who has something they want to sell or share.  Advertisers are looking for partners who can help them in all these areas and radio is very well-positioned.  This is an exciting time for audio and everyone wants to talk about it and it doesn't matter who it is.  Again, its local advertisers and national advertisers. Technology is bringing sound to life and that's exciting.  There are so many opportunities that are available to us now that we didn't have before.

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