Digital Doesn't Compete

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by: Nancy Baym

Does the internet compete with “real life”? This has been one of the (most annoying and) most repeated concerns for about twenty years now, and the answer still seems to be “no.” Digital media are changing our patterns of behavior in important ways, but they are not leaving a decimated trail of old ways in their wake.

Some activities we used to do in old ways (watching TV?) may get replaced with an online version (YouTube?), but other things — like having face-to-face conversations and phone calls, hanging out with friends, and taking advantage of community resources like museums and concerts — seem to be either unaffected or slightly increased by online versions of the same.

Now it seems we can add listening to digital radio to the list of online activities that don’t threaten their offline counterparts. According to a study reported in the New York Times:

As a group, fans of digital radio do not listen to traditional radio less than everyone else. In fact, they listen to slightly more, according to a study recently released by Arbitron and Edison Media Research.

The study was conducted through random telephone interviews with 1,925 Arbitron diary keepers, and it lumped together satellite subscribers, recent Internet-radio listeners and anyone who had ever downloaded a podcast.

The data suggest that, generally speaking, fans of digital radio are seeking to supplement, not replace, traditional radio. “Heavy users of digital media don’t think, ‘If I’m doing this more, I’m doing the other thing less,’ ” said Bill Rose, an executive with Arbitron.

This is such a neat parallel to the findings regarding interpersonal communication. And music downloading.

The message I take from this is: Digital radio is traditional radio’s FRIEND, not its enemy. Hurt one, and you may damage the other. Look to work the synergy instead of shutting down the new. Is it too much to hope that this could inform the future of the digital radio licensing fees debacle that seems poised to pull the rug out from under Pandora and every other online radio broadcasting in the U.S.?

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