Traditional Media Is Haemorrhaging Its Lead as Music Discovery Platform

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I’m emerging briefly from hibernation again, as I’m astonished at how this Myxer report’s findings on music discovery are being reported. The research is based on a US sample of people who download mobile entertainment.

"We think some of the responses will surprise you, especially when it comes to user preferences regarding traditional media channels (such as… live concerts, radio, and television) and how they influence the consumption of digital media," say the report’s authors. Elsewhere MusicWeek’s spin is that "social media trails behind traditional media as a music discovery platform."

Well, yes, social media (and new media like Pandora, which is less social) is behind radio and TV. But the word "trails" seems to imply that social media is underperforming. Far from it. Compare these figures with a survey from a few years ago — admittedly with a different sample, and different way of putting the question — and you start to get a sense of how fast social and new media are catching up on the traditional platforms.

First point. If you’d presented the same question and the same options eight years ago, the aggregate for radio, TV and live concerts together would have been 100% — because the other options didn’t exist. Now the aggregate is 62%. That’s a big decline in a few short years. (And no longer does any platform have more than 50%, showing the fragmentation of discovery channels.)

Second point. In terms of market share, or "attention share", the figures are actually worse than that. I assume the survey asked people what their principal or preferred discovery platform was. The published report doesn’t make this clear, but I can’t see any other way that the total of all the figures in the graphic above would come out at 100% — because we almost all discover music via multiple channels. So even the 62% figure hides a lot of other diversion of attention and influence away from traditional media. Chances are that many of those who rely principally on radio are now supplementing that with social media channels, which they couldn’t have done in 2002.

So the surprise for me in these responses is not that social media is still behind traditional media, but how close behind it is, and how quickly it’s catching up. That’s what I think justifies my use of "haemorrhaging" in my title.

One last thing. Let’s remember that music radio has been around for the best part of a century now. It’s a mature form, and generations of experience have taught us what works well and what doesn’t. (Despite that, a lot of it still sucks — especially, I’m told, in the US.) But when it’s done well, radio can be an extraordinarily good platform for music discovery. If pushed to choose just one platform, radio is almost certainly the one I’d pick.

iTunes, MySpace, Facebook, Pandora, Twitter — these services are all in their infancy, and we’re all still adjusting to them, learning what works well and what doesn’t. If these services can persuade 38% of listeners that they’re the best music discovery platform while they’re still in proverbial short trousers, imagine how big a bite they will take out of traditional media when they grow up and become good!

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