Why Video Didn’t Kill the Radio Star

Before the 1980s, radio was the undisputed king of media. Everyone owned a radio and listened to it religiously. But on 1st August 1981 everything changed as MTV aired the first ever music video in the form of The Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star. The song, which has over 150,000,000 listens on Spotify to this day, was a nod to the inevitable downfall of radio thanks to an increasing number of people who owned TVs. And so the battle of radio vs video began. But did this significant moment in the history of music truly predict the future?

The short answer is no. Whilst video has undoubtedly had a colossal influence on the world, with internet users spending over 6.5 hours a week watching online videos in 2019, radio is still very much alive and kicking. In fact, radio still reaches 89% of UK adults every week in 2020. Some may attribute this figure with the fact that the older generations make up the majority of radio users. However, 77% of 15-24 year olds still tune in on a weekly basis, suggesting that the medium is still enjoyed amongst all age groups.

MTV television T-shirt

So, the stats suggest that radio is still widely popular. Therefore, we must take a look as to why radio wasn’t killed off by the arrival of widespread visual media and has in fact thrived during an age allegedly dominated by video. What is it about radio that people find more appealing than video? How have both radio and video come to cope during an age dominated by digital media? And to what extent has video not killed the radio star but in fact come to emulate it?

There are so many factors to consider, as the question goes beyond mere music videos. Video has now extended beyond shows like MTV and has taken over the internet too. 60% of people now say that they would rather watch video online than on the TV. 2018 saw the amount of watch time on YouTube quadruple in comparison to the previous year. There has also been a drastic rise in time spent watching video during the COVID-19 pandemic. Obviously with more time spent at home, people have resorted to watching more online videos (which is one of many changes in video that we have seen caused by the pandemic).

There’s also the question of where other mainstream forms of audio media fit in. The number of people who listen to radio digitally is more than that listening on an actual radio. So, is it that, like video, radio has merely had to adjust slightly? There is also the additional question of whether formats like podcasts can deemed a modern radio format in many ways.

The factors involved in this argument are almost endless. But one thing is abundantly clear – radio is still very much alive. Here are some of the reasons why video did not in fact kill the radio star, but instead has kept its heart beating.

Radio remaining relevant in the modern, video-dominant era

Let’s start with that staggering statistic – 89% of the UK population have tuned into the radio every week in 2020. As well as this, a 2016 study in the USA showed that 93% of the population tuned into the radio at least once a week. This becomes even more poignant when compared with 89% tuning into TV once a week and only 83% using a smartphone. If nothing else, this shows that radio is definitely still living on. A fact that is staggering given that it began its life in the early 20th century. People still tune in to listen during their commutes, whilst at home and even at work.

Recording for radio

Granted, there has been a drop in numbers over the years. However, in the UK listening figures has dipped by a mere 0.5% since 2013 (from 90.3% to 88.8%). Much of this is thanks to the rise in popularity of digital radio, which made up 58.6% of the UK’s listeners in 2020. However, radio’s stoic resilience in the face of a digital age goes beyond ease of access. It has become a cultural staple across the planet. For many it is deemed relatable, as though the listener is part of the host’s conversation. This personable aura allows radio to connect with a listener on a more emotional level. And it is this personability that so many have tried to mimic in the world of visual media.

Radio as a personable platform

The importance of personability in video has risen in recent years (most notably during the COVID crisis) and it appears that this may be something that can be attributed to radio. Sure, people listen to radio to hear the latest tunes and news from the world. But at its core, it is typically based on a conversation by a small group of people – a host and a group of guests. The subject matter may vary but the friendly tones and colloquial format have always been a stalwart. This simplicity adds a strong impression of empathy to radio listening.

When alone driving in your car or going through your daily routine at home, radio becomes a comforting form of conversation. There is an inclusivity with radio that you can’t typically achieve with TV or online video content. Radio can also be left on in the background, without necessitating any real focus. People can tune in and out of stations without having to catch up on what has happened. This background noise often becomes a comfort for regular listeners. Even a companion in some cases. In fact, some suggest that the spike in radio listeners during COVID-19 was likely due to it providing an impression of company.

Listeners also don’t have to search for a particular episode or channel to suit them, as it is generally appealing to the masses. This unanimity is one of the reasons why radio is still the most popular sources of media in the US.

A retro style radio

If we look at recent changes in video content, one could argue that a lot of video formats are attempting to emulate this and shift towards a more empathetic approach. This is not only true of television formats like reality TV, which has become immensely popular in recent years, but it is also proven to be an effective marketing tool. Research has shown tangibly positive results from companies that humanise their brand and acknowledge the diversity of their consumers. This was a theme that become increasingly apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a time of global catastrophe, people were seeking a sense of community and a drive to fight off a mutual enemy. Video campaigns during this period that saw a sense of unity and togetherness achieve greater results.

Whether this shift towards a greater sense of personability and empathy is in fact video imitating radio is difficult to say. However, there has definitely been a merging in more personable styles of media delivery. Radio’s style of a small group, typically two or three people, having a conversation has been adopted by video media. Whether it be chat shows, vlogging, TV interviews, video podcasts or other such genres. This is particularly pertinent in the world of video marketing. Product reviews, case studies and documentaries are just some examples of video series campaigns performing well due to their relatable environment.

Video and radio consumption on-the-go

Radio reaches 65% of the population whilst they are travelling from A to B and 68% whilst they are at home. When driving, video media isn’t exactly an ideal form of entertainment. The same applies when you are trying to multitask. Running errands or ticking off your to do list whilst watching your favourite TV show can be near impossible and therefore loses its appeal entirely. However, having the radio on in the background and bringing it with you as you move from place to place requires no extra effort.

One could argue that this is something that video media has begun to emulate recently. The portability of smartphones, tablets and laptops has helped even the field somewhat between audio and visual media. On average, people spend 3 hours and 15 minutes on their phones every day. Much of this is thanks to the ease of using your phone whilst on the move or even multitasking alongside other pastimes. But it goes to show that media in general is becoming more entwined with general life.

Social media is a fascinating example of this. People switch in and out every time they have 2 or 3 minutes to spare. Browsing the web between the regular activities in their daily routine. Much of this comes in the form of video. In fact, 78% of people watch videos online weekly and 55% daily. This is a statistic that has drawn the attention of many digital marketers. And it is easy to see why. Videos generate more engagement than any other content on Instagram. They are also 10x more likely to result in audience engagement on Twitter.

Young man consuming media on the go

Due to this, companies have devised ways in which to ease this merging of their products into the everyday. A good example of this being a recent advertisement by Amazon, in which a character controls the TV with his voice whilst doing the ironing. It is symbol of the notion that watching Amazon Prime can become part of your routine.

There is also the argument that people use platforms like YouTube in a passive manner. Particularly when they are on the move. 60% of Americans between the ages of 35 and 54 use YouTube to listen to music content at least once a week. However, much of this will be without even watching the video footage playing. Essentially using YouTube as a free music streaming platform. Questions can then be asked as to whether this content usage can truly be considered a win for the video industry…

Coping in the age of streaming services

We live in a day and age where all the entertainment that we could want is at our fingertips. Literally. Mobile phones and tablets have the capacity to download, stream and record our favourite music, movies and TV shows. The power of portable devices is mind boggling at times and this has led to monumental change in how media is consumed. As previously stated, all media is becoming increasingly portable and designed to fit around the routine of the audience. This is a feature that clearly benefits services that can be paused and resumed at the discretion of the consumer. It is also arguably the primary cause in streaming services’ surge in popularity.

2018 saw a first in the UK, as streaming subscriptions – on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Now TV – overtook pay TV subscriptions. This was a massive shift in the direction of a more digital world.

Streaming music online

In comparison, radio has not seen a significant impact on its listener numbers but there has been an effect on the amount of time younger demographics spend listening to the radio. This could perhaps be seen as a sign of the times changing. Whilst both of these facts show that the digital age has crept up on conventional forms of visual and audio media, it also shows that TV has seen a more dramatic impact on its customer base.

In much the same manner that video was due to kill the radio star, streaming was deemed to signal the death of TV. However, like its audio counterpart, TV is still competing with its emerging rivals. Whilst streaming services did leapfrog TV in 2018, it was by a margin of just 15.4m to 15.1m subscribers.

There is also much to be said for television advertising. Research shows that 42% of UK residents deem TV the most trustworthy source of advertising, compared to just 6% for YouTube and 5% for social media. Therefore, when it comes to branding platforms, TV still reigns supreme over its digital video rivals. Furthermore, customers are 75% more likely to make a purchased based on video than they are based audio. So, when it comes to strategizing your marketing plan, video content should take priority.

Digital video formats imitating radio

The inspiration that video has taken from the radio industry has become blatant in some forms of digital video content. This ranges from vlogging and video podcasts to the genres of certain marketing video series. Rooting back to the personable atmosphere present in radio broadcasts, these tend to consist of simple conversations amongst a small group.

Vlogging is a form of video that has become extremely popular in recent years. Vlogs (or video blogs) consist of an individual simply providing information or their opinion on a matter. They range from funny to sincere and cover a wide range of topics including beauty, gaming, fitness and travel. It is easy to see how this can be deemed to be an imitation of radio – an individual speaking to an audience on a matter of their choosing – and the video genre has taken the US by storm. Research shows that 52% of Americans watch vlogs, with 72% of millennials declaring their fondness for this particular video genre.

The same can be said for video podcasts. A similar concept to radio itself, only in an episodic format. Whilst it will take a larger chunk out of your budget, using video for your podcast has a number of benefits. Firstly, it has been proven that the inclusion of human faces can be extremely beneficial to video media, helping audiences connect with a brand. Secondly, it opens up access to the world of social media. This in turn allows your brand to reach a wider, more varied audience. And thirdly, it allows brands to properly utilise YouTube – a platform that sees over 2 billion visitors each month according to Google. Video blogs also have the additional benefit of providing the option to convert to audio.

Two hosts recording a podcast

Then there are the popular forms of video production used in a marketing video series. Most notably, this includes product demonstrations and case studies. These formats again reflect the general themes that one would associate with classic radio format. A host discussing a variety of matters with the viewer and gathering opinions from the general public.

The emergence of these video formats and their surge in popularity goes to show that videos are taking inspiration from classic media, rather than creating something entirely new. Once again this can be insinuated as video mirroring radio rather than killing it. In fact, the notion of a completely original thought is a subject often disputed by experts. As Mark Twain once said: “There is no such thing as a new idea.” True creativity is drawing inspiration from others.

What can content producers learn from this?

So, as content producers, what can we learn from all of this? Is there a way for us to harness this information in an attempt to create content that is both far-reaching and has potential longevity?

First of all, there is a lot to be learned from the continuing success of radio. Whilst we cannot be certain of the reasons for its success, there is a clear link between the factors above and radio’s ability to continue thriving in modern conditions. What we can do is try to emulate some of the factors that have made radio so popular. Whether it be a greater need for on-the-go content or a more potent sense of empathy in the delivery of video media.

Particularly in times like the COVID-19 pandemic, empathy is a feature in most media successes. The ability to connect with an audience on a deeper, more emotional level will always outdo someone shoving glitzy imagery in the customer’s face. The audience is essentially investing in something that will become part of their life. Therefore, an emotional connection between customer and product/service can prove a potent tool for your brand.

There is also much to be said for the use of a voice when building an emotional connection. This is why audio resonates more than mere text. It adds character, emotion and oomph. Continuing along this line of thought, if a visual element is added in the correct manner then another factor can be added to the emotional layering of a campaign. Nothing shows emotion like seeing a human face laugh hysterically or break down in tears. These are extreme examples, but they are something that cannot be entirely harnessed by audio alone. Not to mention a subtle smile or cheeky gesture that can both engage with the audience and adhere to your brand guidelines with minimal effort.

This added layer of emotion may make video  more empathetic, but it also makes for a smaller margin for error. The need to define your target audience in video marketing adds an element of specificity to the craft. Every campaign has to begin with the audience. If the video doesn’t sit right with the correct people then it won’t be a success. Radio is a media format that can be tuned in and out of at will. With video marketing you have a few split seconds here and there to connect with your audience. This demands accurate and potent footage when in search of success.

We can also learn from the mistakes of television as much as the successes of radio. This includes the exclusion of broadcasting content that is too overly polished and salesy. Again, this suggests that a more down-to-earth and emotional connection will increase the likelihood of yielding results. Flashy TV adverts are quickly becoming a theme of the past.

This is also thanks to the introduction of addressable TV. That is, TV that personalises its advertisements according to the viewer. It works much like cookies do when you browse the web. Viewers of addressable TV are 10% more likely to recall an advert than those watching it on linear TV. This is a delivery method designed to connect your brand with the right audience.

Retro TV

The final valuable lesson that we can take from radio is the idea of creating the impression of a conversation with the audience. This is a feature of mainstream media that has retained its popularity as time has gone on. (Hence the rising number of vlogging and video podcasts.) In fact, the influence of radio on this issue is reflected by the fact that most podcast listeners discover podcasting via radio, not music streaming.

Whilst this isn’t directly related to vlogging, there are indisputable parallels between the two. And it is clear to see how one has managed to influence the other. Using this format in video engages with the audience in a manner that cannot be replaced by glitzy ad campaigns. It allows brands to achieve a greater level of empathy and engage with their customer of a deeper level. Personability goes a long way to building a marketing campaign that will achieve greater connectivity with your target audience.

Conclusion

To conclude, it is clear that video has not killed the radio star. In fact, it is more accurate to say that video has come to emulate radio.

Radio itself is still thriving in modern day society. We still listen to it whilst commuting in our cars and relaxing in our homes. And the emergence of digital radio now allows us to tune in regardless of where we might find ourselves. It is a media form that has become entwined with our daily routines. Part of our culture in many ways. As such, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Radio possesses a comforting familiarity and conversational warmth which TV so often fails to create. When music videos emerged in the early 1980s, everyone saw this as the end of radio. However, whilst the initial wow factor of flashy imagery and synchronised music faded, radio’s familiar voice persevered.

Due to this, it comes as no surprise that video has come to emulate radio. Envious of its rival’s unwavering longevity. Trends (and techniques) have come to reflect radio and we are sure this will continue in the future. This need for a sense of relatability has also seen a spike in pertinence since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether this is a sign of things to come or we will see a drop off once the pandemic ends is hard to tell. However, for the time being an increase in an impression of empathy and more down-to-earth filming strategies are sure to become more common across all platforms.

There has been a slow decline in the number of radio listeners since the digital age began. Perhaps we are witnessing the slow death of radio at the hands of new streaming options. Perhaps vlogging and video podcasts will take radio’s place in the future of media production. However, even if we do see radio become obsolete in the future, it is sure to live on through the lasting impression that it has left behind.