Will Beats 1 kill traditional audience research in radio?


Article originally posted on Voizzup blog
“We do no market research. None. It isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want. It’s hard for consumers to tell you what they want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it.” — Steve Jobs, 1998

Market Research at Apple

In several occasions Steve Jobs expressed his disbelief in market research. Based on statements as firm as the one above, we can assume Apple doesn’t conduct much research.

I recently wrote an article to present Apple’s Healthkit as analogy of audience research in radio, that might reflect how — perhaps — the tech giant feels about market research:

  • Medical/Audience research is conducted with too low periodicity.
  • Medical/Audience research sometimes uses small panels or too limited samples.
  • Medical/Audience research is based on subjective perceptions.

Beats 1 and traditional research in radio

With the announcement of Beats 1 we are talking radio now! As Jimmy Iovine introduced Apple Music, he already denoted no intention of relying on research. Why?

They don’t want to

Apple positions its music service as the art of curation. Human. Expert. Emotional. When talking about Beats 1, Iovine literally said:

“Not based on research” — “Only music that is great and feels great” — “Only one master: music itself”

They don’t need to

Despite the fact that we could argue that Beats 1 is like any other online radio in the planet, Apple insisted in one idea: it’s the first live worldwide radio station.

However, from my point of view, that’s not what makes Beats 1 unique. This is — let me quote again — :

“All the ways you love music. All in one place” — “And that place is almost in a billion hands around the world already” — “One app, one single app”.

That idea is so impressive that is hard to assimilate. Millions of listeners on the same app. No other way of listening. Apple doesn’t need audience research because they have something way more powerful: data analysis.

I know, data analysis sounds boring. Please, keep reading. It’s much more fascinating than it sounds. It means being able to know what each of those listeners (remember: millions, all around the world) is doing. Minute by minute. Second by second.

Listeners will play and stop. They will change the volume. They will share. They will favorite. They will buy. They will unlock screen. They will change station — there will be more non-live stations in addition to Beats 1 in Apple Music — . Trillions of clicks. And each of them will be telling Apple a story.

Julie Adenuga, Beats 1 host, in Apple Music promotional video

Radio programming of the future

If you are a programme director like me, a producer or you host a show in radio, I guess you are at this point already imagining the endless possibilities. Let’s fantasize together. (I let you know something in advanced, I’m starting with the most predictable applications and I leave the mind-blowing ones for the end.)

Artificial intelligence and customization

  • With every play, exit, volume change, share or buy Apple might be learning about the behaviours and tastes of each individual user.
  • Based on that, many features could become intelligent and start offering a very personal service to the customer: more precise recommendations, automated curation of music and/or spoken content, collection of missed contents, connection with users with similar tastes, etc.

But I say Apple might. We need to be cautious here. The Californian company was very reiterative putting the focus on the human touch. They said algorithms cannot make emotional decisions alone. That doesn’t mean they won’t use any though.

Engaging audience faster than ever: air, measure, learn

Yep! This is my favourite part. Apple talks about curation, experts, passion for music, the power of connecting millions around the world. Apple is talking about amazing content. About great programming. About engaging radio. Welcome to our business!

And this is where the magic of this new way of doing audience research and radio programming resides. It impacts the creativity of the team at the radio station and — therefore — the passion of the audience:

  • A great new track from a brand new artist is played for first time… and Beats 1 sees hundreds of thousands of listeners getting the volume up at the same time. Isn’t that magic?
  • Zane Lowe is interviewing one of the hottest artists at the moment and… boom! He suddenly asks her that tricky question that nobody expected him to dare to ask. His producer: “Hey look, volumes rising again! The average time spent listening of today’s show has been 5 minutes longer than usual!
  • The producer of Julie Adenuga’s show has ammunition to boost her motivation:I know you are looking forward to playing this, but we need to save it until we are on the crest of the wave. Give me six hundred thousand listeners in the next 10 minutes and you can play it!
  • With every new finding, new questions come.We did great today, but why specially in China?
  • The faster Beat 1's hosts learn, the more confident they feel. More confidence, less fear, more audacious hosts. The dream of every programme director or radio producer!

Beats 1 can measure every listener’s reaction to everything they air. A short air-measure-learn cycle means better knowledge on how to engage the audience. Faster learning translates into more passionated listeners.

And your radio station, what about it?

Radio colleagues, dreaming is nice, I know. I have good news for you: This way of accelerating the learning on how to engage your audience, is not an imaginary future only accessible to Apple and Beats 1. It’s real, and it’s available for your station. Today.

My name is Tommy Ferraz. I’m one of the founders of Voizzup. And this is what we do.