Imagine it’s 2030 and AI has made its mark on radio broadcasting; what could that look like? Here are three plausible futures.
It’s 2030, and almost everyone in radio uses dozens of available generative AI tools every day. Rapidly integrated into radio production software by tech vendors shortly after the “GenAI spring” of 2023, these tools progressively augmented the creative power of producers, journalists and DJs without the need to learn a new interface.
Things have certainly changed: AI-generated weather, traffic and stock market reports have become the norm. Additionally, these tools automatically produce localized audio output, notably for news and sports. Following the development of an industry-wide Ethics Code on Generative AI, wherever a strong sense of journalism prevails, an AI controller supervises the content.
Although newsrooms have shrunk in recent years, GenAI did not bring the massive layoffs most commentators anticipated. Often, broadcasters invested efficiency gains in multiplying output and associated ad inventory via more automated radio stations and ad trading tools. Additionally, broadcasters diverted financial, human and technical resources to the online space to keep up with the arms race of human-made and automated output, notably in social media of all sorts and formats.
AI killed the radio star
It’s 2030, and there is more audio content than ever before. Every day, AI bots generate millions of single pieces of audio, which are then continuously remixed and bundled. The resulting formats vaguely resemble what radio used to be just a decade ago: news flashes, audio clips, podcasts of all sorts, audiobooks, music streams and live and virtual concerts. However, algorithms now personalize everything for each listener. Audio content is also often reformatted automatically into text form to feed publishers’ websites and social media feeds at low cost.
Amazon Audible’s marketplace is where all this happens. There, content producers and all sorts of publishers and platforms trade content automatically. Earlier in 2023, even Bauer Audio in Europe and iHeartMedia in the United States shut down their marketplaces and began trading content and ad inventory through Audible’s platform.
Human-made, or at least human-curated, content continues to exist. It has become the distinctive feature of public service and community radio, while some commercial stations still have real hosts in their breakfast shows. However, this content often struggles to find a sizeable audience online, where most of the public is listening across Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific via the Triple A: Apple, Audible and Alphabet-owned Spotify.
It’s 2030, and Disney has just bought the most successful New York FM radio station for over $500 million. Despite a shrinking audience due to exacerbated competition for the time and attention of audiences, the second biggest media conglomerate in the world desperately needed powerful radio and audio assets and expertise to keep up the pace in the never-ending competition for scale.
Against the tsunami of low-quality and often dubious online content resulting from the rise and consolidation of GenAI tools in the last seven years, regulatory intervention originally protested by most broadcasters has eventually preserved radio as a space for quality content made and curated by real people supported by GenAI.
Trust and recognition have enabled the biggest brands in the industry to charge a premium for their quality content. Advertisers are eager to find a safe space for their brands and messages, and consumers are willing to pay to avoid the online chaos of false claims, lack of accuracy and regurgitated content with no personality and often the wrong tone.
As a result, in the United States, SiriusXM has announced more than two billion dollars of net income for its second year in a row, and in most Western markets, radio’s share of ad spending is in double digits.
So, which scenario do you expect?
My goal here is not to predict the future but to depict potential development trajectories for the industry and help visualize what might come next beyond the latest hype.
Considering the impact of GenAI tools, the above scenarios offer three plausible futures for the development of radio broadcasters and their markets by 2030. They are not mutually exclusive and reality will probably include elements from all of them.
Whatever the actual future, it will be influenced by the adoption and adaptation of technology and shaped by the interaction of social, economic and regulatory elements, without ignoring the pushing and shoving game played by internal and external stakeholders.
Consequently, the radio industry must urgently start thinking long-term and act accordingly. This requires strategy, not tactics. By identifying the key threats and opportunities ahead — often both sides of the same coin — broadcasters can not only prepare to gravitate toward their preferred future but also adapt to other possible trajectories. Only in this way they will remain relevant players in whichever future unfolds.
The author is co-founder and research director at South 180.
This article was taken from a RedTech special edition, “Radio Futures: AI Is Now Here!” which can can read here.