We bought two radio stations in 2004. For the most of the 14 years since, we haven’t done any marketing. Enough money trickles in on its own in to support the operation. Whatever is left over, I invest in streaming video.
So what we have is basically two operations.
So where from here? That’s the case study. Where do we go from here?
I am starting to accept that streaming video is not an extension of radio but an entirely new enterprise. There are so many things that we will have to get done before it can be a self-sustaining business. For now, streaming video just sucks profits out of the radio side.
We started doing streaming video in 2010. The different hosts were leaving the controls on the board in the wrong positions. So we put a camera in the studio to monitor the dials on the old Autogram board. After a while, we put the live stream of the studio on the website and, to our surprise, people watched it.
It wasn’t much at first – a few viewers here and there. But when we had a big guest, the numbers would go up dramatically. In the beginning, we streamed through Ustream… and then Livestream. It cost thousands of dollars a month to do it – with no accompanying revenue.
Around 2012, I decided, with the help of Chuck Pullen and others, to build our own video streaming network. We had some pretty expensive servers built by a local computer company. We bought Wowza software and other pieces.
Our biggest challenge from the start was internet. Our building and tower are in an industrial area behind a car dealership. There was no high speed internet nearby. So we had to improvise. We signed up with a company out of Chicago that somehow rigged something over the air. I had to hire Hyre to build a little wooden tower behind the station.
It was a disaster from the start. The internet cost several thousand dollars a month. If we had more than a few dozen people streaming, the system would crash. We messed with this system for a couple of years and then basically threw our hands in the air and put streaming video on hold.
I say “we” on this. Many people were a part of the project. But for the most part it was me holding tight to the idea that eventually we could become the local leader in streaming video. My sister the accountant and Debbie the station manager questioned me all along the way, like they’re supposed to do, about the money I was spending on streaming video. At first it was tens of thousands. Then it ran in to the hundreds of thousands.
I was about to abandon the streaming video dream entirely until, on a whim, I went to the Streaming Media East conference in New York City. I was walking down a hallway to a seminar and there was this guy standing at the door to one of the rooms.
“Where you headed?”
“To the codec panel.”
“Why don’t you come in to my presentation? It’s on a thing called ‘Facebook Live.’”
As one who’s basically always up for something new, I followed the guy into his room. There were about a dozen people in there. Most presentations had many more people.
The guy – I forget his name – then proceeded to broadcast himself live to us on Facebook and Twitter. It took a while, but eventually I was able to see him live on my phone through Facebook. I was hooked.
I came back to Indiana and told my sister and Debbie – “We’re back in the streaming video game. It’s called ‘Facebook Live.’”
That was two years ago. Since then, we have broadcasted thousands of shows, events and games, mostly on Facebook Live. We’ve gained millions of views. This year, we expanded to Twitter and Youtube also.
The challenge is, at it was when we were streaming from our old studios (we’re now in fancy shmancy studios on the campus of Purdue Northwest) – we don’t have revenue on streaming video. I guess you could say that we have indirect revenue in that our general revenues are going up. There’s no doubt that our visibility in the community has gone up because of Facebook Live. This has to have had an effect on our sales.
Still, we haven’t sold a dime of advertising directly on Facebook Live.
So where do we go from here?
First, I had to come to the realization that I don’t have any formal marketing knowledge. I have street marketing knowledge. I can put together a proposal when someone calls for advertising. And Debbie and I can perform well enough in front of potential customers, at least enough to get them to try us.
But as far as a comprehensive marketing strategy, let alone a comprehensive marketing department, I’m completely lost.
I made a couple of desperate attempts to take a shortcut to marketing, mostly by outsourcing it. I even offered the local paper the opportunity to sell our video as part of their offerings. They didn’t take the bait. I’m guessing they don’t want to build up a competitor. I’m hoping that they one day regret this.
I realized last year that to set up any cohesive marketing of streaming video, I was gonna have to do some real learning. So I went back to school. Luckily, we’re on the campus of Purdue Northwest. I started taking classes in the MBA program - Accounting, Business Law, etc. I just finished Marketing with Minoo Tashoori. I got an “A,” in case you were wondering.
I went to every Marketing class. And I did all of the assignments and read all of the stuff twice and even read other stuff associated with the topics like:
It was a crash course in Marketing. I didn’t even really know that marketing was a discipline. For 14 years, I basically saw selling advertising as something you do randomly and haphazardly. It wasn’t a real business topic, not like accounting, finance, investing and data analysis.
In other words, I had no respect for marketing. I thought of it as Herb Tarlick wearing a cheap suit trying to get people to buy advertising on air.
Needless to say, I have a much deeper appreciation for marketing. I don’t have a lot of regrets in life, but I do berate myself for not pursuing an MBA sooner. When I was 23, I applied to get an MBA at the University of Chicago. I didn’t follow through. And in 2010, I started with a class at Purdue in the MBA program. I didn’t follow through with that, either.
Both were mistakes. The other day I stopped by my brother’s house. He was working in the yard with my nephew. I apologized to both of them for not making any of his games – “Believe it or not, I’m back in school. I’m working on my MBA.”
“Didn’t you start that a couple times already.”
“Yeah. Should have followed through.”
“Might have made for an easier life, huh?”
That’s a bit of wisdom. Yes. It would have made for at least a more knowledgeable life. For better or worse, I traded for 18 years in the pits of the Chicago Board of Trade and didn’t know a damn thing about running my own business, even though I was my own business.
And then when we started with the radio stations, I didn’t know much, either. Neither did my wife, who ran the things for three years while I ran a newspaper we bought. She’s a lawyer. Without my sister, who does know how to run a business, I don’t know where we’d be.
So fast forward. Here I am in May of 2018. I just finished marketing class. For summer term, I’m taking Consumer Behavior. The education track is in place. But what about the marketing?
I could point my brand spanking new marketing knowledge at radio. But my gut tells me that’s not the way to go. Radio is dying. That’s the whole point of this blog. The three or four of you know this.
What I’ve chosen to do is market streaming video of local radio. At some point, I’ll probably just shorten it to “streaming video.” But for now, we conceive of it as streaming in video what we were already doing in radio.
Since I’m new to strategic planning – a course I plan to take in the Fall – I can only really look forward over the summer. I have budgeted $10,000 to set up a marketing plan over the summer. I’ll tell you my plan some other time. I can’t do it out now because: