World Radio Day Chat with Mike Searson from Corus

In celebration of World Radio Day, we sat down with Mike Searson, Corus Vice President for Local Sales (TV, Radio and Digital), to discuss the state of the radio industry in Canada.

Mike, how long have you been in the radio industry?
I’ve been a proud part of the radio industry since 1999. I began working as an Account Manager for the stations I grew up listening to, 99.3 The Fox and LG 73. When I began my career as a sales representative with Corus Entertainment, I was supported by some of the best in the business. With hard work and a strong focus on customer service, I was able to build up my book of business, eventually taking on the roles of Sales Manager, Director of Sales and now Vice President for Local Sales (TV, Radio and Digital).

What is your view on the state of the radio industry in Canada today?
The radio industry, from my perspective, works as well as it did 20 years ago. 89% of Canadians listened to AM/FM radio last week. That’s massive!

I frequently hear from retail partners who proudly share how radio has delivered on their KPI’s and ultimately increased their bottom line.

With shifts in the marketplace over the past few years, overall revenues have been declining, particularly in markets where local economic issues persist. Furthermore, many markets are faced with over-licensing which ultimately drives yields down. As a result, there tends to be less of an emphasis on live, local programming. I’m especially concerned about this.

One of Radio’s great advantages in Canada versus the United States has historically been how local our marketplace is. As I recall, back in the recession of 2009 we rarely had any syndication or voice-tracked shows from other markets. Listeners and advertisers rewarded us for our continued focus on live and local content. This still stands true today, as live and local is our great differentiation between streaming services and traditional radio.

What do you believe has impacted the radio industry the most in the last 5 years? Good and/or bad?
In the last five years, the over-rotation of spending by clients into digital and social media has impacted the radio industry immensely. Like TV, Radio plays a massive role in a customer’s path to purchase. Many studies including the Accenture Study from 2019 entitled The Moneyball Moment for Marketing in Canada, have proven that Radio has a halo effect on advertising effectiveness and what an important role it plays in the overall marketing mix, especially in top of the funnel activity. This is an area that digital and social simply don’t perform well in yet they seem to get credit for most of the attribution.

How has the consolidation of radio industry ownership impacted the industry? And how has the resulting consolidation of radio and television sales teams impacted the radio industry?
For Corus, it’s been positive. In 2018, Corus Radio had its strongest year of growth in close to a decade. Further to our revenue performance, it has broken down the silos that used to exist, integrating multiple markets with larger breadth of compensation. At Corus we share ideas and best practices constantly to ensure all Corus customers, radio or not, receive the best of what we can deliver.

A great example of this is how the content and sales synergies between Global News and Global News Radio combine to create innovative opportunities for client partnerships/integrations with initiatives like our Health Series that is airing right now on Global BC and CKNW.
Another great area for integration is Podcasting! We have tons of content creators in Radio/TV, and podcasting has created brand extensions for both our talent and our brands while providing our clients with new and exciting advertising options.

What do you think the Canadian radio landscape will look like 5 years from now?
In five years, the Canadian radio landscape will evolve in a way that brings new challenges but also many opportunities. Digital technology is creating new competitors for radio, but it’s also allowing radio to reach beyond its traditional transmitters. It enables more audience insights, which are used to improve both the product and ad yields, and it’s creating a vehicle for differentiated content and advertising depending on geography and market segments.  With new competition for listeners and ad dollars, radio still has a distinct advantage, local radio will always be local, cost effective to operate, responsive to communities, unique (with our personalities), free and the companion it has always been to mobile audiences. There will still be a business in commercial radio, and there will still be new audiences attracted to a medium poised for the next phase of its 100 year evolution.

Which formats do you think will fare best? Which may be challenged?
In the future, we will see that any formats or stations that put a premium on engaging personalities and great content will have success, this is the biggest point of difference from streaming services.

What impact is Podcasting having on the industry?
The impact of Podcasting will grow, local radio personalities will be emerging stars on podcasts which will supplement lost revenue from traditional sources. We have great content and are participating in this trend with our Curiouscast podcast network. This adjacent business can make investments in content work harder for both our National and local business. Last month alone we had over 4 million downloads.

How about the proliferation of streaming services? How do you see that evolving?
Historically, as technology evolves, we have seen smart phones replace the transistor radio, home devices replace the kitchen radio, digital dashboard replace AM/FM radio in the car. Through this evolution, we now have streaming services like Radioplayer Canada, which allow listeners to experience local radio through whatever platform they like. I see this further developing in a way that includes streaming aggregators, which allow you to seamlessly transition from one service to another through content search functions.

Thanks very much for taking the time with us Mike.