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As Legacy Media Declines, Radio Stands Out – And New Players Emerge

Media and Entertainment
0 min read

The media landscape is rapidly shifting, with many legacy formats like pay TV seeing accelerating declines. But amid this turmoil, radio has showed surprising resilience according to a recent report. Terrestrial radio revenue and listenership has held relatively steady over the past decade even as cable TV crumbled.

This contrast highlights radio’s enduring role delivering localized, personality-driven and interactive content. While digital disruption has hindered other mediums, broadcasters see internet streaming and podcasts as opportunities to expand radio, not threats. Already, leading players are blending new digital formats with traditional over-the-air offerings.

The stubborn stability of radio presents a growth opportunity for investors amid the broader challenges facing legacy media. Traditional TV and print advertising revenue continues falling sharply, down 18% and 14% respectively in 2023 per GroupM estimates. But radio ad spending is only projected to slip 6% this year.

Plus, radio has room to run just to regain pre-pandemic ad levels. Industry leader iHeartMedia saw a 23% decline in broadcast revenue from 2019 to 2023. As the ad market rebounds post-Covid, radio looks relatively attractive compared to more distressed legacy formats.

This backdrop has powered a radio resurgence among new industry entrants spotting untapped potential. Direct Digital Holdings, which went public in 2022, and focuses on bringing digital marketing services to the marketplace.

Direct Digital believes this digital model can drive growth even as terrestrial broadcasting plateaus. The company aims to capture ad budgets shifting online through its provision of website, social media and other digital services to small businesses alongside traditional radio spots.

Another radio-centric new media play, Cumulus Media, is the country’s third largest radio broadcaster, reaching over 250 million monthly listeners nationwide. The company aims to grow by broadening its podcast portfolio and expanding digital marketing.

Cumulus sees its vast broadcast reach as a foundation to build a larger digital advertising presence. Its extensive owned-and-operated radio station network provides proprietary access to a loyal listener base that rivals tech platforms. The company is positioning itself as the radio industry’s digital transformation leader.

Radio’s resilience indicates it retains inherent competitive advantages that persist through technological changes. Broadcasters recognize and leverage their unique strengths even as they adapt business models. The localism and personality that define radio continue driving engagement.

Plus, radio’s cost structure is finely tuned after a century on the air. Mature players keep tight control of expenses and operate profitably on thinner margins than many digital media outlets. This helps incumbents squeeze more value from legacy radio as they make measured moves into emerging formats.

Investors must still approach new radio-centered media endeavors with eyes wide open. Industry ad revenues remain under pressure. Music streaming and podcasts pose competition for listeners’ time. Consolidation carries integration risks and may face regulatory hurdles.

But traditional radio has survived the disruptive forces that felled newspapers and gutted cable TV. This time-tested durability, combined with digital growth prospects, makes radio-oriented media a relatively bright spot for investors in a tumultuous industry.

Backed by resilient legacy radio assets and focused digital strategies, companies like Direct Digital and Cumulus Media, and many others, offer upside potential. Though uncertainty remains, their radio footholds provide a stable base absent in other legacy media formats ravaged by technological change.

For investors seeking growth media plays beyond tech giants, radio’s lingering relevance points to pockets of opportunity. New digital/broadcast hybrid models show promise for revitalizing radio’s mature but enduring advertising business. With the right vision and execution, radio-centric firms could unlock more value and continue this legacy medium’s surprising success story.

Take a look at more emerging media companies by taking a look at Noble Capital Markets’ Director of Research Michael Kupinski’s coverage universe.
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