What Radio Can Learn from Hulu, and Vice Versa

Radio Intelligence’s Mark Ramsey has “glimpsed the future of radio.” And it is Hulu.

In an interesting blog post published last week, Ramsey wrote about Hulu, the Netflix competitor that made it big by providing streaming TV and movies to viewers.  Much like radio, Hulu offers quality content from a variety of exterior sources. There is nothing proprietary about the TV shows they play, just as radio stations don’t have exclusive rights to the songs they play.

So how do Netflix and Hulu make their real mark?

Original content.

Netflix has garnered a lot of buzz in the last year for its own original series like House of Cards, Arrested Development and Orange is the New Black. Not one to be left behind, Hulu has launched its own set of exciting originals. The Awesomes, one of their original comedy series, hosts and impressive cast of Saturday Night Live alumni (including Seth Meyers). Amazon has thrown its hat in the ring as well, with Alpha House, a political comedy created by Garry Trudeau and starring John Goodman. In all case, these digital-native platforms are gaining mind share by creating their own original content.

Ramsey suggests that radio should take this lesson to heart. His “message” to the radio industry is:

Don’t be so comfortable as that “pipe that carries other people’s stuff.” You need stars – now more than ever. This is not optional. The alternative for Hulu, he explains: “is to be an undifferentiated utility subject to the whims of the content owners.”

If that sounds like a warning for radio, it should. He goes on to argue that too much radio is “woefully deficient” in unique and compelling content.

There’s something to this argument for sure, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Hulu isn’t just the future of radio. It’s also its past. Unique and compelling content has always been radio’s home turf. If anything, Hulu is a reminder for radio to look back at its roots. Is there really much of a difference between families huddling around the TV to watch the latest Hulu original and families huddling around the radio to hear their favorite radio drama? Great radio stations have a clear, distinct and unmistakeable identity. A feeling that can’t be found anywhere else.

American Hustle director David O. Russell admitted as much at a recent press event when he approached by a 1010 WINS reporter with a microphone. “I grew up listening to 1010 WINS every day,” Russell said. “I have such great memories of [my father] shaving in the bathroom every morning, listening to 1010 WINS, that I just had to include it in the film.”

1010 WINS was (and is) unique in a way unlike any other station.

In an age of endless platforms, radio has found other ways to differentiate itself. Personalities and contests are some of time-tested ones, but in the digital age, all our radio stations are adding compelling digital experiences via Facebook, Twitter and and other social platforms. It could be said Hulu has a few things to learn from radio too.

So radio folks need to ask themselves, “what am I doing to rise above the noise?” A killer playlist isn’t enough. Distinct personalities and energy are just as important. Listeners may tune in for their favorite personality, but they’ll stick around for the rest of your great programming. That’s how you build a loyal audience on any platform.