Broadcast & Satellite

TikTok Radio: the new station in town could be a real gamechanger

Fred Jacobs breaks down the arrival of the newest SiriusXM “radio station” and why it holds the potential to be a game-changer for the radio and the music industry as a whole.

Guest post by Fred Jacobs of Jacobs Media Strategies

What is it about the radio business?

We’re happily headed into a holiday weekend we sorely need…and deserve.  This could be that moment when we truly find ourselves turning the corner on the pandemic, on the path to getting our lives back.  Memorial Day 2021 is a three-day weekend millions are excited about.

And at this moment when we all want to polish off the weekend logs, get our “500” lists all tidied up, load in our music and production, and head out with family and friends, a new radio competitor decides THIS is the moment to announce its debut.

Unlike other new radio sign-ons we’ve had to battle against over the years, this one has the ability to impact every music radio station in the country – whether you play Country, Top 40, Classic Rock, or Hip-Hop.

That’s because it’s TikTok Radio.

And if there’s a bright side to this new challenger for the radio audience, it’s that it won’t be “on the air” until sometime this summer.  So, you won’t have to spend this holiday weekend monitoring your new competitor.

But there are enough clues and Easter eggs embedded in this debut announcement that it should get broadcast radio’s attention.

First, it a a collaboration with TikTok, SiriusXM, and Pandora.  Our Techsurveys have consistently shown the biggest existential threat to AM/FM radio isn’t Spotify, EDM, electric cars, or cicadas.  It’s the growth of satellite radio, the platform that is closest to broadcast radio by style, formattics, personalities, and accessibility.  When SiriusXM debuts a new tech feature or product launch, it should be on our radar screens.  But sadly, most radio execs give SXM precious little thought.

Second, they’re calling it RADIO.  For SiriusXM, this is nothing new.  They’ve been satellite radio since Day One.  But so has Pandora Radio, Slacker Radio, and any number of other wannabes that have come and gone over the years.  I created this graphic for a blog post first published in 2016 as proof positive that “radio” as a branding tool and an audio platform is something that no shortage of competitors aspire to be.

I have often told the story about Zane Lowe, the mastermind and main DJ on Apple’s first foray into radio – Beats 1 – back in 2015.  Lowe described the branding process of the station with a sense of resignation to the New York Times: 

“Part of the last three months has been desperately trying to come up with a new word that’s not radio. We couldn’t do it.”

TikTok has been something of an enigma since its launch five years ago.  Ex-President Trump tried – and failed – to get it banned here in the U.S.  Tech experts have debated whether TikTok is a social media or a video streaming platform.

To add to the ambiguity, it will soon also be a radio service, based on SiriusXM’s branding plans.  The satellite radio juggernaut announced its newest channel will be built around TikTok’s “tastemakers” and music discovery superpower.

As we’ve seen, especially during the Year of COVID, TikTok has emerged not just as a social media force to be reckoned with, but a platform that breaks new music by using it as the soundtracks for its highly habit-forming short videos.

The record labels have taken note, especially when Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” – a classic hit that is decades old – started to chart again last year when it was used in a viral TikTok video.

SiriusXM will now leverage TikTok’s popularity – especially with its legions of much-sought after Gen Z’s – to create a music channel that will receive massive cross-promotion from TikTok’s biggest stars.  TikTok Radio will also integrate Pandora playlists, as “tastemakers” tell the stories behind the songs they choose and even create.

First up is TikTok superstar Bella Poarch.  The cross-promotion has already begun as Bella has posted a TikTok video showcasing her debut playlist:

Did I mention that she has nearly 70 million followers on TikTok.

The pain points here for radio broadcasters reading this post are obvious:

  1. TikTok is showcasing its music discovery powers with this new radio station.
  2. It is also a personality play, shining the light on TikTok’s most popular music stars.
  3. It cleverly integrates the brands and functions of SXM and Pandora.
  4. It’s targeting teens (consumers SiriusXM desperately needs) to counter its already aging subscription service, supported primarily by Xers and Boomers.

And finally, it’s a competitive middle finger raised at broadcasters by doubling down on the “R-word.”

By branding it TikTok RADIO, SiriusXM is embracing the label that so many radio station owners are sidestepping by using variants of “audio” or “media” to reposition their companies and assets.

It’s a reminder that “radio” is a positive branding tool.  Zane Lowe learned that with Apple’s Beats 1 several years ago, and SXM’s content czar, Scott Greenstein, is unabashedly embracing today.

Whether TikTok Radio becomes a megawatt success for the satellite radio giant or just another channel in its vast lineup is beside the point.  What they’re focusing on strategically and tactically should be a topic in every radio company’s competitive strategy sessions.

That is, if we’re not too busy debating TLR, chasing meters, and figuring out how we can run more barter and online gambling spots.

Fred Jacobs: President & Founder at Jacobs Media

Fred Jacobs founded Jacobs Media in 1983, and quickly became known for the creation of the Classic Rock radio format.

Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.

In 2008, jacapps was launched – a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,300 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created – a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the “connected car” and its impact.

Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media’s commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.

Fred was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.

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