Re-posted from Billboard, Feb. 25, 2014
Leslie Fram is CMT’s SVP of music strategy and Matthew Siegel is Viacom Music Group’s VP of music strategy. Here they write about what they say is a “missed opportunity” by the tech industry to actively create products geared around the country music genre.
It’s no secret that we live in a mobile, social world. But the extent to which country stars and their fans constantly harness mobile and social platforms may come as a surprise.
Country has already gone social. Take, for example, the recent CMT Crossroads taping with One Republic and Dierks Bentley. Amidst hundreds of adoring fans and in between mash-ups of “Counting Stars” and “I Hold On,” Ryan Tedder actually stopped the show for a Twitter break. While that might seem odd, it’s increasingly becoming the norm with digitally savvy artists like Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line, all actively embracing and experimenting with new platforms to maintain an ongoing dialogue with fans. At CMT, we’re doing the same. The 2013 CMT Music Awards was our most social show of all time with Twitter traffic nearly doubling from the previous year, ranking #1 atop Social Guide’s Twitter TV rankings with 30% of all users engaged in related conversations about the show.
Despite the momentum, country fans are underserved on new platforms.One quick search of the App Store or Google Play reveals the current scarcity of apps that serve the country music audience. This state of affairs defies explanation in light of the market data: a CMT survey at the end of last year actually revealed that country fans are significantly more likely to use mobile apps than non-country fans. They are even more likely to own new devices like SmartTV’s, tablets and Blu-Ray players.
The country opportunity is huge. While the industry as a whole is struggling to regain its footing, country music remains one of the strongest and unwavering genres. According to recent CMA study, 42% of the U.S. adult population, roughly 95 million folks, self-identify as country music fans. The study further showed an even split of country fans across age groups, demonstrating the life-long nature of country fandom. Nielsen recently reported that country radio is the most-listened-to format in the US (ahead of Pop and Talk). When looking at the final tally of total album sales for 2013, two of the top five artists were country acts.
Just as barriers between devices are breaking down, the lines between pop and country are blurring together like never before. A few months back we launched the MTV Artists app and immediately began to notice how well country artists were indexing with young music fans. It’s clear that fans are no longer as confined to specific genres as they once were, and while they may begin searching for artists like Katy Perry and Lorde, they quickly make the jump to Kacey Musgraves and Cassadee Pope.
To meet demand from new fans on new platforms, country artists are deliberately creating new spaces to interact with fans using technology. Hunter Hayes is a shining example of someone that cares about his fans, and leverages digital to insert their voices into his music. After he debuted “Invisible” during this year’s Grammy Awards, a song that is very personal to him, fans were invited to go to Instagram and upload their own personal videos using the hashtag #iamnotinvisible. These amazing stories now feed into a mosaic on HunterHayes.com. As a result of this tech-enabled engagement, the song jumped to the top of the charts in its first week.
With all of this evidence, it’s clear that it’s time for product innovation in country music. The market data combined with our own experience, and the dearth of new products and technologies designed specifically for country music fans, tells us there is a massive untapped opportunity to better connect country fans with artists and content. A few days ago, we launched the CMT Artists App on iPhone to meet this need. The app enables fans to ID music or search for artists and tracks, and after that entry point delivers country fans an immersive experience including performances, interviews, news, music videos and more directly from artists. We hope that others will follow suit. Country fans are everywhere and they’re hungry for music and experiences that are enriched by new technologies.