Game Theory Revisited

By David Kidd, BPR

I’ve written about the importance of Game Theory previously. But given recent events I thought it would be timely to have another look at the concept, and its importance to a radio station’s overall strategic plan.

According to Bloomberg, as China waged military exercises off the coast of Taiwan earlier this month, a group of American defence experts focused on their own simulation of an eventual – but for now entirely hypothetical – US-China war over the island.

The unofficial what-if game or Game Theory is being conducted on the fifth floor of an office building not far from the White House, and it posits a US military response to a Chinese invasion in 2026. Even though the participants bring an American perspective, they are finding that a US-Taiwan victory, if there is one, could come at a huge cost.

In sessions that will run through September, retired US generals and Navy officers and former Pentagon officials hunch like chess players over tabletops along with analysts from the CSIS think tank. They move forces depicted as blue and red boxes and small wooden squares over maps of the Western Pacific and Taiwan. The results will be released to the public in December.

The success of a radio station’s strategy often depends on the strategies of its competitors.

As a result of this interdependence, the ability to anticipate your competitors’ strategies is essential. And this highlights the importance of strategic-planning tools such as Game Theory and Scenario Planning.

How many times in a strategy meeting do you ask: what if a competitor station changed format?….what if we changed format?….what if we lost our successful morning show?

Knowing what you would do in a certain situation is one thing.

But the other key aspect of Game Theory is correctly defining what your competitors would do.

This is not easy.

You need the ability to reverse-engineer the moves of competitors and predict what they are likely to do, what they will avoid doing and what they are actually capable of doing.

Getting inside your competitors’ heads is difficult because radio stations (and their decision makers) are usually very different. They often have different cultures, different theories on programming strategy, different budgetary pressures and always…..different talent in their line-up.

To use the China/Taiwan/US analogy…different warfare techniques, different weapons and most importantly different political systems and cultures.

To really play Game Theory you have to think like your competitors……not think like you would in their situation.

You must think like your competitors’ decision makers, which will usually be the Group Content/Program Director or CEO but don’t rule out majority shareholders either. And station programmers will also have a voice in the room.

This approach moves you into a thought process that helps turn competitive intelligence into competitive insights.

Too often when a competitor launches a direct attack, a station will formulate a defence strategy after the event. In an ideal world, the defence strategy would already be prepared and ready to be implemented immediately so as to blunt the competitor’s attack.


As Sun Tzu said: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” 




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