Are Your Listeners For Sale?

Earlier this week, RAINNews reported that an FM station in Boston – WKLB – is running spots for iTunes Radio. The spots are live reads, done by radio station personalities, and they sound like this.

When asked, the station, owned by Greater Media, issued some statement that kind of sounded like: “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” This doesn’t seem like an especially well thought out strategy for a company that owns a bunch of nicely branded radio stations with loyal listeners. Apparently, the requirements for the ad campaign from iTunes Radio included guaranteeing first in a commercial stop-set placement, and live reads (also known as endorsements) by radio station personalities.

The first time I listened to the live ad, I could barely believe my ears. I played it for  my husband (who is not in the industry), and he couldn’t believe it either. A radio station personality literally encouraging its listeners to listen to something else, going on and on about how great it is!

Years ago, I worked at WTIC AM in Hartford, one of the best AM radio stations in the country. At one point, that radio station’s morning show with Bob Steele had a 60 share of the market. When I worked there, Steele was retired, and we ONLY had about a 20 share in morning drive. We charged a lot of money for those spots, and live reads went for a huge premium, because we understood the value of them. Live endorsements by radio station personalities are very effective. So I’m guessing that iTunes is paying a lot for these spots.

Yesterday Edison Research and Triton Digital did an initial webinar release of their Infinite Dial update. iTunes Radio makes its debut in the study, having launched just last fall. And they’re off to an impressive start, with 8% of persons 12+ in the US saying they listened in the past month.

And that’s before broadcast personalities started telling their audiences how swell it is…

 

Almost All New Cars Will Be Connected In Five Years

By the end of this decade, 93% of new cars will offer streaming music as part of the built in entertainment system. That’s the prediction of new research out from ABI Research in the UK, which forecasts that global shipments of streaming music enabled automotive infotainment systems will top 66 million by the end of 2019.

The study says that Digital and HD Radio formats will never scale to replace FM, and auto manufacturers will continue to include FM receivers in cars for many years. But listening to FM will gradually be replaced by streaming radio and music services as more and more cars become connected.connected dashboard

Car manufacturers know that in car entertainment systems are important to consumers, particularly younger ones. The race to integrate connected dashboard technology is on. As carmakers search for innovative platforms to call their own, fragmentation is high at this early stage. Streaming services like Pandora, iHeartradio and Spotify, looking for ubiquity, must integrate with each platform individually, an expensive challenge.

The impact of connected dashboards on the future of radio is high. A connected driver can receive highly targeted messages based on what they are driving, and where they are located, offering greatly enhanced value to advertisers, and higher net cpms for the music services.

We’ll be discussing all of the developments, challenges, and impacts that the connected dashboard presents for our industry, with George Lynch, VP Automotive Biz Dev at Pandora; Michael Bergman, Senior Director, CEA; Jake Sigal, Founder, Livio; and other smart folks at RAIN Summit West on Sunday April 6th in Las Vegas. Join us and become part of the amazing buzz surrounding our industry at our biggest event of the year. Early registration rates end soon.

Have You Heard The News Today?

There’s a lot going on with streaming audio talk platforms that’s intriguing. I don’t mean podcasts, although there is certainly a growing demand and interest in that form of on-demand streaming talk programming.

Swell is a smartphone app that allows you to hear interesting content and like or dislike it, personalizing your content as you listen. It’s similar, but different from Stitcher, which gives you the opportunity to design your listening experience by selecting programs, but it doesn’t go beyond that to suggest more content based on your interactive likes and dislikes.  NPR’s mobile app offers a nice way to listen to their own programming, while Tunein gives you a chance to pick your programs and listen to them archived or live. swell

Meanwhile, Spoken Layer is a new startup that offers publishers the option of converting their articles to professionally read audio. Scalable narration and content distribution, as they describe it on their site. The platform enables publishers to turn any text into spoken audio in just minutes, enabling audio delivery of their content. In fact, while Spoken Layer does have partnerships already with several well-known publishers, including The Atlantic, National Journal, Engadget and TechCrunch, any journalist can use the platform to create an audio offering of their piece, or record it themselves.

spoken layerI like to listen to talk programming, particularly in the car, so I’m pleased to investigate options that help me get more of what I find interesting. Talk programming can be highly engaging and entertaining, making it a good format for advertisers. News/talk is a “lean forward” format – listeners are generally tuned in and listening actively, as opposed to music formats, which listeners listen to in the background. Years ago, I sold ads on a news/talk station in Hartford, and was often amazed at the response that an advertiser would get from a live read done by the morning drive personality.

Jason Calacanis, a very smart digital media entrepreneur, has just launched a new site called Inside, which offers readers a curated news feed that emphasizes excellent journalism on topics that the reader can choose. While it doesn’t offer an audio platform, it’s interesting to note that Calacanis is an investor in Swell also. Calacanis, whose career highlights include founder of Weblogs, a network of professional blogs that included Engadget and Autoblog, which he sold to AOL, will be the keynote speaker at RAIN Summit West on April 6th during NAB Show Week. He’ll deliver his annual State of Media speech there, and I expect it to be one of the most interesting speeches we’ve ever hosted at a RAIN Summit event.

The world of news/talk audio programming is changing, impacted by online offerings that enable a seemingly limitless listening experience. Choice is the name of the game, and consumers are in the drivers seat…

Viral Audio

Last week I read an article on Digg about audio on the Internet that really has me thinking. The article, which is well worth reading, examines the reasons why audio is less apt to be shared than video online. Why is audio less viral?

This is a great question, and answers abound. Video has youtube, and youtube has video, making sharing so easy, for starters. Cameras are everywhere. People like to share and look at pictures, still or moving. It’s more fun to look than listen.

But wait, is that true? Not necessarily. I think it’s easier to look than it is to listen. And it’s also easier to make something entertaining when there is a visual element. Audio has to work harder to be good. But when it is, it’s almost better.

Have you heard the audio interview “The Worst Haircut Ever”? It’s an interview that father/journalist Jeff Cohen did with his two daughters, ages 3 and 5, after the older one cut the younger one’s hair. It’s a great illustration of how audio can be as engaging (or more) than video. I listened to it, chuckled, and then played it for my daughter, who loved it too. After, she said: “I wish I could see what her hair looked like!”

I think that’s just it – audio works so well for this bit, and the bit works so well on audio because we can only imagine what the haircut looked like. We’re more engaged because we can’t actually see it.

What are the elements that make great audio that people will want to share online? How can we make sharing of audio mainstream? Platforms like Soundcloud make it easy to upload and share audio.

I’m making it a mission for 2014 to share audio in my social networks, and I invite you to do the same. #audio

RAIN Summit NYC: Pureplays and Podcasts

RAIN Summits have an exciting calendar in 2014, beginning with a first ever RAIN Summit NYC on February 5th. The event will take place at The Greene Space in Soho, and the focus of the agenda will be “pureplays and podcasts”. It’s going to be an exciting afternoon and evening of discussions and networking among streaming audio entrepreneurs, with topics dedicated to platforms that are not using streaming to supplement their broadcast platforms, but are originating their programming online. NYC_EARLYBIRD2

The list of speakers, and panel topics, are available on the website. Speakers include a unique list of folks who haven’t joined us before like Deezer, 8Tracks, Songza, and Earwolf (to name but a few). Panel topics will cover both streaming and podcasts. We’ll also talk about licensing and also hear a panel of investors in the space.

It’s an afternoon event, beginning at 1:30 and ending with a cocktail reception from 6-7. Registration is very reasonable – and until Monday you can get the early bird rate of $49.

It’s going to be a great event, and it will be better if you join us. February 5th in NYC. Hope to see you there!

Streaming Services Put Focus On Advertising Innovations at CES

It’s press release week – err, I mean CES week – in our industry this week, a time when lots of folks gather in Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show, and announce innovative products and projects. I don’t mean to belittle the announcements, some of which sound very promising. But it’s kind of a shame that it all has to be condensed into one week.

In any event, two announcements in particular caught my attention yesterday. First, an announcement by AdsWizz and Aha by Harman, who have partnered to deliver ads. Aha has a strong foothold in the automotive market – in some 50 car models by 14 manufacturers. The AdsWizz piece enables audience targeting based not only on the usual age/gender demographics, but also including location, make and model of the car.

Pandora‘s announcement yesterday concerned similar innovations – rolling out in-car audio advertising that enables advertisers to target listeners who are listening in their cars. Ford, BP, State Farm and Taco Bell are national brands that are targeting Pandora listeners in their cars. More than 4 million unique users have activated Pandora through a native integration in a car.

Streaming audio services continue to refine their ability to deliver ads to consumers with precision, enhancing advertiser impressions by doing so. Increased targetability creates increased value for the advertiser by boosting an ad’s return on investment, and that’s a great place for our industry to focus innovative energy..

Audio Ad Blocking Is Not An Enhancement

So my number one source of info on cool new trends is home from college for the holidays. The other night at dinner she casually mentions that she never listens to ads on Pandora anymore. She does most of her streaming on her laptop, because, you know, college kids are attached to their laptops a lot of the time. As long as you use Chrome, she tells me, you can use the ad-blocker which blocks all the audio ads.

It turns out she’s right. In fact, in the Chrome Web Store, there are several browser extensions that enable the listener to tune out the ads. Available for free. At least one has been around for more than a year. Of course, ad blocking is unethical, but it’s pretty hard to explain that and make it stick when the extension is sitting right there. It all seems pretty legit. I’m sure Pandora is delighted. One of the pitfalls of being the streaming music platform of choice is that the service becomes a target for developers who have the know how to “improve upon it.” radio enhancer

The good news is, audio ad blocking doesn’t seem to affect mobile streaming, and with 70% of Pandora’s listening on mobile devices, that’s a good thing. Advertisers pay by impression, so they aren’t getting hosed by this. But every time someone listens to Pandora and doesn’t listen to ads Pandora loses money, because they pay royalties by the listener. So it’s a bad thing.

I’m completely on board with the notion that ad blocking is unethical. (And believe me, I explained that to my daughter.) But this is not an isolated issue, and it’s not just Pandora’s problem. I had a conversation with a client yesterday who told me that “no one sees ads on the web anymore, everyone uses an ad blocker.” ( Which I know isn’t true, because I do not use an ad blocker myself.) But ad blocking is there, it’s real, and it’s a growing problem. Content platforms need to be aware of it, and develop solutions – better ways to incorporate ads into content, better ways to communicate the importance of ad revenues to their audience, maybe even better ways to deliver ads to their audience.

The Download On Podcasts

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There’s buzz and activity around podcasting these days. Podcasting isn’t new, but I think it’s become reinvigorated of late with a few players moving things forward. Organized access to content that makes it easier for listeners and producers to connect and easier for advertisers to purchase and track ads, is the force behind this new momentum.

A key company in the space is Podcast One, owned by Norm Pattiz. Founder of Westwood One, Pattiz has the know-how to build a content network, and he’s now applying that skill, and his relationships with celebs, to build a network of podcasts. Launchpad Digital Media is a sister company that sells ads for the network. According to a recent article in Bloomberg News, Podcast One hosts 200 shows in its network and averages 100 million downloads a month.

There are other players in the space as well — Earwolf is a comedy network that also offers producers the tools they need to connect with advertisers through sister company The Midroll. WNYC in New York offers a substantial suite of downloadable audio including Freakonomics hosted by author Stephen Dubner, Radiolab, and Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin. Stitcher’s been around for a few years, organizing access to content and offering a mobile app that has been downloaded 12 million times, and is integrated with several car manufacturers and both IOS and Android phones.

Meanwhile, the elephant in the room when it comes to podcast networks is iTunes, which offers a huge library of downloadable audio but no monetization opportunities for the producers. Which creates a nice opportunity for the other companies who are willing to figure out the measurement and monetization piece.

We’ll be discussing that aspect of podcasting, and a lot more at RAIN Summit NYC on February 5th in New York City on a panel called “The Download on Podcasts.”

The all new RAIN News site has launched, and I’m sure you will want to check it out and then use your social media tools to tell your friends about it. There’s a new url, a new site, and a lot more content there which will be updated throughout the day. 

Winamp’s Shut Down Was Inevitable

winampThe announcement that Winamp would shut down before the end of the year didn’t surprise me given that AOL had already abandoned its online radio platform, but it did make me pause. There have been several times this year that I have stopped and thought that surely this event is one of the signals that online audio has left the “niche” stage of its development and entered the reality of being a full blown mass appeal marketplace. One that a product like Winamp, free downloadable software that began as a tool to enable people to play all those songs they downloaded from Napster, couldn’t survive in.

In fact, I’ve wondered a lot over the years, why AOL kept updating it at all – given that the business model – getting users to pay for an improved upgrade to the player – was so weak. In fact, AOL didn’t just continue to update and distribute Winamp when it purchased Nullsoft in 1999 for $400 million, it also kept Shoutcast running all this time as well. And that was an even stranger conundrum, given that many of the biggest stations on Shoutcast were getting free bandwidth (at least a few years back they were). The deal was, at least back in the early 2000s, that you couldn’t run any ads if you wanted the free bandwidth. I never could figure out why that was. Didn’t that hurt AOL’s own Internet radio platform?

In any event, although Winamp and Shoutcast operated independently at AOL for lots of years, it seems that someone has finally noticed the lack of a business model in that department. Winamp will shut down later this month, although there is word that Microsoft may purchase the intellectual property. The end of an era that also signifies the arrival of a new one – the mature online audio marketplace, where you have to have a business model to compete…

 

Pandora’s Proprietary Audience Segments

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With more than 200 million registered users, Pandora’s collection of user data is substantial. Now they are beginning to use that data to create marketable audience segments that advertisers can use to target their campaigns.

The first of these “proprietary audience segments” created by Pandora are Hispanic and Spanish speaking users of the service. To create these segments, Pandora cross referenced their registered users with zip codes that have a high population of Hispanic and Spanish speaking listeners, using publicly available census data. It’s still inference based targeting, meaning that the buyer has to agree to make assumptions about the consumer based on where they live, but it’s an improvement over cookie-based technology, which makes inference based assumptions as well – usually assuming that someone visiting a certain site matches a certain set of established criteria.

Critics will argue that users often give false registration data as well, and that is certainly a factor, but probably not a significant deterrent for buyers who are looking for any improved ways of reaching more of the people they want to reach, fewer of those they don’t.

Studies have shown that listeners are quite tolerant of targeted ads online, especially when they are targeted to offer products that the listener might find useful.

In fact, Pandora’s capable of slicing up their audience by market, zip code, age or gender, or the kind of music they listen to, and has been doing that for a long time. These new customer segments are available in media buying software that makes it very simple for agencies to identify, price and purchase. It’s a smart way to market their large audience to advertisers and showcase their targeting capabilities. This video features Heidi Browning, Pandora SVP of strategic solutions, discussing the streaming service’s targeting capabilities.

 

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