Blackberry has introduced a new radio app for its mobile devices that is innovative in that it’s not dedicated to a certain music service. Instead, the new app gives users easy listening access to a variety of music services and platforms. Clear Channel’s iheartradio, Slacker, and Corus stations are included in the Beta.
In the absence of an organization to lead the way with integrating apps and devices with stations, that job has been left to leading brands like Clear Channel and Pandora. And while it’s certainly a great thing that they are doing – both with cars as well as mobile devices – ultimately what ends up in cars and on smartphones needs to give consumers access to all rather than a limited list of stations. I don’t mean to imply that it’s entirely selfless on the part of Clear Channel or Pandora, certainly they benefit from early branding and driving more listeners to their streams. But what consumers will ultimately want is the ability to choose their own preferences from a portal that offers all the choices. Something more like RadioTime’s TuneIn app.
Blackberry’s new app takes a step in the right direction by offering several brands. I suspect we’ll see them open it up even more..
Podcast network Wizzard Media reports that 3rd quarter was a record breaking one for them, with 445 million podcasts downloaded in the 3 months. Wizzard provides hosting, ad serving tools, measurement and monetization services to more than15,000 podcast shows. Most of that is episodic programming, so the actual number of available podcast shows for download is well over a million.
The record breaking traffic came in the summer months, when listening generally slows. “We attribute this surge to the continued success of Apple’s products, the expansion of Wizzard’s App product and the growth of the audience that has access to podcasts via iTunes.” said Chris Spencer, Wizzard Media CEO.
In fact, 65% of the podcasts they host are downloaded via iTunes, while other Zune and Blackberry are the other major vehicles. In addition, Wizzard offers an embeddable player that makes it easy for listeners to download podcasts directly.
They’re in the business of helping people make a business out of podcasting – Wizzard sells podcast hosting and ad serving solutions to content providers and also offers them revenue sharing opportunities.
So what are people listening to? Top podcasts on the network include Adam Carolla, English as a Second Language Podcast, Learn French, Smodcast, Joe Rogan, Mark Maron and Grammergirl. Education, music and comedy genres dominate the top 20. Top shows are seeing millions of downloads a month.
Ad sales are mostly based on cpms and range, according to Rob Walch, VP Podcaster Relations from $2 for remnant to $45-$50 for certain programs (Wow!) Their advertiser list includes Ford, Coca-cola, Amazon owned Audible, Subway, Netflix, JC Penney and others. Wizzard uses Nielsen Net Ratings for 3rd party verification of ad impressions, an important piece for agency sales.
Podcasting is growing at Wizzard Media – they’ve watched downloaded podcasts move from 1.1 billion in 08 to 1.4 billion in 09 to 1.8 billion (approx) this year. What’s not to like about that?
Mobile music service Thumbplay has signed up over half a million trial accounts since it launched in March. Thumbplay offers unlimited music streaming for a monthly subscription fee of $9.99.
The downloads are for an initial free trial period, and although Thumbplay won’t say what their conversion is, Techcrunch points out that even at just 10% conversion that is $500,000 a month in revenues.
That sounds like a business model to me.
Some more interesting info on the service. Ninety percent of the use is on smartphones, although Thumbplay does offer a desktop app as well. Most of the subscribers are male, 25-34 years old. 39% of smartphone listening is on iPhone, 36% on Blackberry, and 25% on Android. Thumbplay’s one of the top 100 free apps in the iPhone app store.
And their promotional video/take off on an infomercial is amusing too.
Streaming music service Slacker is readying an on-demand streaming service for launch, according to a report by Wired. Slacker’s current offerings include interactive streams as well as pre-formatted channels. The service launched in 2007 with a dedicated portable device that could have, would have been a unique selling tool for the platform if streaming apps on smartphones hadn’t started to soar. Instead, Slacker abandoned the dedicated mobile device strategy and turned its attention to mobile apps. It’s available on iPhone, Android, Blackberry and other popular off-the-pc devices.
The new service will reportedly allow for an even greater degree of listener interactivity. The station already allows more interactivity than Pandora – listeners can add specific songs to their stations or playlists, while Pandora only permits adding artists. For five bucks a month, listeners can also nix audio ads, add unlimited song skips and requests.
Slacker intends to use the service to upsell its audience to a more premium offering that gives them greater control over their music. There’s no word on how much the service will cost.
During a panel that I hosted in Toronto at RAIN Summit North on March 12th, Slacker VP Jim Rondinelli indicated that ad sales have been healthy for Slacker. He noted that over the past year, they have sold almost all of their audio inventory through audio sales firm Targetspot as well as through Google’s Audio/Adsense platform.
No doubt, the launch of a highly interactive service is a move to position themselves against Pandora, the most popular streaming radio platform, as well as a few new services. MOG is an on-demand streaming service that costs $5 a month for unlimited streaming of whatever you want to hear. Last week they announced new mobile apps for iPhone and Android, upping the ante for the service that had previously been tethered to pc’s. Spotify is another on-demand streaming service that – although they have yet to launch here in the states – Slacker no doubt has on its radar…
Streaming services have seen great success with their mobile applications and with the mobile ad marketplace beginning to rev up, mobile streaming ad campaigns are becoming an important element of a station’s revenue strategies.
Recently Targetspot, a streaming ad technology and sales company, launched a new mobile advertising ad platform and will sell ads for Slacker’s mobile service on iPhone, Android and Blackberry smartphones. Other stations and services are seeing a growing demand for mobile streaming campaigns as well.
Pandora’s VP of Audio Sales Doug Sterne says Pandora has recently started serving audio ads to their mobile audience as well — and more and more advertisers are interested, either because they’re already engaged in mobile ad strategies specifically, or want to expand their reach further into the Pandora listener base. Mobile listeners add another 8 million active uniques to Pandora’s audience.
Stations working with mobile ad serving platforms Flycast and Airkast can sell and deliver mobile audio campaigns as well. Both services work with an extended list of stations, enabling them to sell their own campaigns. Flycast also offers some network level sales opportunities.
Targetability within mobile ad platforms can vary – Targetspot’s platform can deliver mobile ads to Slacker’s mobile audience by device as well as by registered user information such as age, gender, and zipcode. Pandora delivers their mobile ads based on registered user information as well. Flycast enables stations and advertisers to target mobile ad campaigns by device, age, gender, geo, and format.
Airkast, using AndoMedia ad insertion technology, has the additional capability to target using gps based data on where the listener is – so a listener that’s in the vicinity of a Home Depot can be served that particular audio ad.
As far as cpms, Sterne says they’ll have to see whether the marketplace is willing to pay more for mobile audio impressions – but right now they’re priced the same across web and mobile platforms.
U.S. subscribers owning smartphones grew from 11 percent to 17 percent of total U.S. cell phone users in 2009, and mobile ad dollars are exploding, making mobile audio ad solutions a key element for any successful streaming station.
Clear Channel will offer a special Verizon Wireless only version of iheartradio in a new release/upgrade of the software due out by Christmas. More than 4 million people have already downloaded the iheartradio mobile app which is available for iPhone. This new release will include an application for Android and Blackberry devices.
As part of the latest upgrade to the app, Clear Channel worked closely with Verizon Wireless to integrate V Cast Music and enable mobile purchases of full-track downloads, ringtones and ringback tones into a special Verizon Wireless-only version of iheartradio. V Cast is Verizon’s branded content platform. Ed Ruth, director, strategic business development and partner management at Verizon Wireless calls it “the ultimate in user choice and convenience”.
Clear Channel’s iheartradio platform has developed into a more than just a launching pad for broadcast station’s streams. It includes nearly 400 unique stations, including America’s most popular local radio stations and a growing number of digital-only channels such as Christina Aguilera Radio, Megadeth Radio, White House Brief and others. The company has also used the platform to build out interesting advertiser sponsored channels that integrate brands into the programming such as the recently launched Pirate Radio channel to promote the Focus Features film, and Red Star Radio sponsored by Macy’s. This new partnership with Verizon is an extension of that concept.
Flycast’s mobile broadcast platform seems to be getting better and better. Last week they announced “the next stage of their evolution” with advanced station caching capabilities. This means that listeners will be able to continue to listen to their selected stations even when they are not connected – such as on planes, trains, or even, as the announcement says, on submarines or African safaris!
It’s clever, sophisticated technology too – the stations cache wirelessly, so you don’t have to be “tethered via USB” to use the caching function. Caching and playing a station also uses less battery than streaming, (an appealing feature for those of us that know how quickly streaming depletes battery life on iphones).
All of this new technology does come with a price – Flycast is offering a trial period, and then pricing per device, which seems pretty reasonable, given that the original mobile app is free: Users will be able to try the station caching for 7 days, after which they will be able to purchase the 5 hour cache version for a one-time fee of $9.95 and the 20 hour cache version for $19.95. This fee is good for the life of the device.
Flycast has added some other features that should be attractive to their broadcast partners, such as the ability to offer premium content for micro payments, some new, cooler player features, and more.
Kudos to Flycast for their new launch. The caching feature is great – and I love the way they’re monetizing it, offering a free standard version and a paid one with significant upgrades. These improvements should bring them continued placement in top ten lists like this one for best free Blackberry apps…
The New York Times’ Bob Tedeschi recently wrote an article comparing his experience listening to Pandora and Slacker on a Blackberry Storm and an Apple iPhone – the goal being to compare the music services, rather than the phones. Slacker won for several good reasons that are a quick lesson in what listeners are looking for in mobile streaming services.
Slacker has 2.4 million songs in its library, which “dwarfs Pandora’s roughly 700,000” says Tedeschi. Both Pandora and Slacker offered up personalized music channels based on the selection of a single artist or song, and then refined those channels as the user indicated likes and dislikes of songs as they played.
Slacker offers the ability to download an entire station onto the Blackberry’s SD card, for listening without a cell connection. Atechnology that Pandora does not have. Both services offered easy ways to click and purchase songs.
Slacker’s sound quality was better, mainly due to the fact that Pandora adjusts sound quality to the user connection, minimizing sound files when the user is connected to 3G or 2G, and expanding them for wifi connections. But there’s a cost associated with that for Slacker…the better sound quality results in battery drain, whereas Pandora “hummed along happily”.
There are pros and cons for each service, and they’re both pretty good. But the takeaway here is that user awareness of mobile streaming technologies is expanding. Services that offer good user experiences are already out there and catering to the listeners. Want to play in the mobile streaming game? Make sure your platform and interface can keep up and keep your listeners happy…
Clear Channel made several streaming related announcements this week: It’s IHeartRadio IPhone application reached 1 million downloads, and is now available for Blackberry users as well. Clear Channel’s concerted effort to distribute its stations online and on mobile apps has resulted in overall audience growth for stations of 15%.
In an article published on WashingtonPost.com, Evan Harrison, President of Clear Channel Online Music and Radio explains that Clear Channel attracts 20 million unique visitors a month online, and the iPhone mobile app attracts 146,000 unique listeners a week. Harrison said the investment is justified. “Literally in LA, there are likely 20,000 to 25,000 more listeners between online and cellphones. It’s like adding another radio station. We are growing the audience, and there are more opportunities.” He added: “For us, it’s paramount that we make it easy for our listeners to stay connected with our stations, whether it’s at their desk, in their car or while mobile.”
Eliot Van Buskirk of Wired says Clear Channel’s success in reaching a million downloads “on IPhone shows that a real demand exists for mainstream radio on the iPhone. “Clearly,” he concludes, “people want mainstream radio programming — ads and all — on their phones.”
Clear Channel has done a nice job of leading mainstream broadcasting’s transition to the IPhone. The IHeartRadio App is nicely done with an option to pause and restart the stream, lyrics for most songs, and a Shake It feature for finding a random station. And, of course, you can tag the songs if you want to buy them from iTunes. Reportedly, there is a bug in the IPhone app, causing some phones to crash, which they are aware of and working to resolve with Apple. In the meantime, Clear Channel is focused on creating as many ways to distribute their programming on new devices and media channels, and it’s growing their business by growing audience for their products.