Radio, Why are you ignoring the elephant in the room?

Why does it appear that radio is the last of the media groups to truly embrace digital?


The numbers can’t be lying: the audience is moving to it and your advertising dollars are moving to it.


I think the real issue at hand is that stations across the country would have to look themselves in the mirror and face the fact that they can’t sell digital. RadioInk released a survey earlier in the week that asked owners and managers to give their opinion on the state of their sales forces, and how that translates into digital sales. You can read that article here.


The overwhelming concensus was that the majority of traditional sales reps aren’t as knowledgeable in selling digital. If the radio industry wants their advertisers to invest in digital, the station needs to take the first step in investing in itself, and properly train its sales staff on the power of the digital platforms.


But we don’t want to point out a problem without solutions. Important things to understand when it comes to digital ad sales are the metrics and how that applies to specific demographics.


Whether you are selling website ads or selling mobile ads, be sure that your platform has an analytics tool (Google Analytics is a free and easy to understand tool) that can measure user behaviors on your platforms.


Take some time to research national trends – doing so you may learn that web radio advertisers, when surveyed, gave nearly a 58% higher ROI than terrestrial broadcast radio advertisers. Much of that is the ability to introduce a visual ad as well as a nearby platform (computer or smartphone) to act upon the call-to-action.


In the end it comes down to taking the time to understand what the market is doing, and what your advertisers truly need – even if they do not know it just yet.


Most people are slow to change, but don’t let that be you.

More stations turn to web portals to grow digital. –

From cute cat videos to “babes of the day,” many stations are trying whatever it takes to build website traffic.   But some managers say station websites just don’t attract enough visitors on their own to grab marketers’ attention or make a difference for local clients.  That’s why a growing number have turned to standalone local portals as their digital play.


In terms of content, most of the portals are driven by local news, weather and community events listings.  Horizon Broadcasting recently revived the site for Bend, OR, incorporating lessons learned from its old site.   President Keith Shipman says 91% of people went to the portal for local news, 7% wanted the weather, and 1% wanted to listen to the police scanner. There’s a growing urgency to build a more robust digital property says Shipman, who points out some automakers like Ford are requiring local dealers to allocate half of their co-op dollars to the web.  “When a local dealer calls, we have to create a vehicle for us to be in play for those dollars,” Shipman says.  “And they’re not the only client that’s thinking about that in today’s world.”


Nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills, Clark Broadcasting created for the Sonora, CA region.  Clark president H. Randolph Holder says the portal draws a mix of on-air clients who want to extend their buy to digital, like a local hospital that sponsors the health section on the website.  “Its cross-section has allowed us to provide an advertising vehicle for smaller mom and pop businesses,” Holder says.


Ten months after launching for Columbia, SC, Local Voice Media president Kirk Litton says growth has been “fantastic” as the local online portal has “taken on a life of its own.”  The site, which brings together radio and digital newspapers assets for Virginia and North Carolina, broke even after six months, and now is generating some profit without the “shell game” Litton sees many radio companies playing with digital revenue.   “These sites are real dollars,” he says. “Clients are buying a radio schedule along with a fully-funded digital advertising plan.  It’s not bastardizing one at the expense of the other.”


There’s no dedicated sales team for MyCentralOregon — Horizon Broadcasting reps pitch the portal.   “Every call they go on, we’re asking them to make a pitch for digital so we can identify what kind of budget is available from the advertiser and then hopefully be a good competitor for those digital dollars,” Shipman says. went live more than a decade ago and today Clark Broadcasting gets 15% of its total revenue from digital.   “There are people who we sell to that we’ve never been able to get on the radio, but they’ll buy the internet,” Holder says, though he doubts the site will even bring in enough to out-bill one of his radio stations.   Holder says his company doesn’t sell based on the number of clickthroughs ads receive.  Instead they offer a guaranteed impression.


Armed with internal metrics and Google Analytics, Litton says his sales reps are able to give local clients more “real data” than what Nielsen’s diary-based ratings can provide.  “It’s helped us get behind the ratings,” he says.


Love or hate it, bonus spots are a fact of life in radio in 2014 — much to the frustration of managers who hate to give anything away for free.   But companies that have created digital standalone websites say those web properties are remarkably resistant to bonusing.  “There isn’t one free ad on that site, there hasn’t been since day one,” Litton says, referring to the Columbia SC focused


Horizon Broadcasting says is a “cash-only” site as well.  “We have individual station website as well,” Shipman says, “and if added-value exists, it will be on those sites.”  Litton says his sales reps don’t even bother selling ads for their two Columbia stations’ websites, seeing them as more of a promotional tool.


Kitton says there’s good reason the digitally native brands can resists freebies.  “These sites can stand on their own, whereas a radio station’s website can’t because the larger piece of that is the actual broadcast signal,” he says.


After attempting to syndicate a portal product to other small market operators didn’t get far, Holder says he’s learned that many broadcasters are worried a robust portal will draw away on-air listeners.  But he thinks that’s the wrong way to view things.  “You’re also not going to cannibalize your listenership,” he says.  “You exploit it to run traffic to the portal and that enables you to sell the advertising to make it a standalone asset.”


Unlike station websites, community portals and digital news sites require more time, effort and expense to get off the ground and maintain.  But having sister radio stations brings lots of built-in assistance on all three counts.  While Horizon Broadcasting has hired a digital media director — a rare position in Bend, OR —Shipman says his company is “cross pollinating news” from news/talk KBNW (1340, 104.5) and ABC News Radio for    “I don’t dedicate manpower to just the local site, but there will be a day when we have to do that in order to remain competitive,” he predicts.


Holder says Clark Broadcasting is also leveraging a radio news staff.  The biggest startup expense for was creating the evergreen content about local parks for instance.  It also takes as much commitment to manage the website as another radio station, he says.


With a digital newspaper, Litton says required an even larger commitment, hiring five reporters and an editor. “We’re reporting local news, so it’s stuff people want 24/7,” he explains.  Yet Litton sees a big potential upside.  “Maybe someone isn’t a listener to one of our stations, but in some way we are touching them in the community that we’re in,” he says.


Holder agrees.  “We can only charge for people who listen to the station,” he adds. “So I can extend our reach with a portal that has ubiquitous appeal to the entire market. It’s a win-win.”


Attention RADIO stations: Clear Channel gives technology a bigger role, why not you?

Clear Channel president Brian Lakamp and Darren Davis are taking on newly expanded roles at the company in a pair of moves that on the surface are merely promotions.   But in a bigger sense, CEO Bob Pittman says the new roles are clear evidence that digital has become integrated into every aspect of the business.

The most noteworthy change is president of digital Brian Lakamp’s handoff of iHeartRadio management to Darren Davis, president of the Clear Channel Networks Group where the streaming music service will now reside.  The move allows Lakamp to take a broader, more futurist role at the company.   As president of technology and digital ventures he will look for new ways to use technology across all Clear Channel divisions, as well as oversee the development of big data integration to bring programmatic buying into radio.  Lakamp will also act as a liaison to Silicon Valley.

Pittman calls it “clear evidence” that Clear Channel is integrating digital into all aspects of the business and it’s happening at a faster pace than anyone had imagined it could.   Company president/CFO Rich Bressler says that putting Lakamp at the most senior level of the company with a digital and tech mandate also reflects “the increasingly important role that technology is playing at Clear Channel.”

Now reporting to Lakamp will be EVP of engineering and system integration Jeff Littlejohn, CIO Pete Gerrald, RCS Worldwide president Philippe Generali, and EVP of strategic development Joe Robinson.  Looking across the radio, digital and outdoor portfolio, Lakamp says he sees “massive opportunities” to use technology and business analytics in new ways.

The changes also represent a pivot point for iHeartRadio.  The recently rolled out version 5.0 has more than 50 million registered users.  It’s a noteworthy milestone.  But at the same time as it moves under the Clear Channel Networks Group there’s also a shift for the streaming service.  It’s no longer viewed as purely a technology but a piece of the programming and content delivery apparatus.

Pittman says iHeartRadio has been driven by on-air integrations, promotions, social media, and live events — many of which have been tied in with Clear Channel Outdoor, some internationally.    It’s all part of what he tells staff is the “continuing transformation” of Clear Channel into a “technology-fueled 21st century media and entertainment company.”

Networks Group president Darren Davis is taking over managing the app, so iHeartRadio will sit alongside Premiere Networks, the Total Traffic and Weather Network, and the 24/7 News Network.  Davis says he’s looking to use the “full promotional and creative power” of the various assets to continue growing iHeart.

Barclays media analyst Kannan Venkateshwar believes the media is in a “new phase of industry transformation” where the boundaries between distribution and content are being “blurred.”  Venkateshwar says that’s a good thing for content owners because of new ways to monetize content, a fact he thinks most investors are missing.  But while Venkateshwar says the media industry is either in a “golden age” or the early stage of a secular shift brought on by digital, he warns that disorder will likely rule the day.   The music industry and newspapers fell prey first, but Venkateshwar says as more barriers break down it could bring about even more fragmentation in the coming five to seven years.