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InsideRadio, InsideRadio.com Monday, Nov 28, 2016 11:25 AM EST

Streaming Gives Stations Ability to Offer New & Niche

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On station websites, mobile apps and radio aggregator apps, you’ll find more radio companies offering hundreds of niche music stations, as well live digital streams, exclusive videos, interviews and podcasts. That’s the latest roster of methods meant to create a richer, more intimate audio experience, build listening and attract incremental ad revenue—all thanks to the power of streaming. Launching new online-only content alongside stations’ live streams may be a key to competing with digital audio services in an increasingly digital, on-demand audio world where consumers expect customized content at their fingertips.

“Creating new content for online is the way to attract new audiences and growth,” says Triton Digital president of Market Development, John Rosso. “That’s probably the No. 1 thing that these companies ought to be doing, not just leveraging that over-the-air signal.”

The notion of using digital streams as an additional distribution channel is an emerging one. To date, many broadcasters have viewed digital streaming as a straight simulcast; it’s a way to connect with tech-savvy fans for whom listening on mobile devices or desktops is more convenient than radios. It also increases the number of ways consumers can access radio content. Now, as executives are seeing more data showing sizable audiences tuning in for significant periods of time, attitudes are changing.

Through digital, some radio stations are exploring ways to incubate new formats and fresh talent. On its Radio Pup app, Townsquare Media is streaming an all-holiday station, AllChristmas.fm. On its iHeartRadio service, iHeartMedia offers dozens of custom stations organized by genre, more curated by artists and even branded channels and ones devoted to its biggest personalities, all alongside its station streams. On its digital portal radio.com, CBS Radio offers more than a dozen digital-only stations, including a hip-hop Christmas station and a Woodstock-themed channel, alongside its live station streams.

Some broadcasters are using their expertise to create exclusive digital products. At Emmis Communications, for example, the company combined two of its biggest radio brands, Hot 97 and Power 106, to anchor a mobile app, “Where Hip Hop Lives,” that combines station streams with exclusive hip-hop lifestyle content. The app also features two digital-only stations, New at 2 with new hip-hop music and, the most recent addition, a Throwback Hip Hop channel.

“These are things you would never be able to do in the terrestrial radio world,” says Trinity Brocato, Emmis Digital’s director of Mobile Innovation. “Our Nielsen ratings and People Meters are how we define our success, but there are so many people involved in the consumption in this genre and its future who will never have a meter in their hand. [With digital channels], we can serve audience and serve all the subgenres of hip-hop.” When appropriate, radio hosts plug the streams on-air, including plugs for Throwback on “Throwback Thursdays” and hyping New at 2 during daily 2pm “New at 2” broadcast segments featuring new music. “There are natural touchpoint on-air,” Brocato says.

To be successful, Brocato says digital channels need to offer more than just music.

“What sets Throwback apart from your podcast player at home or your iPod or Pandora playlist is it is not just a list of songs,” she says. “We are giving exclusives and the stories behind the music.” For instance, Hot 97 and Power 106 DJs share their insights, memories and expertise on artists and songs, creating more exclusive content and an air of intimacy, she says.

On its streams, Cumulus Media is incubating some of its newest talent, including country musician and blogger Caroline Hobby, who now voices interstitials on Cumulus streams that cover commercial breaks for out-of-market listeners. The short segments also allow Cumulus to feed exclusive content to its digital listeners and give new hosts such as Hobby a chance to fine-tune their audio skills, senior VP of Content and Programming Mike McVay said recently.

“Instead of hearing a PSA for the hundredth time, it might be Carolina Hobby, presenting a three-minute piece on country music about their life on the road or John Batchelor from [talk] WABC [New York] with parts of his programs that have been drilled down to three minutes,” McVay says. “It gives us a moment to expose new people.”