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Deeper understanding of listener expectations and preferences key to building audience, say Summit experts

Friday, April 19, 2013 - 1:50pm

Unsurprisingly, the panelists in our RAIN Summit "Accelerating Your Audience Growth" panel stressed the importance of good, "differentiating" content to build an audience -- especially as music (and even news) becomes "commoditized."

More interesting was this point: An important step towards delivering the right content is a more thorough understanding of your listeners.

Edison Research cofounder/president Larry Rosin (left) moderated this first panel of the afternoon half of the Las Vegas Summit. He asked Pandora VP of Engineering Chris Martin about Pandora's "genre" stations

[sidenote: Pandora not only creates channels "on the fly" by asking the listener for a favorite song or artist, it also offers more traditional radio-style channels programmed by genre, e.g. country or pop hits]

Martin (right) explained them as the product of realizing that not all Pandora listeners come to discover new music. Rather, these channels are an "entry point" for those listeners who want a "super simple" experience based around artists they already know.

Rachna Bhasin is SiriusXM SVP/Corporate Strategy and Business Development (lower on the left). She explained SiriusXM is always looking for new content and talent intended to drive more subscriptions. Those efforts are informed by significant amounts of research and interviews with listeners, and an understanding of the expectations of "key audience demographics" to develop that content ("We're doing a lot with Latin right now," she illustrated.)

The Echo Nest CEO Jim Lucchese introduced his company's concept of "audience clusters" as an example of understanding the listener to deliver the right content.

[The Echo Nest is a "music intelligence" service with a massive database on listeners preferences and musical attributes of millions of songs, which is used by services like Spotify and iHeartRadio (and SiriusXM's new MySXM customizable streaming service).] 

Putting "a real keen focus" on understanding the listener, Lucchese explained, means looking at "clustering audiences into different types of music listeners" and examining how different underlying programming rules need to be applied for those different clusters.

"We found different 'rule sets' drive engagement wildly differently based on (listeners') geography, (preferred) style of music... you need to understand your fan base better before messing around with rules."

Rosin followed up with a question on how The Echo Nest client services learn about listener preferences, especially new listeners. Lucchese (right) explained some services can scan a new listener's local media library (by examining their iTunes XML file, for instance) to get a sense of the listener. There's also public preferences expressed on social media (such as Facebook 'likes'). Then, of course, later the services can simply track "what you listen to" -- and, importantly -- "how you react to it and build that up over time."

The Echo Nest CEO spoke directly to broadcasters and advised them to improve their streams by spending more time "focusing on and understanding" their audience: "Online listeners provide you with a ton of information about who they are. We're still in the stone age about recognizing not just what they like, but how they listen. Developing that will make a more engaging experience, and a more profitable one," he said.

Speaking to this very point, ABC News Radio VP/GM Steve Jones (left) described how he wants this guide the development of his service.

For a hypothetical 28-year old country music listener, Jones' company has vast amounts of "non- fiction spoken word" that she'd find of interest (she could learn how to "advance her career, manage her boss, get relationship advice").

"We can't yet, but what I'm excited about is being able to, when that listener is finished listening to a Taylor Swift song to let her know there's an opportunity right now to drive that listening experience into one of those other areas," Jones said. "That, to me, is the future, to control how listeners are going to consume audio beyond any one narrow niche..."

SiriusXM's Bhasin even returned to the theme of "understanding the listener" when discussing Apple's expected entry into streaming radio: "They have lots of data" on purchase history and customer preferences from which they can draw to program the right content. "They're trying to build curation now."

Consultant Alan Burns (Alan Burns & Associates president/CEO) (right) even suggested streaming broadcasters and pureplay webcasters could look to each other for better ways to present content.

"What radio needs to do most of all, the thing that would boost online listening to (music) radio streams," Burns said, is to "make broaddcast streams skippable" (that is, replicate the ability of most Net-only streaming experiences in which a listener can instantly skip to the next song).

For pureplays, his advice was that "jukeboxes don't hold up as well" as programming with "deeper branding and content." Pureplays need to create experiences "that will help them develop the personal bond you get with traditional radio," he suggested.

You can listen to the audio of "Accelerating Your Audience Growth" from RAIN Summit West. Go to RAIN's homepage to find all the RAIN Summit West audio in the right-hand column.

"Accelerating Your Audience Growth" at RAIN Summit features execs from Sirius, Pandora, ABC Radio News

Friday, March 1, 2013 - 3:20pm

It's said that the premium in our digital economy is "attention" -- listeners simply don't have the time to consume every bit of content that's churned out. Your marketing needs to effectively attract audience, and your programming needs to be compelling to keep listeners. Certainly your potential audience is the world, but you have global-scale competition too. And new technology is constantly giving potential listeners new options across so many digital platforms -- print and video as well as audio. So what are the best practices to get more new listeners, and how do you get your existing listeners to listen more?

For this April's RAIN Summit West in Las Vegas, we've assembled the "Accelerating Your Audience Growth" panel to address these very questions.

SiriusXM knows about listeners. They ended 2012 with nearly 24 million subscribers, a record for the company. Sirius also reported $3.4 billion in revenue, also a record. We welcome to RAIN Summit Rachna Bhasin, SVP/Corporate Strategy and Business Development at Sirius XM Radio. Her background working for EMI Music will be valuable in our audience growth discussion.

Alan Burns (upper left) laid the groundwork for his Alan Burns & Associates research and consultancy firm with experience as a former major market program director, on-air talent, and researcher. Alan Burns & Associates produces the "Here She Comes: Insights into Women, Radio, and New Media" study.

ABC News Radio VP/GM Steve Jones (middle right) returns to the RAIN Summit stage. He's leader of a team that creates audio and text content for terrestrial radio, Internet radio, satellite radio, and mobile distribution -- including customizable news/lifestyle content for Slacker Radio. He's twice been awarded "News Executive of the Year."

Another returning RAIN Summit vet is Jim Lucchese (lower left) CEO of music intelligence company The Echo Nest. Jim's company powers many of the music services that "adapt" to a listener's tastes: Echo Nest APIs have been used for more than 350 apps for companies like Spotify, Nokia, Vevo, and Clear Channel's iHeartRadio. The Echo Nest raised $17.3m of funding in 2012.

The bulk of Internet radio's audience are Pandora listeners: 1.39 billion hours of listening in January, 65.6 million active listeners, and a 7.19% share of U.S. radio listening. Chris Martin, Pandora's VP/Engineering (bottom right), manages software development, quality assurance, customer support, device development, device certification, and production support. His efforts helped Pandora forge 20 U.S. auto partnerships and get the app in 85 different car models.

RAIN Summit West is Sunday, April 7 in Las Vegas. The annual full-day Internet radio conference is a co-located education program of the NAB Show. Now in its 12th year, the Summit focuses on the intersection of radio and the Internet. Keynoting the even will be RAB president and CEO Erica Farber (more in RAIN here) and Rhapsody International president Jon Irwin (more here). Register today, while flights and hotels are still readily available, via the RAIN Summit West page.

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