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Townsquare adds six online community sites to music/entertainment content portfolio

Thursday, July 25, 2013 - 12:40pm

Broadcast group Townsquare Media announced this week it's expanding its portfolio of music and entertainment-focused web properties with the addition of six online communities.

The deal has Townsquare acquiring indie rock site Pretty Much Amazing, music and pop culture site Dangerous Minds, and social publishing platform and female-focused entertaiment community Wetpaint. Townsquare has also added Consequence of Sound, Potholes in My Blog, and Tiny Mix Tapes.

Townsquare owns and operates 241 radio stations, over 250 companion websites, an e-commerce business called SeizeTheDeal.com, and stages approximately 500 annual live events in small and medium-sized U.S. markets. The company says its collection of music and entertainment sites already attracts over 50 million U.S. monthly unique visitors.

In June Townsquare acquired former AOL assets The Boot, The BoomBox, NoiseCreep, and ComicsAlliance, as reported in RAIN here.

Op-ed: Net radio won't disrupt AM/FM without star-power content

Thursday, June 20, 2013 - 11:55am

Former AOL VP Brad Hill (and former GM/Director of Weblogs, Inc.) says that for all Internet radio's innovation, it won't seriously disrupt traditional AM/FM without "star power and blockbuster announcement material."

He means "killer content." Stern on SiriusXM, or "House of Cards" on Netflix.

And that lack of content relegates the medium as something out of the mainstream... "geeky" is Hill's word.

"Its image is tethered to computers and smartphones. That is a status quo in which the usage numbers of terrestrial radio remain fairly safe," he wrote for Engadget.

Sure, Internet radio still isn't quite as easy to use as an AM/FM radio. And it's not available in as many cars. But those things will change. And when they do, Internet radio's inherent advantages like lower (or nonexistent) ad loads and personalization, will become even more profound.

But Hill maintains that won't be enough for Internet radio, as it lacks the "shades of glamour" of things like video service Crackle's Seinfeld-produced "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee."

"It is up to Apple, or Google, or Rhapsody, or Spotify, or Pandora, or Amazon, or another internet player to break down the perceptual walls within which internet radio is trapped, developing content or importing stars that will compel users to commit more of their attention to the platform," Hill concludes. "Technology alone might not be enough to disrupt the nearly 100-year-old technology of terrestrial radio. But technology plus killer content can do it."

Read Hill's op-ed in Engadget here.

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.

Net radio can make a buck by making its own content, says consultant

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 - 11:50am

Radio consultant Walter Sabo yesterday counted "Internet radio" among his list of "Five Trends About to Make a Buck," but the key will be shifting to "marketable, own-able, and profitable" original content.

In a Talkers.com column, he contends webcasters' real payday will come when they develop their own original, compelling programming, and not simply aggregate content that's also available elsewhere (especially if that other content is copyright music which "comes with insane, uncontrollable royalty fees.")

"HBO, Showtime, USA Networks, AMC, SiriusXM, were all aggregators of content made by other companies and distributed on other platforms," Sabo wrote. "The result was customers chose one 'movie' channel. HBO and its competitors had to distinguish themselves with original content such as 'The Sopranos' and 'Weeds' to give customers a reason to subscribe to more than one premium channel."

Read Sabo's column (and see the other four "trends about to make a buck") at Talkers.com here.

Mobile app Buzzam creates "custom radio" of sorts by combining music with local news and social media content

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - 1:10pm

Buzzam Radio (at Buzz.am) is a new mobile app that can add local news and weather to your music listening (either local files or services like Spotify and Rdio), plus other nonmusical content (think Twitter and Facebook updates) to create "an audio stream customized for each user."

Buzzam, according to president/COO Greg Starling, was made in response to the shortcomings of Internet radio. "The problem with Internet radio services is that they omit critical elements of radio, like news, weather, commentary and other entertainment."

The app is in the iTunes store (there's no desktop version of the service). According to Wired.com, news options include BBC, NPR, CBS, NBC and Fox. You can also add podcasts to the stream. A "robot voice" reads your social media updates and local weather.

Read more in Wired here.

Sabo's key to radio's survival in transition to digital: Original, exclusive content

Thursday, September 20, 2012 - 10:55am

For the first time, RAIN Summit opened not with a panel discussion, but with overview remarks, delivered by radio consultant Walter Sabo. In many ways, Sabo struck the first notes of several of the day's recurring themes: the importance of the willingness to test new "disruptive" ideas, the immeasurable value of compelling content, and the need for new metrics to measure a global, interactive medium like Internet radio.

[You can listen to all of Sabo's address below, via the SoundCloud link. We'll be posting SoundCloud links to audio of every RAIN Summit Dallas segment in the coming days. Please look to the right-hand margin of RAIN under "RAIN Summit Dallas audio:" for more.]

Sabo emphasized the need for radio to be willing to take chances on new ideas and new revenue models -- again, a sentiment echoed throughout the afternoon -- with the words "It might work," which he says are the three most powerful and imporant words in a truly creative environment.

Clearly understanding the position in which heritage radio broadcasters find themselves with the onslaught of digital media, Sabo looked back to the the migration of audience listeners to FM and the birth of satellite radio in the U.S. to emphasize the need for "original, exclusive programming." It's not big-budget marketing, or content aggregation, or slicker technology that wins, he stressed, it's "producing original, exclusive, compelling programming. "

At some point, when (Internet radio's listener base) goes from 'innovator' to 'early adopter,' it has to go to 'early majority,' and the early majority needs more to justify its money and time," he said. "And that is gonna be original content."

So why isn't digital easy to monetize for content producers like radio? The "dirty secret," according to Sabo, it's that "ancient metrics" designed for geographically-limited distribution channels with finite inventory are being applied to this brand new, global-reach, unlimited inventory medium. The "real gold," he stressed, isn't cost-per-thousand (that's the old thinking). It's user data... the "who and where" of each and every listener.

Sabo encouraged radio broadcasters to embrace video to increase the usability of their sites and apps, and interactivity as well. "Your programming is streamed to a device with a keyboard and a mouse, ask your listeners to use them."

See our first recap of RAIN Summit Dallas here. We'll have more from the Summit soon.

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