NYT: Broadcasters face "thorny" problem of which service to join

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Issue Date: 
Aug 6 2012 - 12:45pm

From Issue:

TuneIn and iHeartRadioWeb radio aggregators TuneIn and Clear Channel's iHeartRadio have become "symbols for the challenges of adapting to the digital age" for the radio industry, writes the New York Times. The two services -- now "going head-to-head in the marketplace" -- actually have much in common.

Both offer an enormous range of radio station streams (70,000 from TuneIn, nearly 2,000 live stations from iHeartRadio). Both are increasingly popular: TuneIn just today announced it now has 40 million monthly users, while Clear Channel says iHeartRadio has more than 12 million registered users.

"But as businesses they represent two poles of media," writes NYT. Where TuneIn only serves as an aggregator or directory, iHeartRadio has launched its own customizable radio service "modeled after Pandora" (not mention a series of "iHeartRadio Originals" stations, here). And iHeartRadio is only a piece of Clear Channel. That's a trait CC executives say is an advantage.

"The great thing about iHeartRadio,” said Clear Channel Media and Entertainment CEO John Hogan, “is that it is just one of a number of opportunities that we have to monetize the audience." 

Federated Media has just announced they will add their 17 radio stations to iHeartRadio (more coverage here). And iHeartRadio has added a new station dedicated to financial talk radio host Dave Ramsey (more coverage here).

But some broadcasters feel uneasy "about joining a platform run by the biggest player in the market," especially when "Clear Channel has been aggressive in pushing for exclusivity." That includes Entercom, which has joined TuneIn but not yet iHeartRadio. "Sharing our content is a good thing, if the business arrangement makes sense," said Entercom CEO David Field (more here).

TuneIn, on the other hand, is independent. That means it doesn't have the same sort of major media company backing as iHeartRadio, though TuneIn has just announced $16 million in new funding (bringing its total financing up to $22 million).

New York TimesBut that also means TuneIn has a level of "neutrality in the radio business," which the company says makes it a "safer choice for broadcasters." TuneIn CEO John Donham told NYT, "We are not a broadcaster, so we do not have any inherent interest for any broadcaster to succeed or fail."

More and more broadcasters, however, have opted to join both platforms. They aim "to be everywhere they could be possibly be."

"Everybody is looking at this and saying, look, you don’t know where the world is going, and you need to be in a lot of places,” said Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan. KCRW director of interactive media Anil Dewan said, "Our mission is about getting our content to as wide an audience as possible." Both KCRW and Emmis have joined TuneIn and iHeartRadio.

"It would be better for services and listeners if there were more than two aggregators offering access to every service out there, making it as easy as possible to listen," argues Audio4Cast's Jennifer Lane (here). "And stations, broadcasters and pureplays, should work with all of them."

Though "thorny" problems remain -- including "the possibility of being lost within the aggregators, like needles in enormous digital haystacks" -- the NYT writes (here) that both iHeartRadio and TuneIn can "help [radio broadcasters] reach audiences in the growing but increasingly fragmented world of online radio."

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