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Clear Channel: It’s the Content, Stupid

Company says it is reaching 25 million each month via Web and mobile now

Clear Channel EVP of Distribution Development Jeff Littlejohn doesn’t actually say it aloud. But if you distill his philosophy for managing Clear Channel’s multiple distribution channels, it all comes down to the ITCS principle: It’s the Content, Stupid.

Jeff Littlejohn. ‘As we support more distribution platforms, we’ll end up growing our new audiences without eating into our old ones.’ “When you really think about what we need to do to prosper, it all comes down to creating compelling content,” he says.

“At Clear Channel, we produce great content that we make available on-air, through the Web and on mobile devices. And it’s not just music: We offer top music and talk talent, plus exclusive items that you just can’t find anywhere else. All of this great content creates brands with which listeners have an emotional connection.”

This stance leads to another point about managing multiple platforms: “Our job is to distribute compelling content in as many ways as we can, but it is the listener who decides precisely which distribution channel they will use,” he said.

“We don’t get twisted up in trying to shape this choice, because it is really out of our control. But what we do try to do is to make finding our brands on all platforms as easy and convenient as possible.”

CC ? iheartradio

Clear Channel, perhaps radio’s most closely watched group owner, says it remains committed to AM, FM and their HD Radio variants. However, the company has had considerable success with its and is putting energy into its portable version, iheartradio on mobile.

“Our iheartradio website connects listeners to over 750 of our on-air and custom radio stations, plus provides access tens of thousands of photos, songs, music videos, artist interviews, news, contests and exclusive live performances,” Littlejohn said.

“Meanwhile, iheartradio on mobile delivers our 750-plus stations to wireless users on iPhone, iPod Touch, Android or BlackBerry smartphones. Like our website, listeners get access to Clear Channel AM and FM stations from across the country, plus commercial-free channels and artist-programmed channels from Christina Aguilera, Weezer, Megadeth and the Eagles.”

Clear Channel streams all of its Web and mobile audio in the high-quality AAC format, to ensure that the audio sounds great. Ironically, this may mean that company-owned AM stations sound better on an iPhone than they do on a radio.

The Heart Is Everywhere (click thumbnail)
Clear Channel sought to make a splash — or splashes — at the International CES show:

– Toyota Motor Sales showed its Entune “infotainment” system, which uses a driver’s mobile phone. By downloading an Entune mobile app and pairing a Bluetooth phone with the car, customers can access iheartradio. Toyota had announced earlier it would be the first carmaker to include iheartradio in some 2011 model vehicles.

– JVC Mobile Entertainment became the first car aftermarket device maker to integrate the iheartradio mobile app. Downloaded to an iPhone, iheartradio can be accessed on two new JVC navigation units. Users can view song and artist info and album artwork and control iheartradio from the radio’s nav screens.

– Dice Electronics showed two iheartradio-capable integration kits, for users who want to keep their factory car radios but add Internet radio. These modules let users running the iheartradio mobile app on a smartphone to connect and control it from the factory radio or steering wheel radio controls.

– Clear Channel said iheartradio is being phased into more in-dash multi-media navigation systems by Rosen Entertainment Systems, a mobile video entertainment manufacturer. Systems will include an iheartradio interface for iPhone, Android and Blackberry devices, which will link to Rosen units via Bluetooth; iheartradio is then accessible through Rosen’s LCD displays.

– iheartradio is being released for the Yahoo Connected TV so users can surf for stations on that platform at home.

– Manufacturer iHome added iheartradio compatibility to its bedside iHome+Sleep app, so iPhone and iPod touch users can wake up to music or talk; iHome showed several app-enhanced clock radios that are compatible with iheartradio.

– A touchscreen portable Internet radio player was introduced by Walnut Media Network. The W408 player with WiFi features iheartradio. Performance

Serving multiple platforms is a priority at Clear Channel. This is why the operation now is overseen by Bob Pittman, the company’s chairman of media and entertainment.

“This position is as high as it gets at Clear Channel,” said Littlejohn. “It gives you a sense of just how important multiple platforms are to our company — especially when you consider that Bob Pittman was previously CEO of MTV and AOL Networks.” Pittman joined in November.

Apparently its strategy is working for America’s largest radio company. Besides its continuing dominance on AM and FM, Clear Channel believes it is reaching 25 million to 30 million people per month via the Web and mobile.

“Our iheartradio on mobile app has crossed past the 12 million downloads threshold,” Littlejohn said. “We are the number-one most popular radio app on every single smartphone platform that we’re available on. The best part is that we are seeing mobile users access for an average 160 minutes per week.”

One would think that such growth would pose a threat to Clear Channel’s broadcasters and their audience share, and thus cut into the company’s traditional advertising revenues. But Littlejohn said that’s not the case.

“Our broadcast listening is remaining stable, while our digital listenership is growing,” said Littlejohn. “The reason is that people are using iheartadio to tune into us in places where they previously didn’t have access to radio. Now they can hear us at their desks, or on the bus or train while commuting. The beauty of this is that, as we support more distribution platforms, we’ll end up growing our new audiences without eating into our old ones.”

Back to the principle

Clear Channel could be forgiven for being seduced by the success of iheartradio. But Littlejohn and his staff appear to be keeping their egos at bay.

“Remember, not all distribution schemes work as planned,” he said. “Take the project we did with Marriott Hotels, where we made our radio stations available to 200,000 guest rooms via their televisions. It turns out that people didn’t listen to radio on their hotel TVs, so we abandoned that approach.

“This comes back to our philosophy of not getting obsessed with specific distribution platforms: Some work, some don’t. But for those that do, it is still great content that drives listeners to use their platforms to tune into us, not the fact that we happen to be available to them.” In other words, “It’s the Content, Stupid” really works?

“You said it, I didn’t,” Littlejohn replied.

This is one in a series of conversations with radio industry executives about their multiplatform strategies. Radio Disney’s Sean Cocchia was featured in the Jan. 1 issue.

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