Web Watcher hears and reads the same shots you do from those in and out of the radio industry about Clear Channel Communications. One of the most prevalent is that its consolidation of the industry stifles ingenuity at the station level.
Some of the initiatives Clear Channel stations have taken over the past few years fly in the face of those charges. A most recent plan is a good case in point.
WTKS(FM) in Orlando, Fla., has a popular show, "Monsters of the Midday," that had been syndicated in other Florida markets. Though the syndication deal ended, out-of-market thirst for the show continued.
Clear Channel Radio's Vice President of Technology Brian Parsons told Web Watcher that to capture and monitize that demand meant the station had to move fast.
"We didn't want the audience to erode while we are putting the final touches on the subscription engine, which we hadn't planned to launch until fourth quarter," said Parsons. (Web Watcher has reported that Clear Channel was looking at the subscription route to recover the costs of their stations' streaming.)
WTKS has set the subscription fee at $4.95 a month. Though Clear Channel rushed WKTS into the subscription model, you can expect more to follow.
"I see a lot of potential in subscription streaming," said Parsons. "Radio broadcasters are in a unique position to create enticing value propositions to listeners by leveraging the promotional aspect of the business.
"For example I can partner with a restaurant chain to push $5 dining coupons and send you those as a subscriber. I may even be able to send you coupon swag that exceeds what you are paying as a subscriber."
Parsons said that though WTKS is the first Clear Channel station to adopt the subscription model for its streamed simulcast, the company has plenty of experience with subscriptions for syndicated radio programs.
When Internet radio's No. 1 dartboard pin-up girl, Hilary Rosen, resigned this summer, the Recording Industry of America Association reloaded with an unknown to the music industry. Mitch Bainwol's tenure as chairman and CEO of RIAA begins Sept. 1.
If Bainwol is unknown to the music industry (and to Internet radio), he's not an unknown where it counts: the Hill. He served as chief of staff for Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., when the senator took over as U.S. Senate majority leader.
Most recently Bainwol ran his own lobbying firm The Bainwol Group. He has been executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and chief of staff to U.S. Senator Connie Mack, R-Fla.
His new bosses at the RIAA see the value to these connections.
"Mitch brings to the RIAA the consummate insider's understanding of political nuance in Washington," stated Roger Ames, Chairman and CEO, Warner Music Group.
"He has proven leadership abilities, having guided some extremely successful legislative and policy initiatives in recent years," stated David Munns, CEO of EMI Music North America.
While much was made of his Republican connections in stories of his taking the new job -- Rosen was a Democrat -- those who have worked with him say he has respect from both sides of the aisle.
Some in the industry have postulated that the job was hard to fill. They point to the sniping Rosen took, not only from those on the other side of the music copyright royalty issue, but equally from her record label bosses who felt she was not doing enough to stamp out music download piracy.
Bainwol was unavailable to speak with Web Watcher at press time. In an RIAA release he stated: "I'm delighted to take on this role. It is an honor to be associated with such a talented and creative group. I am especially pleased to be working in partnership with Cary Sherman (RIAA president), and look forward to tapping into his expertise about the music business.
"What could be more rewarding than helping to promote two great American traditions: music and property rights?"
In a Las Vegas brewpub during the 2003 NAB, Web Watcher heard Kurt Hanson, publisher of the online Radio And Internet Newsletter, touting the sale of Internet radio ad inventory as one big network. Since then, he has turned talk into action.
Hanson's venture is named Gigabuy. It is easily summed up in his phrase "one buy of the entire medium."
Hanson notes that during the middle of the day, with all of the in-office listening to Internet radio, the combined rating equals that of the 15th-largest radio market. The problem is that it's made up of thousands and thousands of individual Webcasters.
Expecting an advertiser to make thousands and thousands of buys to reach a critical mass of listeners is unreasonable, he reasons. But what if the advertiser could reach that audience by making one buy, receiving one invoice and writing one check?
Hanson took the idea on the road to some key advertisers in late July. He reported good feedback from the trip and laid out a schedule of steps including a logistics test, sales calls in late August and early September, culminating in running the spot schedule in October and November.
If the venture is able to get participation from Internet radio stations representing half the total Web listenership, by Hanson's calculations an advertiser running a spot once every two hours would be making 750,000 impressions each month.
While this plan should obviously be attractive to Internet-only Webcasters who have no national representation for spot sales, Hanson sees a place for terrestrial radio stations that simulcast their programming as well. If stations aren't, in fact, selling their Internet inventory, this may be just the ticket.
After all, one of Web Watcher's basic rules is that some income is better than no income.
Many details are still being worked out, but Hanson suggested that 20 percent of the ad income would be held back for sales and administrative costs.
As Web Watcher reported last month, America Online's Internet radio stations have dominated Arbitron's Webcaster ratings from the beginning of AOL's subscription to the ratings service. That dominance has continued.
It is worth noting that Arbitron has made two changes to the way its ratings are posted. One is that "sales networks" are now listed among Internet radio networks. A sales network is defined as a group of individually owned Internet radio stations being sold collectively. Content delivery networks, which do not sell ad inventory collectively, were dropped from the listing.
This resulted in two such sales networks being listed in the top five networks in a weekly ranking in July. The Adsertion Network and WARP Radio attained the fourth and fifth positions in Arbritron's network listing, following AOL Radio Network, Launch and the subscription MusicMatch in slots one, two and three.
The second change is that Arbitron now differentiates between "commercial" and "non-commercial" Webcasters. (Non-commercial also includes subscription services.)
While this change does not affect the order of the listings, it makes them more helpful to a perspective advertiser by indicating whether the station or network sells ad inventory.