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Emmis and Online Television Channels

Benjamin Finley puts video to work for stations in N.Y., L.A. and Chicago

This is one in a series of case studies in a special section of the Oct. 7 issue of Radio World called “Radio 2010: Traditional Solutions Blend With the New,” in which radio managers discuss how they are preparing for the next decade of the millenium by improving their businesses in traditional and nontraditional ways.

A year ago, Emmis Communications partnered with Gen2Media Corp. to turn New York’s WQHT(FM) into an ad-supported online television channel.

Since that time, the two companies have done the same with Emmis’ two additional New York radio stations, WRKS(FM) and WRXP(FM), as well as a pair in Los Angeles, WPWR(FM) and KMVN(FM); and they are currently developing TV channels for Emmis Chicago stations WKQX(FM) and WLUP(FM).

WQHT, known as Hot 97, was an obvious place to start because it’s an international brand, said Benjamin Finley, vice president of eTV, brand content solutions at Emmis.

“It was the first station in the country to play rap music,” he said, and it has listeners to its online audio stream around the world.

The station had something else that would come in handy for a virtual television network: video content.

“There were many famous hip-hop artists, sports celebrities, even movie stars who would come on the station,” Finley said. “We were already shooting video in the studio and posting it on YouTube.”

Not only did they have content, they had content that was generating a lot of interest. “We saw that we were getting millions and millions of views on YouTube.”

In the case of WQHT’s on-air staff, they also already were recognized on television. “You’ll see all of our DJs host MTV Music Awards, so they’ve already got that reputation and celebrity feel,” said Finley. “So what I’m really working on is how to take that coolness and that content, and put that on this video platform and monetize it.”

While Finley comes from a sales background, he has one foot in sales and one in content development.

“What’s really driving this is content — we all know content is king. Great programming is what drives ratings, advertisers want to be around that; and the better the programming, the more people that view it, or tune into it, or watch it, the more efficiently the advertiser can reach and target that audience.”

He said the Gen2Media platform not only provides the Emmis stations with enhanced online video programming flexibility, but “we are able to offer our advertisers targeted, quantifiable and measurable on-air and online exposure to our brand loyal audiences, thus accentuating the reach and positive impact of their advertising dollars.”

Emmis now markets three platforms in New York as a new online video network called ETV, offering “a robust array of high-quality music and entertainment programming to highly passionate, Web-savvy music fans across our three ‘TV-like’ digital video channels.” That’s just another arrow in the company’s quiver of broadcast, digital and mobile platforms (as well as lifestyle marketing services like talent management and music and event sponsorships).

Finley’s got his eye on ad dollars that are targeted to over-the-air television and cable, which he estimates in New York alone at a billion dollars. With the virtual television channels, “No matter what their argument might be — ‘We don’t buy radio because it’s not visual’ — well, now we are.”

The television channels are just the start in his mind. With the relationships that Get2Media has, if the content is good enough, “it can get distributed onto Xbox Live.” Downstream from that, the content could even be licensed and distributed to other media outlets. He said that this wider distribution could get him invited to pitch sponsorships to the biggest of the big advertisers.

At the present, Finley says he works hard to straddle his sales and programming roles, “because I built credibility with programming here. They see that I have not only brought ideas that have monetized this, brought in some money, but that I’m also really thinking about what’s valuable to our audience. And programming people will come to me and say: ‘Hey, we’re thinking about stuff like that, can you add content?’”