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Radio Seeks to Exploit Mobile Better

How well has radio integrated ‘mobile’ into its business strategy?

Mobile devices are the flavor of the day, but in reality they long have played a part in the radio business. Sometimes they’ve worked to radio’s advantage, sometimes not so much.

The Radio Advertising Bureau has put together a Tuesday morning panel at the 2012 NAB Show titled “Is Mobile Marketing the Future of Advertising in Radio?”

Billion-dollar market

“The mobile opportunity is enormous,” said Deborah Roth, vice president of corporate communications at pure-play Web streamer Pandora. “It accounts for a majority of our listening hours already, and represents a massive revenue opportunity.”

She put the mobile and non-traditional share of Pandora listening at 70 percent (non-traditional meaning connected CE devices, automobiles, tablets and so forth). She cited mobile listening as key to Pandora’s long-term vision.

Roth estimates that Pandora is available on more than 500 types of consumer electronics devices, which in addition to smartphones also include TVs, Blu-ray players and e-readers.

John Potter, vice president of training at the Radio Advertising Bureau, cited overall mobile ad revenues for 2011 at more than $1 billion. “And it’s projected for huge increases over the next five years. Mobile is off to the races.”

Potter went to the Consumer Electronics Show in January and said the buzz for mobile is evident worldwide. In fact, outside the United States, most people treat their phone as their access to the Internet, whereas Americans still use their PCs as their primary link. He expects that to change here as well.

In addition to providing the user the ability to tune in any station’s audio streams, a smartphone brings user interactivity and pictures — stills, videos or graphics — to the screen. This visual element can present added value to an advertiser.

Citing a real-life scenario involving auto service company Jiffy Lube, Potter explained the advantage that marketing over mobile devices can bring.

In addition to selling Jiffy Lube a radio spot, one local station also sold them a coupon, served to mobile device screens. The listener could take the coupon — and the device screen — to the Jiffy Lube location to receive a discount.

“Jiffy Lube was able to validate how many people had actually come in and used that coupon, and the station has been able to show a true metric” from the process. Broadcast radio can expect more head-to-head competition from at least one big-name streamer.

Pandora’s Roth told Radio World, “We’re rapidly building up our local sales force in the top radio markets. As more and more local and regional businesses seek cost-effective, customized digital ad campaigns, they are turning to Pandora for innovative ad solutions that effectively reach their target audience.”

She said Pandora would “staff accordingly.”

Like a pushbutton

RAB’s Potter said that serving listeners via mobile demands that stations improve their websites.

“The first thing they need to do is design the website so that it comes up in a user-friendly look and feel when a mobile device is accessing it.”

A second priority is that the mobile experience should include phone-specific features like text messaging.

While smartphones include browsers, “the browser on the phone is something Americans are reluctant to use, compared to mobile apps,” said Paul Jacobs, CEO of Jacobs Media and its jacAPPS division. Smartphone users are used to downloading mobile applications designed for specific types of smartphones and their operating systems.

“What you’re starting to see with mobile apps for radio is a combination of a native application and mobile-enabled Web pages,” said Jacobs.

“At the end of the day, the ability of a radio station to get their icon on the desktop of a person’s smartphone is the best branding you can have. It’s akin to having a pushbutton on a car radio.”

As to some features that a station can add through an app, Jacobs listed links to podcasts, videos, news, schedules, social media, the last-five-songs, places for listeners to post pictures from station events and more.

Some stations emphasize fun. “We did an app for one station that wanted to allow listeners to gossip. So now they’ve got a gossip section.”

He noted that a station format will dictate some of the design of a given app. For example, “News stations and sports stations provide a significantly higher level of content, written text news, so that listeners can read the news stories.”

While such features may increase the cost to create a station app, they also provide a sponsorship possibility beyond traditional radio advertising.

A smartphone can be plugged into a car’s audio system and used to access radio websites while driving. And radio managers are also watching the new emerging subclass of mobile devices: in-dash Internet receivers.

These may seem to cut both ways. They’re another opportunity for stations to reach listeners with their audio streams; but they presumably take away from over-the-air listening; and each in-car Internet model could be yet another device that needs a customized app.

Help is on the way on that front, however. Earlier this year, Livio Radio launched its Livio Connect API (application platform interface) middleware framework protocol, which allows apps written for smartphone operating systems to work with in-car Internet radios using a certain chipset. That should simplify a radio station’s path into a car’s dashboard entertainment system.

And while the in-car radio may draw fire from officials who want to ban cell phones from cars altogether, Jacobs said carmakers “are collectively very sensitive to this. They understand the consumer demanding a better experience in the car, but they always have an eye toward Washington, D.C.”

He said Ford, for one, has promoted hands-free, voice-activated systems where the driver doesn’t even have to look at the dashboard to tune his Internet radio, much less reach out and touch it.

Listening to Internet radio with mobile devices is a parade that’s well underway. The trick for radio is to get out in front of it.

Speakers at the panel “Is Mobile Marketing the Future of Advertising in Radio?” include representatives of JacAPPS, Pandora, ESPN Digital Partnerships, Hipcricket and Marketron.