Ever since commercial radio’s earliest days, listeners have wondered what their favorite announcers looked like and what went on behind the scenes during their favorite shows. Devoted fans might try to get tickets to sit in the studio audience and watch a live broadcast.
Today, thanks to modern technology, anyone with a computer can see as well as hear what’s on the radio.
One company involved in video streaming is iSEEradio, a subsidiary of WhiteBlox, which provides Internet-protocol television, or IPTV, technology for radio.
(click thumbnail)Greg DemetriadesThe company was founded in 2003 by entrepreneur Greg Demetriades, who serves as the CEO. The parent company, also founded by Demetriades, is Continental Vista Broadcasting Group Inc., with main offices in Texas, not far from Houston, as well as branch offices in New York, Los Angeles, Orlando, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Latin America.
Demetriades, 46, is a long-time fan of radio. He grew up in Cleveland and has pleasant memories of listening to his favorite stations.
“I can remember when there were radio station bumper stickers on a lot of the cars, and your social life revolved around going to clubs and seeing your favorite DJs.”
He never went into radio; but while working in the travel industry in the 1980s, he became involved with creating radio commercials for the travel agency he owned.
He was especially interested in the technological side of broadcasting, since he wanted his commercials to sound unique. As the Internet grew more influential, he also became interested in streaming media.
When the technology market seemed to die out in Cleveland, he sought out a city where technology was still going strong. That led him to Houston, where he moved in 2001, preparing to start a company that would focus on his two interests: streaming media and radio.
Demetriades still believes in radio, but these days it seems to him that young people are not as excited about it. That’s where iSEEradio comes in. In a media environment where YouTube and Myspace are popular, he says iSEEradio will make listening more fun by making it more interactive.
Program directors will recall experiments with visual radio such as CU-SeeMe in the 1990s. But the state of the art and the bandwidth of earlier days made obtaining a quality visual experience difficult.
Today that’s no longer a problem, and WhiteBlox can deliver high-quality streams. But the company touts advantages to iSEEradio beyond the quality of the video.
“What’s unique about [it] is that our focus is on engaging the viewers,” Demetriades says. “They can do more than just watch.
“For example, we offer a live multi-angle camera, so viewers can become their own director by switching to an angle they prefer. And we have simultaneous live chat. They can send their friends an instant message and tell them to log on, so they can all talk about the show while they are watching it.”
The benefit to the stations is the ability to create online communities, where fans can participate in social networking while enjoying the music and watching how the jocks do their show.
Among the earliest believers in iSEEradio is Jeff Vettrus, the regional director for online at Clear Channel Communications’ Orlando cluster.
He is in charge of a territory that includes Florida, Mississippi and Alabama; he became interested in WhiteBlox after it was recommended to him by sister station 94.5 KTBZ, “The Buzz” in Houston. In 2005, he made the move.
He has been pleased with the results.
“Visitors who come to my Web sites won’t just find our station phone numbers and DJ bios. They can immerse themselves in a rich multimedia experience that include music videos, news on demand, live streaming, video clips of the latest jock stunts and now, with the service that WhiteBlox provides to my stations, live in-studio multi-cam video.”
Thanks to iSEEradio, he says, there has been a dramatic increase in site traffic, especially at Orlando’s WTKS(FM), “Real Radio 104.1.” Since the station began using iSEEradio, “nearly 30 percent of our audience visits the station Web site and REAL TV is a big part of the reason why. Listeners love to watch the antics in the studio and discuss the show with other listeners via the built-in chat room.”
Vettrus has also found the product can enhance station promotions. “We often take the setup on the road for live reality shows. Our remote encoder allows us to instantly fire up a high-quality remote Web videocast from anywhere we can get online. That has let the listeners see events live that in the past we could only describe, and we have smashed Web traffic records.
“For example, there was ‘Tiffany’s Slumber Party’, where five female contestants spent 30 hours partying with Tiffany (a member of The Monsters in the Morning), all vying to win prizes.”
Vettrus also found that iSEEradio became a source of non-traditional revenue for his stations, although he doesn’t state how much.
The flexibility of WhiteBlox technology has enabled the staff to create interesting remote broadcasts for clients, and then post videos after the event. Among the ways his Orlando stations have used this approach were shows of the “Big Brother” and “Fear Factor” type, a live broadcast of laser hair removal at a client’s office, 24/7 video of an “extreme home makeover” and live backstage interviews at rock concerts.
The reaction to iSEEradio comes as no surprise to Kenny Fenton, vice president of sales for WhiteBlox. He says he has seen a growing number of national sponsors become believers.
“We’ve got Bud Light, Time-Warner and McDonalds,” he says, “and local sponsors too. This really brings more people to the Web site. The stations that are using it are having great success with it.”
iSEEradio is on seven stations with seven more pending; the company expects 20 more contracts in the near future, including some from broadcast owners other than Clear Channel.
As for how the announcers feel about suddenly being seen as well as heard, Fenton says they’ve been having fun with it.
At KTBZ in Houston, the first Clear Channel station to use iSEEradio, Rod Ryan does the morning show. Fenton recalls that “when they began streaming his show, he was heavyset and didn’t pay a lot of attention to style. But he was getting so much recognition that when people would see him in person, they would start commenting on his shirt or whatever he was wearing in the studio.
“Pretty soon, Rod started losing weight and getting in shape. It was like being on TV every day. It gave him more social status, a visual presence. In fact, some of the DJs have gained more confidence from it.”
There are other systems, such as Roo, that can offer streaming video to radio stations, but Demetriades believes none of his competitors offers all the features that WhiteBlox does.
He is certain that bringing a visual component to radio is the way to go.
“We can help stations to raise their visibility,” he says. If an announcer is doing something crazy or has an interesting guest, the station can put the video clip up on YouTube and get even more publicity from it.
WhiteBlox provides the tools for capturing the content, he says, but then stations can be as creative with it as they want to be. They can do viral marketing. They can turn one of their personalities into a video star. They can create their commercials to be both audio and video.
“All of this brings more people to the Web site and gets people talking about the station.”
Currently, he says WhiteBlox is targeting mainly larger markets, although that will soon change. He believes stations of any size can benefit and says the system is affordable even in smaller markets.
“It’s very easy to install. It’s a rack-mounted system. You run wires to the two cameras, and you just need a DSL line.” And for stations that run talk programming or morning zoos, the software can accommodate a 7- or 15-second delay.
In a competitive world where radio is only one of many entertainment choices, bringing interactivity to radio listening makes the audience feel more engaged, says Jeff Vettrus.
“One of the first things I realized when I made the jump from on-air to Web guy was that radio didn’t have to be ‘theater of the mind’ any longer. We could now enhance our product and tell the story better by adding a visual component. From photos to video clips to live video reality shows online, our listeners became hooked immediately.”
iSEEradio costs vary, depending on what kind of solution each station prefers — live, video on demand, what features, how often they broadcast, user minutes and so forth.
The company emphasizes that the player contains many advertising opportunities and a title sponsorship opportunity that the stations can sell to advertisers and sponsors; they say the new revenue essentially allows the solution to pay for itself.
A demo can be found at www.whiteblox.com under the Radio Clients Showcase.