Internet radio may still be in its infancy, fishing for its precise business model. But Web streaming operators are certain that, no matter what the business model turns out to be, the medium will obey one of terrestrial radio’s laws: to have revenue, you must have listeners.
“Obviously, audience is everything,” said Dave Casper, the Radio Advertising Bureau’s senior vice president for Internet services.
“This isn’t much different than it is for a radio station, so stations should be doing everything they can to build a really effective Web brand for their radio station.”
Casper said issues such as copyright fees and commercial talent fees have made him back away from advising stations whether or not to stream.
“There are so many unanswered questions that I don’t feel I’m in any position to advise stations on what to do, because you almost need legal counsel.”
Still, he’s bullish on the Web for stations.
“Stations should be doing everything they can to build a really effective Web brand for their radio station. I think the most successful Web brands out there are built around branding that Web site with the station’s core audience.”
The Bay on the Net
“The Internet as NTR is something that I get really passionate about,” Casper said. “I think it offers some wonderful NTR tools; not necessarily in the streaming areas, because that’s problematic. You know, there are all sorts of avenues for your client who’s talking about promotion, it’s right on target.”
Radio World talked with two operations that have built audiences for their streaming signals, in turn generating traffic to their Web sites.
Susquehanna Radio Corp.’s four-station San Francisco group includes two longtime powerhouse Bay Area stations, KNBR(AM) and KFOG(FM), as well as KSAN(FM) and KCTC(AM). The popularity of the terrestrial KNBR and KFOG have been key to driving listeners to the sites of all four stations.
“In both cases, we have put what we call Web promotions on the air, reminding listeners of the broadcast, so when they get to work they don’t have to stop listening to KFOG, KNBR, and particularly The Bone,” said Leonard Nelson, Susquehanna San Francisco’s Web director, referring in the latter reference to KSAN.
“So that when they fire up their computer, just click on KFOG.com and turn the player on, and they can hear KFOG on the speakers on their desktop at work.
“We have a huge audience from 9 to 5 now on the Internet, and when we look at our Web trend reports, the people listening to us are definitely looking at the site while they’re probably working, in other words while they’re in their working environment,” he said.
“Our successes are based on Web packages that we make available to sponsors, where a sponsor can pick up a feature, a promotion, an event that occurs on the Web site that’s driven by the on-air staff, so that the on-air interface is significant to make it work.”
An example of Susquehanna’s success is its Queen of the Hardwoods promotion, run each March in tandem with the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Listeners are asked to vote for the best female super-model, the best actress, musical performer and athlete.
“That event, driven by the air staff, last year drove some 5 million people to the Web site, from one silly little thing we had for three weeks on the site,” Nelson said. “It was just amazing, and that’s how it’s been since we started doing this four years ago.”
Susquehanna’s KFOG has spawned a community of listeners, called Fog Heads, who make use of the station Web site for a variety of purposes. One of them is a ticket swap.
“They have tickets to an event and they can’t use them,” he said. “We only allow them to be sold for face value for the tickets that they’re posting. And other people will come on and go, ‘I think I’d like to have those tickets.’ They start a chain of communication, and (this has become) a community within KFOG.”
Nelson said in some months, the KFOG site has seen as many as 60,000 exchanges of information.
Entercom Communications Corp.’s Boston sports/talk station WEEI(AM) is an example of a station preparing for success, then benefiting from good luck. Planning the station to break into the top 10 on Arbitron’s January Webcast ratings.
“Outside of our control, our local sports team, the Patriots, kept winning and winning and winning, and going to the Super Bowl, which boosted interest in sports in our town,” said Jeffrey Porzio, Entercom Boston Internet manager.
But WEEI hadn’t been sitting on its hands waiting for the sun to shine on its Web site.
“Through the marketing of the station, we’ve been able to position ourselves as the top-of-mind source for sports in Boston,” said Porzio. “So we already had that. When people were thinking about sports, and you ask anybody about sports talk, they always were thinking about WEEI. We had a top-of-mind share.
“From the Web perspective, we would constantly update our Web site. That was Lesson No. 1.”
WEEI also encouraged listeners to opt-in to its e-mail database, called the Clubhouse, through which the station sends updates to its contests and other happenings.
“Most of our contests on the year are actually done through our e-mail database,” said Porzio. “So we have a pretty big circulation of people who are constantly going back to our Web site, checking for new and updated information.”
The station’s streamed signal is a vital part of keeping listeners connected to the station during the day.
“We have a difficult time getting our signal into the majority of high-rise buildings in Boston,” said Porzio. “Streaming online enables us to give those listeners access to the radio station that they wouldn’t have by conventional radio. We have a whole lot of workplace listening. I would venture to say that 70-80 percent of our online listening was people in the workplace.”
With the importance the station attaches to its streamed signal, Porzio advises stations to pay attention to the quality of their streams.
“If I was a station that was not yet streaming, I would spend a very long time examining the companies out there that offer this service.”
He also credits constant updating of the WEEI Web site with bringing listeners to their streamed signal. “That type of dynamic changing of the Web site and the dynamic nature of the information we’re putting up there, which is contently changing, gives users a whole lot to do, bringing them back to your Web site for one reason or another. So as long as they’re there, they’re more likely to listen live online.”
RAB’s Casper echoes the need to focus on the content of a station’s site.
“One of the questions I think a station needs to ask itself is, what are they broadcasting and why? Because the reality is that people will go to the station’s Web site for the same reason they go to the radio station: to be informed, to be entertained,” he said.
“The Web is a content-driven medium, and once the content is in place, radio is so well-positioned to take advantage of it because we have these large loyal, terrestrial audiences we can drive back and forth between our Internet sites and our radio stations.”