Sprint details FM rollout plans.
“Local FM radio is a really big deal,” Sprint VP of product management and logistics David Owens tells Inside Radio, explaining the company’s decision to install interactive FM radio receivers on 30 million handsets starting today. The third-biggest cell carrier sees FM radio as way to expand and differentiate its mobile entertainment choices. Marketing will encompass radio, retail and other undisclosed channels.
“It’s a great thing that’s been around for a long time,” Owens says. “Moving it to mobile just made a ton of sense.” Broadcasters have long believed they need to be on the device that’s become inseparable from most Americans and has evolved into a fundamental tool for listening to music. Some also saw mobile not as merely a 21st century version of the Sony Walkman but as an opportunity for listeners to text the station, buy a song or interact in other ways. Owens sees today’s arrival of what he calls “real FM” on smartphones as an “innovative milestone.” “There’s a host of things you can do but fundamentally it’s about providing people with their local FM radio.”
Sprint also sees an opportunity to differentiate itself in the entertainment space. “The broad marketplace cares greatly about music and there are lots of people that want to be able to listen to local FM radio wherever they are,” Owens says. “It’s about giving consumers another unique service for the music that they like and the local DJs that they love.”
Sprint says the NextRadio app will become a prevalent feature across its smartphone portfolio. It’s starting today with two HTC devices — the recently launched HTC One and the older HTC Evo 4G LTE — but it will be added to more new devices set to launch this year. “When you get into 2014, you’ll see it on a broad array of handsets” across post-paid and pre-paid subscription plans, Owens pledges. NextRadio will be a “central” and “prevalent” app on the company’s Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile and Sprint brands on Android and Windows platforms, he says.
Sprint is counting on stations and personalities to get the word out about the NextRadio app that it has begun to roll out to an eventual 30 million handsets. While a radio industry marketing plan is still evolving, Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan says stations will be asked “to find innovative ways” to promote the interactive FM receiver.
Sprint is also planning a host of its own marketing activities and initiatives but hasn’t revealed specifics. “You’ll see it starting with some local market focus in some Sprint markets and some of the markets where we’ve got a lot of great NextRadio coverage,” Sprint Entertainment products group manager Laura Lee tells Inside Radio. “You’ll see more coming between now and the end of the year.”
The first sentence in Sprint’s press release announcing the landmark deal may provide a clue about the creative message. “Do you love rocking out to your favorite local radio station on your smartphone but hate the toll it takes on your battery when you stream,” it says. The marketing is also expected to play up the ease of listening to and interacting with local radio stations that consumers already listen to in their car. Handset manufacturer HTC is expected to market NextRadio among other features of its HTC One device.
Apart from radio, perhaps the biggest push will come from Sprint reps in the 3,280 stores that sell its products. “Where it will really come home is when customers are in our stores and they’re asking, ‘What’s different about the HTC One compared to something else,” Sprint VP of product management and logistics David Owens says. “Our reps are going to be saying, “Are you a big FM radio person? OK, let me show you this.”
Smulyan and his team at Emmis brought missionary zeal to the quest to make interactive FM receivers a reality on smartphones. As the first FM-enabled Sprint handsets go on sale today, the CEO says he’s hopeful “that we’ll look back on today as the beginning of when we changed the trajectory of the America radio business.” Smulyan, who brokered the deal with Sprint, believes radio’s presence on 30 million smartphones will increase radio listening and “make it cool again” in the eyes of the consumer. He also believes is will help the business break out of its revenue doldrums, opening a spigot to potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue through interactive couponing and location-based services.
Of the top 75 radio groups, only two said no to the three-year $45 million deal, Smulyan says. More than 1,500 stations have signed up for the free services offered by the Emmis-developed Tag Station back-end that powers the app and thousands more are expected following yesterday’s product launch. Beasley, CBS Radio, Entercom, Greater Media and Hubbard have registered for TagStation’s additional services.
Each day more new mobile devices are activated than there are children born into the world. With 50 million existing subscribers and the accelerating rate at which people change smartphones, Sprint believes reaching the 30 million-smartphone threshold it promised could come sooner rather than later. “People move out of phones in a faster period of time than you can imagine,” Owens says. “We’re not concerned about reaching the targets that we set.”