Burger King commercial screen

Stations that have tapped into RDS (Radio Data System) technology love its lucrative, available space for a growing ad market. But station personnel? They love its ability to promote a top personality, or an important message. So, how best can you divide this split between commerce and content?

Apart from its sales application and to display song info, stations that use RDS dayparting embrace it as an ideal electronic sandwich board for important promo messages. But with many listeners now accustomed to seeing song title and artist info displayed on whatever device they use, programmers are cautious about not allowing the sales department to completely hijack the platform. At Radio One, for example, RDS time is split 50-50 between sales and programming.

Using the platform from Quu Interactive, which offers RDS services, radio stations can provide buyers with a confirmation of how many times a message appeared and for how long. “The proof of performance feedback is the single most critical thing for ad agencies,” says Andrew Skotdal, a Quu advisory board member. Stations can choose how often to repeat the sponsor’s message and can change what synchronized message displays during an on-air spot. A client may want its website address to display in the morning and a phone number in the evening. For HD Radios, the advertiser’s logo can be displayed while the ad is airing.

During syndicated shows, when stations normally are unable to display artist and title, the Quu technology allows programmers to display them. Some stations use RDS as an info blast to display messages such as a game score during a particular time. And some stations tap into their own platform to sell RDS inventory instead of using Quu. Several CBS Radio stations displaying advertiser messages via RDS use their own proprietary technology. And other technologies, such as NextRadio, allow for robust and interactive visual components that accompany audio ads.

Ads during the music have become a natural outlet for concert promoters and record labels. When a Carrie Underwood song is playing, info about her local concert appearance or new album can be flashed across the screen. Also, with the fully automated system, the ad can follow the song regardless of where the tune may move on the programming log. “If Sony wanted to promote Kenny Chesney sponsored by Corona, they could put ‘Sponsored by Corona’ on the RDS screen in the car, interwoven with the song, artist and title information every time a Kenny Chesney song airs,” Skotdal says. “It shows that the commercialization of RDS isn’t limited to the commercials themselves. It can be tied to other kinds of content.”

Taking the technology yet a step further, Seattle-based Crista Media invested three years of R&D work to synchronize RDS ads on its broadcast stations with the messages consumers see when they stream its stations on mobile devices and desktop computers. This multiplatform synchronization through all devices brought in $300,000 in incremental revenue in 2016 across its three FM radio stations, which include the “Spirit”-branded contemporary Christian stations KCMS Seattle (105.3), KFMK Austin (105.9) and “Praise 106.5 FM” KWPZ Bellingham, WA. Crista is on track to bill $500,000 in incremental revenue from the initiative in 2017, according to company VP Stan Mak.

The three Crista FMs simulcast 100% of their programming, including commercials, online. Consistent with that simulcast strategy, it doesn’t matter where a listener is tuning in—via analog FM radio, HD Radio or the online stream. What they hear—and see—is the same regardless of platform, apart from more robust display capability on HD Radio and online.

Crista has branded its RDS inventory as Spot+, pitching clients that it offers an ad component that goes beyond just a straight audio spot. Launched in 2016, Crista charges a 10% premium for Spot+, while also occasionally using it as value-added to big spenders.

Advertiser reaction has been enthusiastic with about 25% of Crista’s local clients now using Spot+. “They love it,” Mak says. “They find it rather odd that a small little Christian radio operator in Seattle can do this and not the other companies.”

While Crista does also offer 10-second visual messages that rotate with the artist and song title during music, the company is more aggressive about pushing Spot+ messages synchronized with audio ads. “We think the advertisers get a bigger bang for their buck with Spot+ because it’s just seamless,” Mak says. “When a listener listens, and hears a commercial and sees the display of the ad, name of the advertiser and their short sell message, it all ties neatly together as a package.”