Vegas Radio Show

An expanding smorgasbord of gadgets and platforms is spurring broadcasters to introduce new ways of creating and distributing content and engaging with their audiences. At the NAB Show this week in Las Vegas, a panel of industry leaders with diverse perspectives discussed streaming and podcast strategies, monetization approaches, the connected car, Generation Z and how some types of audio work better on certain platforms than others.

Beasley Media Group is currently rolling out what it calls an experience engine for its mobile apps that personalizes the experience for those who have opted in and registered. What one user sees when they open the app may be very different from what another user experiences. “If I’m really interested in contesting, I can move things around so that my contesting information is right there,” Beasley Chief Digital Content Officer Lori Burgess explained. Currently available in its mobile apps, the engine will be incorporated into Beasley’s new websites when they roll out in second quarter. “The goal is to be able to track and interface with our registered users across all of the devices in which they engage with us, from podcasting to smart speakers, online streams etc.,” Burgess added. A listener tuned into a podcast at work, for example, can pick up where they left off when they reactivate the app in the car. “We think it’s a really cool opportunity to serve up content in a hugely personalized way,” Burgess said during the “Fast Tracking Audio’s Future” panel. Data on the behaviors of registered users will help the company better understand and monetize its audience. Burgess said it will foster “more intimate relationships and a great degree of knowledge about our audience that we haven’t been able to tap into before.”

In a presentation at the top of the session, John Rosso, President of Market Development at Triton Digital, showed data that suggested some online radio listening to AM/FM is shifting from mobile devices to smart speakers. During the panel discussion that followed, James Cridland, a self-described Radio Futurologist and Managing Editor at PodNews.net, advanced the notion that live radio does better on speakers than on headphones, while the inverse is true for on-demand audio. One reason why is that the different devices have different user experiences. Headphones are usually tethered by a wire or Bluetooth connection to a mobile device, allowing the user to change what they’re listening to quickly. Podcast listening is relatively small on smart speakers, in part because of the user experience and also because smart speakers are often used in a shared space and people typically listen to podcasts alone.

“What radio has to think about is its great content, which works fantastically on the live stream out of a smart speaker, and how that content actually works in an on-demand, personalized way,” Cridland offered.

‘Voice Is The New Click’

Voice activation and smart speakers have created an environment in which a growing number of consumers expect to interact with their voice and receive information audibly. In digital ad circles, the phrase “voice is the new click” is gaining cache in what’s being dubbed a “screenless society,” said Jennifer Lane, Industry Initiatives Lead – Audio at the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). “That opens up an enormous amount of possibilities in terms of one on one interactions between an advertiser and the consumer of audio,” she noted. Using an Alexa skill, a smart speaker listener could order a pizza from Dominos or ask for more information on an ad heard while driving, for example. “It opens up a lot of possibilities for consumers to be able to react immediately to ads and respond one on one to a brand,” Lane said.

The expanded ways consumers can listen to and interact with audio has made the medium hot again among marketers. “There’s a renewed interest in audio among advertisers. We’ve certainly seen it,” Lane said. And that has reinvigorated sonic branding (known back in the day as jingles) among major advertisers, including MasterCard. “Sonic branding is all the rage, it’s big time,” Lane said.

While radio still accounts for the biggest piece of the audio pie, new platforms and devices mean there’s more competition for share of ear than ever, including in radio’s longtime sanctuary of the car. Because radio focuses so intently on ratings, it underestimates the competition from other audio sources, Jacobs Media president Fred Jacobs told the NAB Show audience. In research studies with client stations, “we rarely talk about satellite radio, Spotify and Pandora and podcasts. The lesson in the car is we don’t own the dash anymore, we’re one of many different options,” Jacobs said.

Monetizing Podcasts

When the panel, moderated by Inside Radio managing editor Paul Heine, shifted to podcasting, Burgess explained that Beasley’s podcasting initiative consists of long form on-demand versions of personality radio shows; “best of” shows culled from personality shows; and original podcasts, many of which are brand extensions of existing radio shows and talent. The company has also “dabbled” in identifying external talent that it believes have the chops to create some original content. Now up to 150 podcasts, the company is stepping up efforts to monetize them. New efforts are also underway to aggressively use all of the company’s media platforms to market its podcasts. And there’s been a strategic shift in how Beasley sells podcast advertising. While it initially tried to have its sales team sell radio advertisers into podcasts, it found that to be “a really time-consuming sell that was foreign to our sellers,” Burgess noted. Instead it has now packaged its biggest podcasts and sells them as bundles primarily to national advertisers.

Cridland cited data that 90% of podcast consumption occurs while the listener is alone, compared to only 50% of radio listening, to espouse the view that podcast ads need to be different from radio ads. Because of this more intimate listening relationship, host-read ads have become extremely popular on podcasts.

But Jacobs pointed out that host-read ads are almost as old as radio itself. And while they are successful in podcasting, they didn’t start there and they remain one of radio’s most in demand ad units. “We know that our talent is the most influential purveyor of advertising and anything else we want to do,” Jacobs said. “If we want to get a message across, using our own talent effectively is what we should be thinking about.”

Because podcast listening usually occurs alone and the podcast and its topic are something specifically chosen by the listener, there is a higher level of effectiveness for endorsement ads, Lane argued. But Jacobs contended that “Elvis Duran does that just as well” and “people who listen to the Elvis Duran show feel every bit as drawn in and connected to his cast of characters. I don’t think the gulf between the two platforms is as great as we sometimes think.”