Image 1 July 5

Here’s a lesson the radio industry thankfully needs no reminders of: As soon as you put out a new app, you should be thinking of the update. With mobile apps being a key driver of online listening, broadcasters are shining up apps with new features designed to bring in new users and advertisers.

In recent months, several major radio groups, including Townsquare Media, Radio One and Beasley Broadcast Group, have rolled out spiffed-up mobile apps or launched individual station apps, full in the knowledge that digital audio is a top mobile activity. Broadcasters say apps need constant tending and redesign as they look to grow their digital audience and extend time with their brands.

“Clients want their apps to have more functionality, have a more modern design and UX [user experience] and be of higher quality,” says Bob Kernen, COO of Jacobs Media’s mobile unit jacapps. “Many are realizing their original apps are very limited or that updated design and functionality is essential.”

For most users, mobile apps are the gateway to audio content, with 73% of smartphone owners saying they listened to music through apps, while 15% listened on mobile web, according to eMarketer. For many radio broadcasters, apps are a necessity, with mobile solutions firm Futuri Media estimating some of its client stations see 50%-65% of their 18-49-year-old online audience coming from mobile, while Clip Interactive, another top radio app developer, projects that 70%-80% of digital listening for some of its station partners comes from apps.

Radio mobile apps have evolved from basic apps with live streams and alarm clocks into content-rich destinations with original video, digital-exclusive sub channels, contests and interactivity. With podcast listening on the rise, stations are adding those sections and other on-demand audio to their apps. “Many of our stations are making morning show bits, news and other snackable content available now right alongside their live stream,” notes Futuri CEO Daniel Anstandig.

Another key for next-generation mobile apps is integrating with advanced car entertainment systems, notably Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and voice-activated devices such as Amazon’s Echo speaker. Most major app developers have upgraded their platforms to be visible on CarPlay and Android Auto and, at the same time, are working with station clients on customized skills for Amazon’s speakers, as well as Google Home and other devices.

Integration with CarPlay and Android Auto is particularly important, executives say, as users want their in-car experience to mirror what they see on their screens. “When one of our clients experiences either one for the first time, they have the same reaction: ‘Where’d the radio go?’” says jacapps’ Kernen. “So your app has to be there so you don’t lose that listener to some other form of audio entertainment.”

Trying to Build the Perfect App

Within the radio industry, station owners are still debating what kind of apps to build. Several large groups, such as Scripps, Beasley and Townsquare, have opted for aggregator apps, others rely on individual station apps, like Cumulus and Cox Media Group. Among smaller groups, some owners combine local stations into one market-wide app, such as Bold Gold Media’s Radio Bold in Northeastern PA and the Catskill Mountain region of New York, as a way to aggregate the audience and maximize investment. But thinking is shifting. Townsquare, for one, has added individual apps, while Radio One offers users the ability to toggle between its station apps.

Beasley is currently updating its apps and new designs will focus on “relevancy and activation,” according to executive VP of digital Steve Meyers. “All content, whether programming or sales-based, must be presented to the user if, when and where they want it,” he explains. “The more relevant we can make our content, the more perceived value there will be with our audience.”

In other words, just because technology allows Beasley to create a feature in their app, doesn’t mean they necessarily should, Meyers says. Take push notifications. Meyers says well-timed push notifications can provide a value to a user, such as an alert on a Friday at 4pm about a nearby happy hour. But if the same station sent a notification about an event at a bar an hour away from a user’s location that started in a few minutes, Meyers said that would be frustrating; it could even prompt a user to turn off the push notification feature.

“I’m a fan of push messages, but only when they are laser-targeted to something I’m interested in at just the right time,” he says. “Relevancy can lead to activation.”

When users like what they find in an app, recent studies show they’ll stick around and commit ample time to their favorites. According to eMarketer, in 2017 the average U.S. adult will spend two hours, 25 minutes per day using mobile apps—a jump of 10.3% over last year. Mobile apps will account for 19.9% of daily total media time this year.

Within radio apps, digital executives say live streams are the most-used app feature, and options that promote interactions with the station, such as texting or calling the studio or social media exchanges within the app, are also popular. On Radio One’s new station apps, the “Call the Studio” feature is frequently used, a surprising old-media application for a digital platform. “I was surprised how many people called the studio from within the app,” notes Tim Hall, senior director of Digital Sales and Operations.

Content Gets Users To Come Back Again and Again

Many newer radio apps, including Radio One’s recently relaunched ones, include some of digital media’s most popular offerings—original video and social media. “Listening may bring them in the first time, but we want them to come back for the music and the content,” Hall says.

Under new app architecture, stations can embed social media within their apps, allowing users to post to their favorite host or station’s Facebook feed or check Instagram without leaving the radio app. That keeps the users inside the radio app, extending time spent and exposing the user to more station content—and advertisers.

Another popular feature in radio apps is content streams, which executives say are proving particularly sticky and keep users on the app for longer periods of time. These content feeds resemble a Facebook news feed and can include station content, format news and info on promotion and contests. Radio One’s feeds, for instance, feature blog posts, artist news and social media feeds. Clip Interactive, which architected the new Radio One apps, can even sync up ads that run on-air ads with text ads in its mobile app content feeds.

“The key for radio is to make apps more interactive,” says Bill Freund, chief revenue officer for ClipInteractive, which powers apps for 14 large station groups and 1,000 stations. In a well-designed radio app, he says, “Users can listen, they can browse, they can engage.”

Townsquare, which offers the aggregator app Radio Pup, is also adding individual station apps for its 300+ local stations. So far, the company has launched 100 station apps that cater to the local markets. “Local content is king. Given the declining number of local news and entertainment sources, our communities increasingly rely on us to be their go-to source for local and community oriented information,” says Townsquare’s executive VP and chief content & digital officer Bill Wilson.

Townsquare designs and build its apps in-house. To stay up with the latest app technology, Townsquare regularly updates its apps about every four months, Wilson says. In other words, the work is never done.