Broadcasters Still Ambivalent About Streaming

Interesting news out of Saga Communications, a broadcast conglomerate with more than 100 stations in nearly 30 markets. Saga has decided to limit its online-streaming presence to the stations it owns in the top 100 markets.

For those stations that will stream, Saga plans to cap listening geographically, limiting online access to those who actually reside in the stations’ on-air coverage area. In addition, Saga may implement a 90-minute time limit for online listening: listeners will be prompted to click something to continue the stream after the initial session. If they don’t respond, they’re done.

Considering that the majority of Saga’s stations are outside the top 100 markets, this is a significant diminution of the company’s online streaming presence. Saga claims the cost of streaming is prohibitive, as it spends $800,000 per month to provide station streams, while the revenue it generates from them is paltry. Most of this money goes to pay performance royalties on the music it streams.

Contrast this with the actions of radio’s biggest player, Clear Channel, over the last year. Clear Channel’s building what it hopes to be the go-to portal for streaming broadcast radio stations in iHeartRadio.com. Not only has it repositioned its broadcast properties to act essentially as billboards for the company’s online presence, but it’s entered into several agreements with other broadcasters (both commercial and noncommercial) to aggregate their streams exclusively through its portal.

Clear Channel is also taking steps to attempt to control the cost of streaming royalties. Earlier this month, the company broke from the rest of the radio industry, striking a deal with the Big Machine Label Group to pay the first-ever performance royalties for broadcast airplay. In exchange, the company gets a discounted rate for streaming royalty payments to the label. Read More

The Fine Print of iHeartRadio

Clear Channel’s had a lot of success enticing broadcasters into its iHeartRadio service. On the surface, it looks like a nice turnkey solution for radio stations which have neither the time, technical knowledge, or money to go it alone on the Internet. Just sign up for distribution through iHeartRadio and set up enough gear to send a source-stream to the aggregator.

From there, Clear Channel does the rest, providing all the front-end bandwidth necessary for your listener base and leveraging its economies of scale to put stations’ streams in front of as large of a potential audience as possible. The iHeartRadio application is a default install on a variety of smartphones, gaming consoles, and vehicle infotainment systems. Read More

Broadcast Conglomerates Consolidate in Cyberspace

This week, Clear Channel (#1 in national radio station ownership) and Cumulus (#2) inked an agreement intimately linking their online broadcast strategies.

Cumulus will integrate the webcasts from its ~560 radio stations under Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio streaming platform, and will actively promote it on-air. In exchange, Clear Channel will cross-promote Cumulus’ SweetJack service, a Groupon-style business the broadcaster is developing in markets where it has stations, both on-air and online. Read More

Killing the Human Element

Clear Channel-owned radio stations in small to medium-sized markets were decimated last week as the company laid off dozensif not hundreds – of on-air talent. This means that, at some Clear Channel station-clusters, there is literally no local presence on the airwaves anymore.

Clear Channel says it’ll take remaining talent and syndicate their shows across markets, using “custom breaks” and “localized content” to provide a patina of localism on affected stations – a practice otherwise known as voice tracking. The company has also appointed two dozen “Brand Managers” to oversee 11 national station formats. Read More

Cracking the Lid on Pandora’s Box

They make their bread and butter on access to the public airwaves, and for decades they have agitated against newcomers and ne’er-do-wells vying for a piece of the dial. But a skirmish between two commercial broadcasters over interference caused by an FM translator suggests that some radio broadcasters see over-the-air transmission slipping in importance as the primary conduit for their content.

Fortunately, the FCC does not. Read More