NASHVILLE (Billboard) - Radio companies took a giant step forward in 2008 by embracing online and mobile applications like never before.
Clear Channel, with centralized Web site design services and such innovative Web programing as its "Stripped" concert series and "New" artist spotlight program, has long led the way, but other broadcast groups also made momentous strides.
No company increased its commitment to the digital space in 2008 more than CBS Radio, which announced a content and advertising partnership with AOL Music in March. Since then, 150 CBS Radio stations and 200 AOL Music Internet stations have become powered by a CBS Radio player. The company also launched Play.it, which enables listeners to create their own stations.
On December 3, CBS Radio announced an agreement to power Yahoo Music's Launchcast Radio. Beginning in early 2009, Launchcast's 150 stations and more than 150 CBS Radio stations will be combined, with CBS Radio assuming sales responsibility for the entire portfolio. A newly created CBS Radio player will be integrated into the Yahoo Music site, and Launchcast will be made available to Firefox, Mac and Safari users.
To meet higher royalty payments as mandated by the Copyright Review Board, Internet radio services are under increased pressure to monetize their Web traffic with advertising. Portals like Yahoo and AOL are geared for national ad sales, not the localized selling that radio specializes in.
Greg Thompson, Capitol Music Group executive vice president of promotion for North America, welcomes radio's digital expansion. "There's an old expression, 'Adapt or die,' which I think is very pertinent," he says. "Radio needs to hold onto their audience. People want their audio streams. They're not hung up on if it comes off this or that or whatever."
Thompson adds that Clear Channel's "Stripped" series gave an early boost to singer-songwriter Katy Perry's career. "It quickly helped build the Katy Perry brand so that it's not the 'I Kissed a Girl' song, it's Katy Perry," he says. "Now she's got a couple of No. 1 records under her belt and they've got some great content. We've built the brand together."
Nashville-based Lynnette Garbonola, vice president of new media for Warner Bros., appreciates the one-stop shopping that Clear Channel Online & Music and Citadel Interactive provide. "You can hit all the stations in one shot," Garbonola says, noting that she's particularly positive about Clear Channel's "New" program. "They're able to introduce newer artists sooner than the radio stations themselves can because of the shorter playlists."
Another opportunity opened when the latest edition of the iPhone made it easier for broadcasters to make their stations available to mobile listeners. Jacobs Media, a radio consulting company, recently announced the development of an application for the iPhone that lets listeners access stations' streams with the touch of a button.
Doug Perlson, CEO of the advertising company TargetSpot, says that the iPhone will help radio. The company works with advertisers to target pure-play sites like Yahoo Music or terrestrial radio streams like those of CBS Radio and Entercom.
"The iPhone has had a big influence on radio for mobile devices," Perlson says, "because, a) you've got everyone working on an iPhone app, and b) we're starting to see a proliferation of BlackBerry apps as well."
And while 2008 seemed like a breakthrough year for radio on the Web, Perlson says the best is yet to come. "It seems like a watershed moment, but next year could also be groundbreaking," he says. "I wouldn't be surprised if we went from seeing a proliferation of applications to a proliferation of actual users."