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NEXTRADIO’S NEXT TASK: REGAINING PORTABILITY FOR FM
In a business where radio companies are competing against each other for dollars more often than competing as a single media taking dollars away from television or digital, there has been unprecedented support of NextRadio from practically every major company with an FM station in the U.S.
“There is more unity on this project than we have had in the 40 years,” Smulyan says, with pride in his voice. “Just about every company in the business has been behind us.”
How Emmis and Smulyan became the champions of FM chips in smartphones begins with a meeting of radio industry CEOs some seven years ago. Former NAB President/CEO David Rehr, now CEO of a government-focused tech company and a senior associate dean at George Mason University, threw out a challenge to the radio executives in attendance.
“We have to regain portability,” he said.
Smulyan spoke up, as Emmis had built something similar to what Rehr was seeking, for Apple. “We knew how to do it,” Smulyan says.
Enter Emmis wholly owned subsidiary TagStation LLC, which developed its eponymous service to provide radio stations with artist and title information and unique interactivity with listeners.
With partial funding from NAB Labs, TagStation developed the NextRadio app, using TagStation cloud services.
Planning began in late 2012, with the official launch of the App for Android-powered devices coming in 2013.
Now, NextRadio has gone internaciónal – it’s now available not only in Canada, but is now available in both Peru and Mexico.
Partnering with the Ambassador’s Office in Lima, NextRadio hosted a promotional event on August 10 officially announcing the launch of NextRadio in Peru. The event included 75 guests from all major broadcasters, large advertising agencies and dignitaries from across the South American nation.
The NextRadio app went live in Mexico’s Google Play store on August 31. Grupo Radio Centro (GRC), one of the biggest radio broadcasters in Mexico, have already signed on.
“Starting in Peru and Mexico was an easy decision, since radio consumption is so high and we had overwhelming support from the Peruvian Radio Committee and GRC in Mexico,” said Paul Brenner, President of TagStation. “Our long-term vision is to expand into Colombia and Brazil and continue to round out covering all of Latin America.”
Smulyan tells RBR + TVBR that Colombia is a done deal. An official announcement is forthcoming.
“This expansion came from inbound people who have called in inquiring about this,” he says.
Smulyan adds that radio station owners in locales such as Mexicali or Iquitos won’t have considerable bills in U.S. dollars to worry about, compared to what streaming might cost.
“We ask that radio stations send us their logo – that’s it,” he says. “It then costs $10 to be interactive, and to allow for licensing of the album art and for the data collection. Look, nobody’s ever made any money streaming, and we’ve been at it for 22 years.”
Smulyan provided Emmis’ costs for streaming Hip-Hop giant KPWR-FM “Power 106” in Los Angeles.
“Our cost is $39,000 a year to send the station’s signal to the transmitter,” he says. “If I took that down and just streamed Power 106, the cost would amount to $1 million a year in data charges. The listener cost to get Power 106 would be $1 million a year. Then, there is $600 million in music licensing. It’s wy no one in the streaming business has ever made any money.”
That additional income can be had not only from the additional listening that NextRadio can bring for a station, but also through interactive advertising solutions.
“For the first time, local radio can do local advertising that is interactive,” Smulyan says of the app’s capabilities. A beta test with The Home Depot proved successful, and additional campaigns with advertisers are in the works for Emmis.
SPREADING THE WORD
The NextRadio app isn’t a perfect solution to the challenges that face some radio station owners. While the AM Revitalization Act has led many AMs to obtain a low-power FM translator, others have not taken this step.
That means they won’t be on NextRadio, since it can only pull in FM stations; the static and reception of an AM station would be excruciatingly painful.
The NextRadio app also relies on one’s plugged-in earbuds to work, as the wires serve as an antenna. Future smartphone models may include in-unit antenna devices, but Apple’s long-rumored decision to do away with corded headphones could spark its Android-based rivals to do the same.
That’s just speculation, however.
Task One is for NextRadio to gain in consumer awareness.
Smulyan says the main promotional vehicle for NextRadio is through commercials and promos airing on FM radio stations.
While the industry has been positive and accepting of the app, everyday consumers will likely embrace it with the same level of passion once they’ve become aware of its Google Play store presence.
In 2009, while an editor at a now-defunct trade publication with offices in Coral Gables, Fla., I asked a co-worker if they had a radio. He laughed, and replied, “Why would we need a radio when we all have computers?”
Today, that conversation could easily extend to smartphones.
Our iTunes playlists aren’t going to disappear tomorrow. Pandora is still going to be there. But, we may actually listen to radio more if we had it on our smartphones. Advertisers would be pleased. Radio station owners would be thrilled. Audio entertainment consumers may be perfectly satisfied. Despite all of the chatter about how “there’s nothing on the radio,” statistics and data prove otherwise. While it may not be music you’re tuning to, it may very well be spoken-word programming.
Or, it could be Breaking News, emergency information, or even a rabble-rousing talk show host.
Once thing is clear: At that moment, you’re listening to the radio.
Now, imagine it through your smartphone.
With leaders like Smulyan as head cheer captain, NextRadio’s role as the savior of FM radio is perfectly staged for takeoff.
RBR + TVBR