Yes, it was the best Radio Show in recent memory. It might have been the energy of Nashville. It might have been the crowded hallways. I try to look at radio’s progress with clear eyes, but it really did feel like “a pivot point,” as iHeartMedia Executive VP of Programming/Central Tony Coles called it. And it didn’t take the cheerleaders or pep talks that have characterized previous Radio Shows. It was two announcements that bookended the Radio Show that are driving my optimism about the business this week.
One was the announcement that iHeartRadio will unveil some sort of on-demand music streaming.
Then there was yesterday’s announcement that Canada’s version of the UK-originated Radioplayer is moving forward; ironically, putting it in competition with Bell Media’s planned Canadian launch of iHR, still pending after nine months.
Between them, the announcements speak to two of broadcasters’ biggest needs—offering one-stop shopping for music and audio, and providing a convenient way to find that audio. Just a few days before the iHR announcement, I had wondered if broadcasters would take action on the scale necessary to compete with Pandora’s similar plan to offer radio and on-demand music together.
Even when the iHeart announcement became official, five days after first being reported in the New York Post, details were scarce. The Post envisions a $5 ad-free radio tier or a $10 on-demand service. But the announcement means that a broadcaster will finally offer the ability to type a song and hear a song, as opposed to creating a Silento-based radio station (which listeners were still willing to do).
iHeartMedia certainly had the label relationships to forge into on-demand music for some time. The encouraging part is that they now see the value in doing so. And iHR is combining hundreds of hosted, produced brand-name radio stations with on-demand music, at a time when Apple Music is still grappling with the operation of a single channel in Beats1.
Radioplayer is the widely admired broadcasters’ attempt to organize the U.K.’s infinite dial. It was a natural for Canada with its similarly manageable number of stations. It had been under discussion in Canada for some time; (I’ve spoken at the same convention twice since the dialogue began, and not in consecutive years). Now it is proceeding without Bell and, so far, without any mention of the CBC.
Neither service is here. The iHR announcement promises an intriguing level of interactivity between radio and on-demand music, but doesn’t confirm or deny the Post’s details. I can only say that any paid tier of station streaming should include not just custom and online only stations (the implication many took from the Post article), but commercial-free access to KIIS Los Angeles, Z100 New York and any other iHR station.
There’s also the matter of the $10-a-month price point. If Pandora is offering radio plus a music library for $5-a-month, that may be the price that anybody has to match ultimately. Pandora doesn’t offer Z100 or WMJI Cleveland or KAJA San Antonio. But for a number of friends, the minimalist lean-back stations Pandora offers are enough, and they’re already there.
I’m still looking forward to seeing what iHR does in Canada. iHR’s senior advisor there is Rob Farina, the smart, veteran programmer whose ventures (including the launch of Toronto’s classic hits Boom 97.3) are always of interest. As iHR in America becomes (even) more than a streaming aggregator, there’s no reason that there couldn’t be iHR Canada and Radioplayer Canada.
I have, in the past, taken encouragement even from little announcements of activity in this space. But I’ve also understood that knowing what must happen, and having the time and resources to make it happen are two different things. And other issues remain. Commercial-free premium iHR does not fix the need for all broadcasters to offer a better free streaming experience. But a lot of the solutions are in offering digital products on a scale that can get noticed, and we’re further ahead than we were two weeks ago.