Monday, July 20, 2009

Haley's Vision For Radio’s Digital Future

MINNEAPOLIS – Fresh from a 4-day road-trip of pitching national advertisers, RAB president and CEO Jeff Haley offered his vision for radio’s digital future here July 17– one that expands the medium beyond a multi-platform delivery system to an online retailer.

In his first Conclave Learning Conference appearance, Haley cited sales tracking systems used by Coca Cola, one of the clients he visited, to illustrate how radio audience measurement and accountability to advertisers need to evolve. “You can sit at Coca Cola in Atlanta and know how many palettes of Coke Zero moved in any market yesterday. Digital gives us the same ability to do that with our listeners to help us better craft our programming,” he said.

Avoiding the subject of free-falling radio revenue, Haley looked ahead to a time when consumers can access product info, download digital coupons and make purchases from radio-equipped, Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices. “Radio on cell phones will be the perception game changer for us,” he said, pointing to Microsoft’s Zune mp3 player, which has sold 4-million units in the U.S. and offers iTunes song tagging for devices that are WiFi-enabled.

Haley wants to employ RDS data, embedded in station signals, to expand his “buy from FM” concept beyond music downloads. “The idea that our content is all purchase-enabled, that changes the listener’s relationship with the station. Imagine you’re listening to an interview about the economy’s impact on retirement. You buy the podcast and receive free advice from your local Allstate agent.”

Radio has a long way to go before this dream can become reality. Apple dominates the portable music player market and has refused to incorporate FM tuners. And the radio industry faces an uphill battle in getting handset manufacturers to include radio receivers.

However many broadcasters already use their Web sites, listener databases and texting programs to promote listener engagement with marketers’ brands. Haley sees this as a more immediate way for broadcasters to provide the transparency and accountability advertisers increasingly expect from media. For example, of the one million weekly listeners to Emmis alternative WKQX (Q101)/Chicago, 150,000 have opted into its loyal listener club, giving the station detailed knowledge of its audience, such as which events, contests, offers and survey questions individual members have responded to. “This creates a powerful tool for targeting specific audiences and matching their interests with advertiser and partner offers,” Haley said. “As the database grows, the permission to market to each individual creates a valuable asset.”

Haley also touted new in-dash HD radios that include an 8-inch screen, enough room for broadcasters to display a message to text the station to win concert tickets to see the artist whose song is airing or to show real-time traffic data. But Internet radio in vehicles is still 10-15 years away and will only be available in the top 50 markets, he predicted. “Audiences will go to the brands they know and love and trust, if we give them the ability to listen. It will be incumbent for us to be there in a big way and craft our content to fit their needs and to brand it with our advertising partners.”

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