Ra­dio woos young lis­ten­ers

The in­dus­try backs Nex­tRa­dio, an app that turns cell­phones into FM tuners.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Stephen Battaglio stephen.battaglio@latimes.com

Nex­tRa­dio is an app that turns cell­phones into FM tuners with­out us­ing min­utes or data in mo­bile plans.

NEW YORK — Af­ter Ap­ple Inc. an­nounced a new mu­sic app that will use peo­ple to cre­ate real-time song playlists, HBO “Real Time” host Bill Ma­her joked that the com­pany should be con­grat­u­lated for “in­vent­ing ra­dio.”

But the ra­dio in­dus­try isn’t laugh­ing, be­cause it needs to hold on to young lis­ten­ers who are spend­ing more time with dig­i­tal de­vices to hear their fa­vorite songs and artists. It’s why many sta­tions have banded to­gether to sup­port Nex­tRa­dio, an app that can turn ev­ery mo­bile hand­set into an FM tuner ca­pa­ble of re­ceiv­ing lo­cal over-the-air broad­cast sig­nals.

Nex­tRa­dio also en­ables users to hear lo­cal ra­dio on their phones with­out us­ing up min­utes or data in their mo­bile plans, pro­vid­ing an al­ter­na­tive to apps that de­liver stream­ing ra­dio through the In­ter­net.

The Nex­tRa­dio app was de­vel­oped and launched in 2013 by TagS­ta­tion, a di­vi­sion of In­di­anapo­lis media com­pany Em­mis Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, with par­tial fi­nan­cial back­ing from the Na­tional Assn. of Broad­cast­ers, the Washington trade group. Nex­tRa­dio is get­ting an on-air pro­mo­tional blitz with com­mer­cials run­ning through the rest of the year on NAB mem­ber sta­tions.

As the old­est of old elec­tronic media, ra­dio has held up rea­son­ably well against the mas­sive ar­ray of media choices that con­sumers have in the dig­i­tal age. Nielsen fig­ures from 2014 show that 91% of peo­ple ages 12 and older — about 242 mil­lion — lis­ten to lo­cal ra­dio each week.

But over­all time spent lis­ten­ing — a met­ric vi­tal to ad­ver­tis­ers who want their com­mer­cial mes­sages to be heard — de­clined in the fourth quar­ter of 2014. On a weekly ba­sis, mil­len­ni­als ages 18 to 34 lis­ten about two hours less a week than older seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion. It’s why Nex­tRa­dio is push­ing sta­tions to use its app with In­ter­net stream­ing so they can pro­vide graphic el­e­ments such as al­bum art­work, a “live guide” that lists the mu­sic re­cently played, links to pur­chase song down­loads, and lo­cal con­cert in­for­ma­tion on the artists.

Nex­tRa­dio Pres­i­dent Paul Bren­ner said ra­dio has to de­liver more than just an au­dio sig­nal to be com­pelling for an au­di­ence that spends a lot of time look­ing at their mo­bile de­vices.

“Younger lis­ten­ers are the ones who coin things as cool or not,” he said. “If ra­dio wants to reach them, it has to be in­ter­ac­tive.”

Nex­tRa­dio has 2,000 sta­tions signed on — in­clud­ing those owned by CBS, Hub­bard Broad­cast­ing, En­ter­com Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Cox Media Group — to pro­vide ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion about their broad­casts through the app. Those sta­tions can also use the tech­nol­ogy to cre­ate dig­i­tal ads for their ad­ver­tis­ers.

Over­all ra­dio ad spend­ing in 2014 was $17.5 bil­lion, down slightly from the pre­vi­ous year. But the medium’s dig­i­tal ad sales from stream­ing and pod­cast­ing has been grow­ing, and Bren­ner says that Nex­tRa­dio can con­trib­ute on that front.

Chris Oliviero, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of pro­gram­ming for CBS Ra­dio, said par­tic­i­pat­ing in Nex­tRa­dio makes sense even though his di­vi­sion has its own app, Ra­dio.com., that dis­trib­utes its sta­tions over the In­ter­net. CBS Ra­dio also of­fers its pro­gram­ming on other apps such as TuneIn. “

“We want to get our con- tent on as many plat­forms as pos­si­ble,” he said. “Our phi­los­o­phy is the more the mer­rier.”

Although turn­ing the ra­dio into an iPod-like ex­pe­ri­ence is one way to bring in users, the NAB is also play­ing up the prac­ti­cal func­tion of the Nex­tRa­dio app.

“In many coun­tries out­side of the U.S., it’s com­mon to have the ra­dio ac­ti­vated in a cell­phone,” said NAB Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent Dennis Whar­ton. “It has value from a public safety stand­point alone.”

The NAB has drawn sup­port from Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency Ad­min­is­tra­tor Craig Fu­gate, who sees ra­dio on cell­phones as an ef­fec­tive way to keep peo­ple in­formed dur­ing nat­u­ral dis­as­ters or emer­gen­cies even when broad­band In­ter­net ca­pa­bil­i­ties go down or are over­whelmed by us­age. The In­di­ana Se­nate passed a res­o­lu­tion in April that urged more car­ri­ers to sup­port the tech­nol­ogy.

Ev­ery cell­phone is equipped with a chip that can be ac­ti­vated to re­ceive FM sig­nals. But car­ri­ers would pre­fer that cus­tomers spend more time — and money — on streamed data and ser­vices they are charged for.

The chal­lenge for Nex­tRa­dio, Bren­ner said, is to get more car­ri­ers to sign on and fea­ture the app. Sprint re­ceives a fee from TagS­ta­tion to pre-in­stall Nex­tRa­dio on its phones. Other An­droid users can down­load it and turn it on them­selves, but not ev­ery de­vice will sup­port it.

“We need to find another car­rier to get ex­cited about it,” Bren­ner said.

TagS­ta­tion / Nex­tRa­dio

THE NEX­TRA­DIO app lets users hear ra­dio with­out us­ing up min­utes or data in their mo­bile plans.

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