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How to Monetize your Online Radio Streams


Last week I published a piece using actual data from actual broadcasters that argued that their brands could make more money if streaming spots were monetized separately from over-the-air spots. That is, separate inventories have greater revenue potential than one simulcast pool.

So how does a radio broadcaster maximize revenue from that online-only pool of inventory?

I’m going to provide some thoughts on that. Now I’ll warn you: Not all of these ideas are easy and some of them will cause you to gulp hard. But the universe doesn’t really care what you or I find comfortable and easy, does it?

So here are some of my ideas. You are welcome to provide your own in the comments below, because lots and lots of broadcasters are effectively monetizing their streams today, no matter what certain forces in the industry tell you.

I’m going to skip all the obvious methods, including conventional advertising and sponsorship. There’s no news there.

And yes, the licensing fees for music content are high – too high. But that only means you need a business model that’s more efficient and effective than the one applied to the comparatively cheap music content on your air. Because if you wait for cheaper license fees in order to justify your streaming strategy, you will be waiting until the proverbial cows come home and you will never develop a streaming strategy.

  1. Cut the spot loads online to a maximum of half of what you do via broadcast. If you want to attract listeners to music streams, and those listeners are accustomed to the relatively light commercial loads of Pandora et. al., you have to match them at their game. Period.

  2. Create channels that stream on-demand content in a loop all day long. Maybe one channel is all-morning-show-all-the-time. Maybe another channel is your most popular talk host – the same show all day. You don’t just need a streaming strategy, you need a channel strategy. You need to ask yourself: What’s the best way to connect my content with the fans of that content in the way that’s easiest and most compelling for those fans? Remember when Howard Stern was new to Sirius and his show was followed by other shows? It didn’t take long for Sirius to wise up and loop the one thing fans wanted most – Howard – over and over in one place.

  3. Use a robust podcast engine to cut up, catalog and distribute short-form audio. The attention given to podcasting by the typical broadcaster may best be described as “benign neglect.” But podcasting is the natural on-demand expression of your over-the-air content. If fans actually value your content, then they will naturally value it on-demand. So you need a podcasting strategy that maximizes the content you have on-air. What if you don’t have content that’s worth publishing on-demand? Well, then you have much bigger troubles.

  4. Mandate basic registration to use the stream as a fair value exchange. That registration should include at a minimum zip code, age, and gender. This information will increase the value of every spot you sell because it makes every spot “smarter.”

  5. Recognize that your radio station is not ONE stream online. It should be a bundle of streams delivering whatever your audience wants whenever they want it. As a broadcaster, your job is to service what your audience wants. It’s not to simply repurpose your one over-the-air product simply because that’s the only one you have over-the-air. The biggest challenge online is gathering attention, and your brand already has that attention. So use it: Create multiple streams to offer alternative, focused, or deeper music experiences that will remind your listeners why they are also your fans.

  6. Promote your online radio assets to your audience on-air and off-air. Once you have content that listeners want to sample, make sure they know that content is out there. And don’t neglect the remarkable power of social media and its ability to, with one click, transport fans directly into the stream.

  7. Recognize that different platforms yield different audiences. This notion that your online stream directly cannibalizes your over-the-air content is misguided. I have talked with major syndicated radio shows who tell me that every platform yields primarily new listeners and fans. Why in the world is National Geographic Channel providing content to Snapchat, an app with overwhelmingly young appeal? Because it’s a new audience. Give people what they want on the platforms they want to use.

As I have said before: If you’re serious about a streaming strategy (and how can you be in the audio business and not be serious about streaming?), then you must create unique and compelling content that is different from what’s over the air in ways that are suited to the digital platforms.

Again, give people what they want on the platforms they want to use.

The power to upgrade content and advertising for our digital platforms is all around us.

Are you using it?

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