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What Apple’s Beats 1 Means for Your Radio Brand


The shape of Apple’s new live-streaming radio station Beats 1 is coming into focus, and it’s full of exclusive celebrity content:

The New York Times reports that Elton John will have a regular show on Beats 1 titled “Elton John’s Rocket Hour,” and it will play old and new music. Other musicians with shows on Beats 1 include Pharrell Williams, Drake, Josh Homme, St. Vincent, Jaden Smith, and Disclosure. Pharrell isn’t just a presenting a show, though. His new single “Freedom” will be the first track exclusive to Apple Music, only available to listeners of Apple’s streaming service.

A video posted by Whateverman (@zanelowe) on Jun 27, 2015 at 7:45pm PDT

For many years now I have been arguing that what separates music-playing radio stations from any radio alternative that plays music is not how the songs are mixed, or how high the fidelity is, or even how deep the library is, but rather what content is between the songs.

And by that I mean what human beings are between the songs.

And especially what celebrity human beings are between them.

So Apple is charging forward on two fronts with Beats 1: First to line up must-hear celebrity talent. Second, to line up exclusive content.

While Apple surely has pull that no single radio station has, it does not necessarily have more pull than America’s largest broadcast groups and their kajillions of listeners.

Radio stations and radio groups that aspire to be low-cost utilities will one day discover that their audiences have vanished, preferring brands with more tender loving care and more investment directed towards them and their experiences. Such broadcasters are already discovering that in a world of transactional revenue there is no price low enough for clients with innumerable options and any number of ways to architect “reach” without depending on a radio station to provide it.

Meanwhile Apple’s lesson in making a radio station whose business model does not depend on advertising is something that could pop up on any major consumer brand which has a stake in music and popular culture. What about Red Bull Radio? What about Nike Radio? What about Coke Radio? What about Budweiser Radio? Pick any of your major brand advertisers. They can all build their own radio brands.

I’m not talking about sponsored playlists here wrapped with a display ad. That’s small thinking. That’s easy. I’m talking about media brands built with the brand and its consumers in mind. What happens when your competition for listeners comes from your own clients, Mr. Broadcaster?

That day is coming.

That day is here.

So what’s the recipe for radio? How do broadcasters confront these challenges and meet them head on?

The answer is to “go big.” The answer is to take heed of my advice from the opening presentation I gave in 2004 at hivio. Watch this video:

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