Reviving Radio

Jean-Marie Heimrath was in the shower when it struck him.

Jean-Marie Heimrath was in the shower when it struck him.

It was the early ’90s, and the then VP/GM of Sound Source was mulling over a question posed by a colleague at the Marshall McLuhan Center. That query, simply, was ‘What business are you in?’ The reply could have been easy. ‘You start to think about the traditional answers – I’m in the syndication business, the radio business, production business or something like that,’ says Heimrath, who is now president of Standard Interactive and Sound Source. ‘[But] we really are in the audience business. We are a supplier of content to radio stations and they’re interested in attracting [audiences] to their stations through [that] content.’

The epiphany has led Heimrath not only to develop a digital strategy that neatly ties together the company’s massive audio broadcast offerings in a logical way, but also to figure out how to effectively deploy new technologies like podcasts to the end user.

It was an immense undertaking spanning many years that has culminated in the relaunch, starting this month, of the Web sites of each radio station in the Standard Radio chain as well as Iceberg.com, a stand-alone site housing 250 online radio stations, and the potential debut of Erebus, the working title of an edgier, experimental version of Iceberg that may launch next spring.

It’s particularly revolutionary given how little has changed until now, with the launch of satellite and growing interest emerging in online audio opps. When Toronto-based Standard Radio hired Heimrath to build Sound Source, its network programming division, back in 1988, national radio hadn’t seen much change since the advent of FM. The challenge for Heimrath was to quickly get credibility in the marketplace and develop a positioning that made sense without duplicating the competition, Telemedia, which was heavy on the sports end of the business with big-money properties such as Blue Jays baseball and Toronto Maple Leafs hockey.

He saw an opening for Sound Source and set about establishing the company as Canada’s music and entertainment network. Content licensing agreements were signed with companies around the world, such as Clear Channel Communications, Westwood One, and ABC in the U.S., as well as Somethin’ Else Productions in the U.K., which does a lot of work with the BBC and MCM Entertainment Australia. As a result, programming available from Sound Source now spans technology, business, comedy, lifestyle, music, perspectives, talk, and regional news reports. It includes diverse properties ranging from David Letterman’s Top 10, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, Randy Jackson’s Hit List, and American Top 40 With Ryan Seacrest to Paul Harvey ‘The Rest of the Story,’ and A&E Biography for Radio.

Some of the content is aired exclusively on Standard Radio stations but most of it is available to other stations and online clients, including Rogers Communications, which has a contract with Sound Source to supply music channels for its magazine Web sites. For traditional radio, deals have included exclusive radio rights to the Live 8 concert this past summer. That plum property was kept for Standard and was broadcast in its entirety solely on its roster of stations. Because AOL had the worldwide online rights to the concert, Standard Web sites were limited to supporting roles promoting the event and anti-poverty initiatives.

Some of the marketers involved on a national basis with the Live 8 broadcast were Microsoft, AOL, Dr. Pepper, and Choice Hotels. They engaged in pre-event promotional announcements and were mentioned as participating sponsors throughout the broadcast. Commercials were spread out so as not to be annoying.

Next up for advertisers targeting 18-34s will be The Brit Awards (the British version of the Grammys) in February 2006. This will mark the third year that Sound Source has had the rights to the awards show and the content will be available for on-air and online broadcast. While the first year wasn’t much of a draw, the 2005 version quadrupled in audience and advertiser interest. Some TV nets also cover The Brit Awards but Sound Source is able to get the results and the content out to audiences more quickly.

Hoping Heimrath could parlay the same entrepreneurial approach he showed with Sound Source to invigorate the org’s digital assets, in October 2004 Gary Slaight, president/ CEO of Standard Broadcasting Corporation, charged him with exploring what he could do online as head of Icebergradio.com.

Sound Source had been providing music content to Web sites and Iceberg for about two years but when Heimrath was asked to take on Iceberg last year, he took a step back, looked at the big picture and realized he could approach his task in a way that went way beyond just Iceberg. By fully exploiting the biggest asset of Sound Source – its relationships with content suppliers – and by expanding the rights agreements to online and wireless rights, online content could then be pushed out to Standard and non-Standard station sites, as well as to Iceberg.

In addition, Standard Interactive was formed early this year to bring all of the 51 Standard Radio station sites – such as FM stations EZRock, The Mix, K-Lite, Energy and The Bear, plus All Hit KBS, Oldies 1150 and NewsTalk 1010 CFRB on the AM dial – as well as Sound Source and Iceberg, under one umbrella. (Standard also partly owns Puretracks, a company that enables the purchase of music downloads or CDs online.) The new entity is now a provider of music and entertainment content for audio broadcast whether via terrestrial radio, the Internet, wireless or satellite as well as a national online advertising rep house to handle the sales side, connecting the dots between brands and online audiences.

The Standard corporate site and those of its radio stations are all getting a fresh new look as part of the Standard Interactive vision.

‘The [sites are] going to be more content focused,’ says Heimrath of the relaunch, adding that a new ad campaign by Toronto-based agency Holmes & Lee debuted last month in trade publications to spread the word around the industry. ‘You only have 24 hours a day on a radio station but online you can add another tier of content that won’t necessarily make it on air.’

A new and improved Icebergradio is also expected to go live by Christmas. Rather than putting a primary focus on its more than 200 music channels, Iceberg will shift slightly towards a younger audience with more relevant, constantly changing content, such as exclusive celebrity interviews, that won’t be available anywhere else. (The Iceberg brand is also getting more exposure this month as Icebergradio is one of the new satellite channels being launched by Toronto-based Sirius Canada).

Luckily, opportunities for advertisers to tap into Standard’s new digital strategy are aplenty, including everything from standard Web advertising to podcasts, branded content or sponsorship of programming online and on-air. As an online rep house, Standard Interactive has also built the infrastructure to provide research and data to select the best sites for reaching targets, serve up ads to the appropriate sites, and then to track and generate reports on the effectiveness of campaigns.

As an example of the ad opp potential, Heimrath points to a program such as Passport Approved, which can be branded exclusively for one company. The weekly music show features never-before-heard music from around the world and is perfect for the online environment since its eclectic format would not fit in with the strictly formatted styles of terrestrial radio stations.

Brands can also leverage on-air campaigns by, for instance, sponsoring a podcast version of programs Sound Source has radio and online rights to such as George Stroumboulopoulos’ syndicated radio show. A podcast version is now in the works.

But Heimrath isn’t stopping there. Standard Interactive has recently moved into online video content by evolving Command Performance, programming started by Sound Source in 1988. The show originally was audio recordings of exclusive in-studio concerts performed before small audiences of about 50 people. Standard Interactive is now filming those exclusive concerts for Sound Source’s online clients as well as for Icebergradio. Concerts have so far included Scots rocker KT Tunstall, with the EMI label, and Il Divo, a male quartet of pop/opera crossover singers.

‘We’re not interested in following. We’re interested in leading the way and if we make mistakes, we make mistakes. Thank goodness we learn from them,’ Heimrath says. ‘In the online space, the walls are coming down and people are sharing content and pushing content back and forth. It’s not like traditional media where there are walls everywhere. It’s a little scary sometimes – but sometimes you have to do some scary things to learn things.’

Channeling new ad opps

If you feel like you’re in a bit of a time warp when it comes to some of the new terrestrial and satellite radio advertising opps out there, you’re not alone. The current buzz around sponsorship and branded entertainment is reminiscent of the Golden Age of Radio.

Industry folk are especially excited about the potential with satellite, despite the fact that there are restrictions allowing only six minutes per hour of advertising on talk stations, while music channels will be commercial free.

David Bray, SVP of Hennessy & Bray Communications of Toronto, says advertisers should be proactive and get involved early with sponsorships and branding programs.

‘Now is the time when the opportunities are the greatest in terms of innovative approaches. Advertisers can participate in the talk stations, sports or comedy.

Comedy by the way is one of the most popular [genres with]…broad demographic appeal. Sports has a very fixed target group – and there are those who are rabidly passionate about it.’

One of the sports brands on the satellite dial is Toronto-based Score Media with its 24/7 all-sports radio channel The Score on Toronto-based Sirius Satellite Radio. Sports fans will be able to tune in to play-by-play broadcasts, the latest scores and stats, and many of The Score’s prime-time television personalities, such as Greg Sansone, Steve Kouleas, and Sid Seixeiro.

Because satellite radio is a digital medium, The Score’s signature tickertape of scores and stats will also be able to scroll across the

alpha-numeric screen on satellite radio receivers. Peter Smith, VP of marketing for Score Media, says The Score has sponsorship and radio spot opportunities for satellite.

He sees satellite radio as an extension of The Score’s TV, Web site and new Score Mobile properties and notes the possibilities of taking advertisers across all of these platforms. Smith adds: ‘We could begin a program on radio and extend it on TV and on thescore.ca through blogging and [other] interactive activities- and integrate brands throughout the circle so it doesn’t seem too intrusive.’

Terry O’Reilly, partner in Pirate Radio and Television of Toronto, is also positive about the branded content possibilities on satellite radio but right now he’s concentrating on branded entertainment for terrestrial radio with Pirate’s recently launched new division PEG (Pirate Entertainment Group).

‘We’re no longer using the model of interruption for advertising,’ he says. ‘We have to engage listeners and viewers in the ad messages, which is what branded entertainment is all about.’ PEG’s first project was a sponsored seven-hour national show on the life of John Lennon commemorating the 25th anniversary of the ex-Beatle’s assassination.

It aired on Corus Entertainment radio in two three-hour episodes (Oct. 9 and Dec. 8) with 65 one-minute career highlight shows running in the long sweep between the two dates. Toshiba was the title sponsor while secondary sponsors were Tim Hortons and Goodyear Canada. Along with highly entertaining one-minute shows and longer content format programs, O’Reilly envisions short clips of celebrities talking about their funniest first job that could be sponsored by an online job site. ‘Our whole vision for branded entertainment is appointment radio.’ PS

GIST BOX

Satellite radio is on its way, possibly as early as this month. This means exciting new opportunities for your brand, including reach into the massive U.S. market. Here’s what you need to know.

* The players: Toronto-based Sirius Canada is a partnership of CBC/Radio Canada, Standard Radio and New York-based Sirius Satellite Radio. The company also has auto relationships with stakeholders Chrysler and Ford, both of which have some U.S. models already installed with the technology. Sirius has just over two million subscribers in the U.S. Toronto-based XM Canada, meanwhile, leads with just over five million users south of the border. The firm has a relationship with GM and some 2006 models already have XM installed.

* The content: Along with a lineup of 60 channels of commercial-free rock, pop and classical music, Sirius has announced: 40 channels of news, sports and entertainment; 30 games of play-by-play NHL action per week; and 10 Canadian premium channels, including CBC Radio One, CBC Radio 3, Icebergradio, Hardcore Sports Radio, and in French, Première Plus, Infoplus, bandeapart, Rock Velours, Energie(2), and RCI Plus.

At press time, XM hadn’t yet revealed its full list, but its biggest push is for Home Ice channel, which will broadcast more than 1,000 NHL games per season and serve as the exclusive satellite home of the NHL for the 2007/08 season. XM’s Canadian channels are: Home Ice, (un)Signed, Laugh Attack, and Canada 360. And in French, Air Musique, Franc Parler, Sur La Route and Quoi de Neuf.

* The opps: Ad opps can be found on the talk, sports, news, and comedy channels, where regulations allow only six minutes of commercial time per hour. But music is commercial-free. The good news? Kevin Shea, departing CEO of Sirius, says sponsors/advertisers can own the whole six-minute block.

Even better? Satellite radio is targetable and addressable by postal code. And, privacy issues notwithstanding, there’s the potential to gather info on each customer, thanks to car sales data, special offers, etc.

Right now the target demo is males, 25-54 and typically affluent early adopters. – by Pia Musngi