CBS Radio today announced a new self-service platform to buy advertising on the online streams of its radio stations, called Audio AdCenter. Normally this is not the kind of industry announcement that we would dedicate space to here at Radio Survivor. But taking look at the site demonstrated to me that this is the sort of thing that can actually help make streaming radio more like blogs…. which is a good thing.
You see, over the past few weeks I’ve been investigating the viability of live streaming online radio. Sure, there are thousands of stations out there. The big broadcasters like CBS Radio and Clear Channel have aggregated together their own and other stations to help consolidate ad revenues, while independents like KEXP, WFMU and the Current have built solid national reputations and audiences to supplement their local broadcast audiences. But there’s very little data out there about broadcast stations’ online streams or pure-play internet-only stations that broadcast live, with real DJs and hosts, like terrestrial radio, and how successful they are in terms of audience and revenue. That doesn’t mean they aren’t successful, just that there isn’t much data.
Making money is a big hurdle for an online station, especially one that isn’t already part of a big network. I reckon that’s why a lot of online-only stations are effectively non-commercial, relying on listener donations rather than ads. It’s a pragmatic decision, since selling ad time requires a sales office, while many online broadcasters are mostly volunteer operations. But this is not necessarily a viable long-term option if we hope to have a thriving independent online broadcast environment.
Blogs and independent websites face the same issues. But the thing that really helps are ad networks that make it easy for sites to sell ad space without having a dedicated sales force. The most well known and popular of these is Google’s AdWords. It’s so popular because–for better or worse–just about anyone can sign up to run AdWords on their site, making it very accessible. Now, a downside of this ubiquity is that the rates aren’t great. A site has to have a heck of a lot of traffic to see any serious revenue. But, for many sites a little revenue is better than none.
Sites with more traffic and well defined audiences can opt in to more selective ad networks that are more cautious about the sites they represent and the advertisers. But what many of these networks share in common with AdWords is that the ad buying experience for the advertiser is relatively simple, straightforward and online. That’s the critical piece.
By comparison, on and off-line radio ad sales are still 20th century. You have to talk with a sales rep and do a lot of back and forth before finally negotiating an ad buy. This is a barrier that a big national advertiser has no problem overcoming, but is high hurdle for a smaller online or local business. Even the big, successful, online-only broadcaster AccuRadio requires a phone call to buy ads–and I had to search its knowledge base in order to even find the info on how to buy an ad in the first place. What that communicates is that if I’m a small site or business, advertising here is probably not for me.
But as a small business I can very easily buy AdWords for a campaign costing anywhere from a hundred bucks to tens of thousands, right from my browser. Certainly, if you’re spending big money you want to talk to a sales rep, but it’s really not necessary for small buys targeting tight niches.
That’s why I’m excited to see CBS’s Audio AdCenter. It offers a pretty straightforward process to create an ad buy on the stream of a local station starting at just $75 a month to reach 1500 listeners, going up to $1500 a month to reach 12,500 listeners. You can upload your own 30-second ad or select one to have customized from their library of 2000 ad templates. Then you just checkout with a credit card, like you were buying books at Amazon.
This makes it as easy to buy radio advertising as buying Google AdWords or other online banner advertising, and is exactly what online radio needs. The only fault I find with Audio AdCenter is that it’s only for CBS Radio stations. I can understand why CBS might now want to be selling ads for other broadcasters, but there is a large number of independent broadcasters who could really use such a service, and who do not necessarily compete directly with the streams of CBS broadcast stations.
I hate to admit it, but with Audio AdCenter CBS would benefit from taking a page from Clear Channel’s playbook. That company has been more than willing to bring non-Clear Channel stations into its iHeartRadio platform, including college and public stations, as well as commercial stations from competing broadcasters. The whole point is that Clear Channel makes money from iHeartRadio display ads regardless of whose station is streaming.
Selling ads for non-CBS stations would make Audio AdCenter a little more like Google than Clear Channel. But the point is that CBS can take a cut on the transaction, which seems to have worked pretty well for Google.
While I certainly champion noncommercial radio, I have never been strictly anti-commercial. Rather, I am critical of what has happened to commercial radio over the last twenty years. Look, we sell ads on Radio Survivor which help pay our bills. In the same way I don’t expect that every online station can make it on donations and good will alone, even if plenty of community and public stations are able to make a go of it. Making advertising more accessible to both independent online stations and potential advertisers will only help grow independent online radio and provide some resistance against Clear Channel, in particular, coming to dominate online radio, too.
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