How iHeartMedia Is Looking Beyond Radio for Growth

By experimenting with VR, Snapchat and livestreaming

On its way to surpassing 90 million registered users for its streaming service, iHeartMedia found growth both inside and outside of terrestrial radio.

"You can't possibly correctly predict what's going to be the next big thing two years from now," said Darren Davis, president of iHeartMedia Networks and iHeartRadio. "So our strategy has been, don't guess, just go everywhere. … It's all about ubiquity for our broadcast brands. We want to make it as easy as possible to take away all the possible friction for people who want to access those brands."

One way iHeart has removed possible friction is by offering its app on more than 90 devices, including cars and wearables. And the company has broadened its scope by adding third-party podcast partners, making its programming available on TV and becoming the most-followed publisher on livestreaming social platform YouNow.

It has a popular Snapchat Discover channel, runs promotions with third-party music apps such as Smule's Sing!, streams concerts, broadcasts the company's 'tent-pole live events' and creates branded podcasts and custom stations, which iHeartMedia CMO Gayle Troberman called "a big growth area."

         

        Courtesy of iHeartMedia

Although other radio companies are "putting their tentacles" into various platforms, none of them have expanded into new areas as significantly as iHeartMedia has, said Mark Ramsey, president of consultancy Mark Ramsey Media.

"They see that the world is bigger than radio, even if the radio is the biggest part of the world of audio," Ramsey said. "They're putting the pieces in place to try to be where the audience is, wherever it is. They recognize that integration is really where the win is. And that being able to tie in advertisers with consumers across all these various platforms makes the whole bigger than the sum of its parts."

IHeartRadio CPO Chris Williams credits the company's large following on platforms such as YouNow and Snapchat to its fast adoption of new technologies. And Troberman added that while iHeart is ultimately a radio company that is "everything sound," it is also "platform agnostic" in distributing that sound. 

"We're always in [to new platforms] early and willing to get messy and experiment," Troberman said.

Virtual reality is an example of an emerging platform the company is experimenting with. "We're having some very interesting conversations with some brands about what makes sense in VR," Troberman said. "It's a new potential marketing platform. But how do we leverage it? And what can we do with it? We're all just beginning that journey."

         

        Courtesy of iHeartMedia

Although iHeart's services have broadened, Davis emphasized that he doesn't foresee a significant change in the company's business model in the near future. iHeart will continue to focus primarily on broadcast radio because the "lion's share" (two-thirds to three-fourths, depending on the season) of iHeartRadio usage remains people listening to live radio. While iHeart's digital listening has grown significantly, about 30 percent in the last year, it "has been additive" because broadcast ratings have also grown about 10 percent in the last year, he said.

"All of these places [outside of terrestrial radio] we put content are part of a big tapestry we weave, and they all play an important part," Davis said. "Some of those are big integrations and reach a lot of people, some are small and they don't. But by weaving them all together, we've done a great job of keeping the brand in front of people."

Troberman was more direct with how their "tapestry" of platforms might apply to advertising partners.

"The best relationships we have with brands," Troberman said, "are the brands that tap into us and leverage our capabilities across all these platforms."