More than 10 months in the making, the multipronged, regional strategy for 27 Stern stations was more than just naming ex-rocker David Lee Roth in the east and comedian/talk host Adam Carolla in the west to fill the slot left vacant by Stern's impending move to Sirius Satellite Radio. By branding the FM Talk stations as FREE FM, Infinity is on the offensive against satellite radio.
At the very least, Infinity grabbed the agenda back from Stern, who has taken advantage of Infinity's drawn-out deliberations to broadcast a continuous commercial for Sirius on Infinity's dime. Stern seemed irked by the moves, scheduling a prank phone call in the middle of Infinity's press conference.
Stern has been right about one thing: He can't be replaced. That's why Infinity also plans to hire comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who will consult The Adam Carolla Show and serve as an advisor to Infinity. "Don't underestimate the involvement of Kimmel," said Joel Hollander, Infinity chairman/CEO. "Developing talent in radio is one of the driving forces in hiring him."
No one knows more than Infinity how tough it will be to replace the $100 million in ad revenue, even when taking into account the estimated $40 million in fees Infinity paid to carry Stern. But without Stern, who represented a no-fly zone for mainstream advertisers, Infinity has the chance to broaden its advertiser base. "The bigger opportunity for Infinity is to fish in a bigger pond of advertisers we were not able to secure on Stern's show before," Hollander said.
Initially, ratings won't be near Stern levels, and that means lower rates than Stern's $20,000 asking price. "Advertisers might give Roth and Carolla a shot, or they may wait and see," said Anne Nomellini, media director for StarLink Local Investment Group. "Infinity will need to come up with some sweet deals."