Company to play major role at forthcoming Talkers New York 2014
By Mike Kinosian
Managing Editor/West Coast Bureau Chief
LOS ANGELES —Radio’s collective resume is remarkably rich with astounding seminal moments and some breathtaking benchmark events; however, open for conjecture, of course, is the one singularly most important to the medium.
Few can dispute that a 62-minute October 30, 1938 segment would be at – or near – the top of a multitude of related “Top 10” lists.
That was when, without commercial interruption, the CBS Radio Network aired “The Mercury Theater on the Air” adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel “The War of the Worlds.” Directed, narrated, and starring Orson Welles, the program suggested that a Martian invasion was in progress.
As much as any other solitary program, this particular stunning piece of radio history was responsible for linking the medium to the term “theater of the mind.”
Exemplary previous roles notwithstanding, radio for literally decades later would be – and is – remembered, revered as the medium that eloquently paints pictures with its vivid audio descriptions.
Numerous authorities on the medium cite that specific Halloween night “The War of the Worlds” broadcast as a monumental turning point and classic case-in-point.
Granted, the domestic landscape was completely different nearly 76 years ago: Almost unthinkable, there was no internet; no 24-hour cable news cycle; or any cell phones. That is precisely why such a stunt – brilliantly and seamlessly pulled off by a ridiculously young Orson Welles (just 23 years old then) – worked to perfection.
At least one disclaimer voiced by announcer Dan Seymour indicated “War” was a hoax, but it most likely went completely unnoticed by those who were sure the show was authentic. It is somewhat reminiscent of what genius voice actor Phil Hendrie has done for years on talk radio. Even though the “secret” is mentioned, some do not grasp that Hendrie performs every role.
All of this falls under the umbrella of peeking behind radio’s curtain.
Old-school partisans staunchly endorse the notion that the medium should protect its mystique.
Those proponents, however, are grossly outnumbered by realists who understand most listeners are perceptive about elements involved in radio broadcasting.
While not the first to install a camera in a radio studio, Howard Stern (arguably) made the most of it, especially when his terrestrial radio show segued to satellite. With no FCC restrictions hanging like an albatross over Stern’s head, audio and video components on his daily morning extravaganza are better able to complement each other.
Abandoning behind-the-scenes radio magic has a critical tangible benefit: It can be the source of what makes virtually any broadcaster salivate these days – non-traditional revenue.
Several talk radio operators have discovered streaming as a way to enhance their bottom-line.
It is nothing particularly earth-shattering as far as television news facilities are concerned – stations have been streaming their newscasts live for a decade. “What we bring to the table is automated online ad insertion into the commercial breaks,” Rose comments. “So, for the first time, television and radio stations are now able to fully monetize their live stream online, just as they do with their newscasts or other programming on-air. We also have a mechanism whereby the newscast will stream live and then will replay until the next live newscast. We are, in essence, creating a 24/7 online news channel.”
Founded in 2007, Livestream debuted with a Cleveland television station. Ironically, its first radio client – signed approximately 15 months ago – is also in “The Comeback City.”
Bowing on CBS Radio Cleveland’s WXTM (now sports WKRK “The Fan”) in 2003, “Rover” has been on Clear Channel heritage rocker WMMS “The Buzzard” since 2008.
Having seen first-hand what streaming was doing in the market, “Rover” (French) reasoned that if it worked for a television station, it could do the same for him on his 6:00 am – 11:00 am radio show, so as Rose recollects, “We launched Livestream for radio with ‘Rover’s Morning Glory.’ He was our foray into the radio market and it has been a tremendous success in Cleveland.”
On-track with where company executives thought Livestream would be at this point, Rose expects that by the end of the calendar year, it will have a minimum of 150 television stations under contract. In addition to “Rover,” radio clients include syndicated progressive talk hosts Stephanie Miller, Thom Hartmann, and Mike Malloy, as well as KTRS, St. Louis’ McGraw Milhaven (6:00 am – 10:00 am) and talk programming on Tucson’s KQTH. “That is pretty good penetration for a product that is less than two years old,” Rose maintains. “We are doubling to tripling the amount of video impressions that these stations are seeing online, so there is material revenue impact for the TV stations. It is a 100% increase [for radio clients] because – to begin with – there were never any online spots in the broadcast.”
Clients will need an encoder – a computer with a video capture card that will provision the live stream. As part of the contract agreement, Livestream provides that integral mechanism and other hardware at no cost. “We pay for all bandwidth associated with consumers viewing the stream,” Rose proclaims. “We do not work on a revenue share, but typically an ‘inventory split’ model. We will sell a portion of the inventory and the programmer can sell a portion of it. If the programmer does not have a sales force, we can help there as well.”
Among items Livestream does not pay for are cameras or the switcher that a radio program would need in this kind of an operation. “We pay for one-half of the solution and the other half is up to the station,” Rose stresses, although the company does sell switchers so if a radio show needs one, “We have a very cost-efficient switcher that will do the job. It will work seamlessly with the Livestream software.”
Onsite installation typically takes about two hours. “We put in our computer; test with provision ads; and then off we go,” Rose notes. “Initially, a client would probably deal with me and once we solidify the business arrangement, we have a support staff to help them.”
Thus far, everyone Livestream has worked with already has had cameras and the switching in place. “This is the last piece that really enables the replay and the ad insertion,” Rose points out. “If someone is beginning totally from scratch, they will have to spend some time and money getting the cameras and the switcher installed.”
Provided a sufficient audience exists, a radio station can expect to generate, in Rose’s estimation, “a large revenue impact” by streaming. “This is incremental money through a new distribution point,” the founder of Bedford Interactive discloses. “For radio or television programmers who have an online audience, this is now a way to monetize.”
From a viewer perspective, there is the advantage of the now quite familiar TiVo (and other DVR) time-shifting principle, with Rose stating, “We are providing a way to view a live program on any internet-enabled device at any time. During the course of a day, a person might not be able to view the stream of a morning drive radio show, but when they get home in the evening, they can ‘watch’ that program just as they would have viewed it ‘live.'”
Rewind capability exists on the replay, but – rather obviously – there is not one for fast-forwarding through commercials. “We are seeing a 20% lift in viewership, which is attributed to the replay of the content,” Rose asserts. “We can look at it based on ‘historicals.’ We can also look at views by day-part and we can see how many people are watching at any given time.”
Feedback received from clients is “positive,” Rose contends because, “The product works. It is stable and it is delivering cash. We would not be doing this if we did not see a material revenue opportunity.”
Some 30 million “unique visitors” arrive on a monthly basis. “Those are folks viewing a live stream either on Livestream.com, or on a producer’s site,” Rose reveals. “The vast majority of the traffic for premium publishers of many of the big players such as all our news stations and organizations including AP, Facebook, and NBA teams will come to their sites.”
Nearly 150 employees comprising Livestream are found in its Brooklyn global headquarters, or satellite offices in Los Angeles, London, Bangalore (India), and Zaporizhia (Ukraine). Software engineers are responsible for building the Livestream technology. “It is a much dispersed work world we live in,” Rose acknowledges. “You find the best people you can, and if they happen to be software engineers in the Ukraine, that is where you set up an office. It is becoming more and more common. Livestream, SKYPE, and other means of technology are making the world a lot smaller than it used to be.”
Former television news producer Rose ran business development for Internet Broadcasting, a company that focuses on helping television stations in their digital initiatives. As part of that 10-year run, he helped in a similar capacity for NBCOlympics.com. “We produced two NBC Olympics sites for athletes in Torino, Italy for the 2006 winter Olympics,” he recounts. “After that, I ended up at A&E for three years in business development. I have always had an interest in news, particularly local news. This opportunity was a perfect fit for me, and what the company is trying to do. I like building businesses – this is an opportunity to build one. I get to dabble in breaking news.”
By clicking the “Livestream News Network” link at the top left of the company’s website, visitors are routed to a map with all Livestream television news – and some of its radio – partners. “There is a default player that is ‘live,’ but when there is breaking news, such as severe weather in the Midwest, we will select one of our stations there for that default player because that is the most interesting live, local news that is taking place,” explains Rose, who holds an MBA from the University of Virginia Darden School. “Livestream has a news strategy as a destination. We have editorial resources that will promote our breaking news events as they happen.”
Listening to radio is the extent of Rose’s connection to the medium, but several other Livestream staffers have a bit of radio experience. “I see radio and television in the same light,” he opines. “Both are premium producers of content on a live basis; that is unique. Not many regularly-programmed, live, premium publishers are out there. The needs of both radio and television in this changing world are to best leverage your core asset, which is content, in new ways. We are reaching new viewers through new technology and have the ability to monetize those viewers.”
This signifies the company’s preliminary endeavor at marketing its product to radio, with Rose conceding that, “It has almost been an inbound initiative of us being reactive. We are now at the point where we think there is enough of a market out there that we are going to be more proactive in reaching out and trying to work with radio programmers to live stream their content.”
Golden opportunity to gain a higher profile among this medium’s executives comes in two weeks (6/20) when Livestream will be front-and-center at “Talkers New York 2014,” where its client, WYD Media’s Thom Hartmann, is the 2014 “Freedom of Speech Award” recipient.
Part of a two-prong plan with that confab includes Livestream chief revenue officer Sam Kimball participating in an 11:30 am session (“Radio: The Big Picture”) moderated by TALKERS publisher Michael Harrison. Others on that star-studded panel are Saga Communications executive vice president Steve Goldstein; Journal Broadcast Group vice president of news/talk programming and VP/GM of Milwaukee Radio Operations Tom Langmyer; The New Normal chief executive officer Tom Leykis; Cumulus Media senior vice president of programming Mike McVay; and Sabo Media chief executive officer Walter Sabo.
Meanwhile, throughout the course of the day-long seminar, company representatives will illustrate to attendees what a standard setup looks like for live-streaming a radio show. “So far and without much effort, we have discovered that there is an interest here in the world of radio,” Rose emphasizes. “We are now interested in reaching out and working with as many potential partners as possible.”
On Friday, June 20, TALKERS managing editor Mike Kinosian will be at Talkers New York 2014. Email him at Kinosian@TALKERS.com.