BIA ’08 Exec Forum: ‘Use Radio to Drive Users to the Web’

Radio stations selling Internet packages to advertisers such as car and furniture dealers should focus on “high engagement” inventory, and generally work to engage their users like online air talent did during radio’s golden era, according to Emmis Interactive’s Deborah Esayian. Emmis Interactive is the online arm of Emmis Communications, the ninth largest radio broadcast chain.

Esayian was speaking to radio station owners at an annual forum in Long Boat Key, Fla. conducted by BIA Financial Network, Capital Strategies and Digital Partners (where I presented results from The Kelsey Group’s new auto survey).

A radio station’s ideal online package would feature a high percentage – 42 percent – of “high engagements inventory” such as interactive audio feeds on station websites. Twenty-five percent would feature sponsorships of user general content; twenty percent would feature event sponsorships; 10 percent would be text messaging and just three percent would consist of banner/display ads.

The real trick will be the high engagement inventory, such as “cyber-remotes” that are the equivalent of on air talent reading scripts touting restaurants or events, says Esayian. Car dealers can drive a lot more people to the lot on Saturdays with cyber-remotes than with their “dancing bear and balloons.”

The theme of leveraging radio’s promotional clout by driving users to the Web was also emphasized by BIA Chief Strategy Officer Rick Ducey, a former research leader at The National Association of Broadcasters. “With ‘Radio 2.0,’ you want to leverage the core strength of on-air” as ‘points of presence.’ From that vantage point, you might consider there are 12,000 points of presence –- radio stations — in the U.S.

Ducey notes that radio mentions have proved to be a leading driver of traffic to Web applications, such as map/directions and shopping. Recently, he proved this out by helping develop an “Active Access Desktop Application” deployed by Clear Channel’s six Pittsburgh stations.

The downloadable application, sponsored by Tri-State McDonald’s, adds interactive elements to radio station programming. “The application makes it easy for a station to deliver tune-in messaging, advertisements, text crawls, coupons and promotions directly to the computer desktop of their listeners,” Ducey noted in a recent article.

For instance, WXDX-FM promotes its coverage of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins with podcasts, player and team headlines, videos and a direct link to a Penguins’ page. The link offers news, information, pictures, and the team’s schedule.

While forum attendees could look forward to new revenue streams from Internet applications – radio made $360 million from digital last year, according to BIA – the general environment for radio is among the most depressed in local media. The industry has been hit by a “perfect storm” of the recession, a credit crunch, Wall Street pressures and competition from the Internet, noted a BIA executive. “And we haven’t even mentioned satellite radio and podcasts.”

Some executives felt the decline was cyclical. Others, however, felt that radio has lost its uniqueness during the recent consolidation of stations, and now needs to use technology to fight back to avoid being treated as “just a commodity.”

The technology in question, however, is definitely the Internet. It is not HD Radio, which offers multiple stations on a digital platform and is touted by some industry associations. The feeling was that HD is 1995 technology in 2008. It also an requires an investment of at least $600,000 per station.