June 19, 2012
In a sense, John Rosso is hanging 10, riding a new wave - the wave being digital media. As Triton's head of Market Development, Rosso oversees the tracking of digital media usage, which like that wave, continues to grow unabated ... and no one knows how big it will become. Here's how he's enjoying the ride...
When did you first get interested in the digital/Net side of things?
I first got interested in the Internet in the early '90s. I launched the first website for a radio station in New York City, probably around 1993, when I put up WNEWFM.COM. A couple of years later, I went to work at ABC Radio Networks, and put up some of the very first audio streams for ABC News. So you could say that since the mid-'90s, I've been very interested in that side of the business.
What was it like launching the first website in New York radio? Could you tell back then how much it would evolve and develop in a relatively short time?
The websites we made back then were cave paintings in comparison to what's possible today; that's for sure. I don't think I was particularly visionary about what was happening with the web, but I can tell you that when I was first exposed to the graphical web browsing environment, I felt something like what I imagine people felt when they first saw television. It was exciting and compelling - and I knew that much of media's future would be built online, but I didn't know how far we could go and how quickly we could get there.
Describe the corporate radio perspective of Net radio when it comes to streaming and digital platforms; have they been too cautious in your eyes?
They all know that they need to be there and they need to do it. It's true that many struggle with monetization and with figuring out the economics of the music royalty situation. There are some new costs in streaming that broadcasters are not accustomed to and which are not built into their original business model. There are certainly some challenges there, but it's hard to find broadcasters -- save a very small number -- that don't believe their stations should be available online.
Yet there is a persistent feeling among some in radio that Net radio platforms don't generate adequate ROI, so it's still not worth a major investment at this time. What's your take?
Some of it is just about patience. The audience is already migrating. Just look at the dramatic increase in listening to online radio every month. The industry is getting there, too. Advertisers want to reach this audience; the buyers have money to spend. The sellers just have to figure out how to meet the market, and they are figuring it out. There are companies out there making significant amounts of money from streaming. So, it is starting to be figured out.
Do you feel initiatives like Clear Channel's iHeartRadio can spur the industry at-large to invest more in the digital platform/s potential?
If you look at all the very creative things Clear Channel has done with iHeartRadio, they're doing it because they know the appetite for consuming their product is going to grow online - and they're going there to find that audience. That's the reason Kidd Kraddick has a channel on iHeart, because a growing segment of his audience wants 24/7 access to his radio show. That's the reason why Clear Channel has its own customized music service. There's an audience out there for it; why ignore them and allow someone else to serve them? I think the radio industry is doing what it should be doing to leverage its product through new technology, to find more interesting ways to engage their audience. It just needs to do more of it ... and faster.
What brought you to Triton?
Triton is in a very exciting place in the business right now. When I left my last job, I took a bit of time to look around the media business to find the places where interesting things were happening and see where I might be able to contribute. Look at what's happening in terms of the migration of listening to IP-based delivery via streaming audio on mobile devices. Look at the increasing proliferation of IP activity in automobile dashboards and steering wheels with products like Apple's Eyes Free.
The plain-and-simple fact is that more people will be consuming steaming audio one way or another on their mobiles and in their cars in the coming years. Triton is in a great spot for that; they created the Net audio standard in audience measurement in webcast metrics, have the industry's leading campaign management platform, and the industry's best content delivery infrastructure. It's a triple-threat that I wanted to be a part of.
In terms of measuring Internet audio consumption, Triton really is by far the leader. There are some other folks who also try to cover this space, whether it's Arbitron or any of the other companies out there, Triton's got all of the largest radio companies, be they Clear Channel or Cumulus, on top of ESPN and services such as Pandora. They're all part of the Triton measurement platform today. Our Webcast Metrics service really defines the known universe when it comes to Net audio.
What kind of challenges do you face at Triton ...what kind of goals?
The biggest challenge is moving quickly enough to bring to market the tools and data that are being demanded today. You can only build things so fast; even though the market might want certain things now, you still have to go through the process of software development -- and that's not a simple thing, but a sophisticated process. It can be very hard to be patient enough to do it right. So the greatest challenge is moving really fast to meet the marketplace demand.
So there's nothing you can do speed the development process up?
It's really a matter of how quickly things can be built. In part, it's finding more of the right people to build them, but even fully staffed, it takes a certain amount of time to build digital things. The analogy I use is this: You can't put nine women in a room and expect them to make a baby in a month. It takes a certain amount of time to have a baby, so just throwing additional people at the process doesn't always solve the problems inherent to developing software and digital programs.
Pandora recently announced that it will use Triton to provide audience metrics. How will that impact not just Pandora, but the overall Net radio business?
Triton has been measuring Pandora's audience for a long time; the difference is Pandora decided to sign on to be the first customer for our Webcast Metrics Local product. Triton is here to measure anybody that needs measurement. We believe very firmly in the digital audio business and the Net radio business, and we're here to help foster that marketplace.
When it comes to monitoring local use, can Triton methodology pinpoint users by zip codes?
There are all sorts of geo-targeting systems out there. They are very prevalent in the display advertising business and are available to us. It's really the most immediate way to increase the value of online ad inventory. Even better than geo-targeting databases is when the publisher collects registration data from the user - we're talking age, gender and other information. Appropriately-targeted listeners are much more valuable to the advertiser.
Would you say your biggest current challenge is monitoring and measuring mobile usage?
The biggest challenge in measuring mobile usage is defining what mobile really means. Is it someone actually moving, or just consuming on a mobile-capable device, or one that could be in a docking station on that person's desk? We can determine the type of connected device pretty easily. Cross-tabbing that information with a person's actual location based on GPS data doesn't seem like a great leap in technology to me.
How has the advertising community reacted to Triton's audience metrics in terms of being more interested is placing buys on the web?
Webcast Metrics has become a critical third-party measurement for the industry. Buyers know that anyone can come in with numbers on a spreadsheet. What we provide is MRC-accredited data that can be relied upon to conduct a financial transaction. The idea of third-party measurement is widely accepted in the agency world.
Do you see the ceiling for the digital/online market in terms of optimum audience?
I think everything plateaus eventually. However, media consumption is quickly transitioning to IP-based delivery systems, and consumers are exerting more control over what they consume and when. That's not going to change or slow down any time soon.
I have no way of predicting a ceiling, and I don't think anybody's willing to do that. All I can say is listening to online audio is growing at an extraordinary rate. This past year the growth in total listening hours was 40%, and that growth seems to be accelerating.
Considering the speed of the technological changes in your industry, do you set both short-term and long-term goals? And exactly what kind of goals do you set for Triton ... are they more in terms of getting more clients to your products and services, or is the helping better monitor and foster the growth of the digital medium?
When I think of goals, I would say anything long term is measured in months, not years, Right now, my goal is to be very, very focused on facilitating a rising tide that will lift all of the Internet audio boats. Naturally, we want to help foster the development of a marketplace for digital audio as an ad unit, promote business in general, and also promote Triton's tools and data measurement products.
Bottom line: You believe that Triton is on the precipice of an imminent digital media boom.
For sure. I feel like the wheels are just about to lift off the runway. The digital plane is just taking off. I'm thrilled to be part of Triton. There's this incredibly bright future for internet-delivered media, its audience, and the companies that provide services and products for that marketplace.