July 9, 2013
The digital/multi-platform revolution is not only dramatically impacting radio and TV concerns. It's having a significant effect on on-air talent as well - who, like their employers, are quickly realizing that the different media and platforms require different and unique skills and content. That's where ACM Broadcast comes in. The new division, founded by John McConnell and ACM's Marc Guss and Phil Sutfin, is not just into talent representation, but is interested in creating unique content for their clients to optimize the multi-platform opportunities. Here, John McConnell describes the company's place in the new media paradigm.
What made you decide to start up ACM Broadcast with Marc Guss and Phil Sutfin?
I have represented many on-air folks since ABC, and Marc and Phil have very successfully done the same. However, in order to grow the business, and having worked with Marc and Phil on a number of different projects in the past, and liking and respecting them immensely, we thought it was a particularly good time to merge.
What's the main goal of the new company?
Primarily, Marc, Phil and I will be radio-centric and audio-centric for the time being. We believe our medium is still a great foundation for talent to build out their brand. Radio has gone through a dramatic transition recently, but with new distribution platforms that are now being made available - with mobile and mobile radio probably being the biggest platforms - it's pretty clear that radio talent can take advantage of the new opportunities developing over the next several months ... and in an even bigger way, over the next 18 to 24 months.
The timing is right to build this out, particularly with the auto companies investing hundreds of millions of dollars to establish their own navigation and communications systems. Custom content is going to be a necessary part of their delivery systems - and we hope to be able to take advantage of that.
What's the key to taking advantage of the opportunities on mobile, Internet radio or even automobile dashboard platforms?
The future is not just about repurposing content from one distribution source, such as terrestrial radio, to a digital platform. That is the single biggest reason as to why terrestrial radio has not scored in the digital marketplace. It has to be about creating new custom content.
Repurposed content is homogenized and anything but special. Look at what SiriusXM has done in providing exclusive talent and content; that has clearly had a positive impact for the company. The ADPs (automobile dashboard platforms) are exponentially increasing the potential opportunities for audio broadcasters.
Where do you see ACM Broadcasting expending most of its energies - talent representation or content creation?
It's actually a combination of both, which has been my expertise, but primarily representation to start. Representation segues to creating content. The key is that we have terrific relationships to support us in programming like the one we have with Entertainment Radio Network, which is a very successful brand extension media company. We also have a number of relationships with auto manufacturers -- and have done business directly with them.
Focus leads to success, so I would say that primarily our business is the representation of talent with terrestrial and digital companies. We have already signed key talent. As we build, however, it will in part depend on the needs and business opportunities that are available. In some instances, we would executive-produce projects by representing talent in that capacity.
You asked earlier who it is we represent and have to think that is up to our clients to say, but they include on-air talent at CBS Radio, Clear Channel, ESPN, Fox News, NBC -- and we're just beginning. We're going to do well together.
How have consolidation and the influx of voicetracking and syndication impacted radio's talent pool?
Real estate for talent is at a premium now on the terrestrial side, but the fact that digital space has grown exponentially actually provides for more opportunities. The disconnect so far has been that digital has not monetized its platforms.
What you are now seeing, however, is a newfound ability to actually track audiences --specifically, as they transition over to digital platforms. In the next 18 months, you'll see a considerably greater ability to monetize audio and radio talent in the new distribution platforms because you can do very specific analysis about who is listening and when.
Can the talent you represent succeed solely in the digital or podcasting realm, or do they need to have a radio career at the same time?
It certainly depends on the situation but until today -- except for Glenn Beck and Tom Leykis, who are running very successful digital businesses -- terrestrial or satellite radio have been the platforms by which talent can do best for themselves. Also to date, there is no doubt that radio experience has been the pathway to greater success.
But every situation is different; very clearly there are those individuals who have left radio and remained extremely successful. Opie & Anthony, Dr. Laura, Howard Stern ... none are heard on terrestrial radio any longer, yet remain extremely popular within their distribution platforms. Obviously that's a business model that makes sense.
Going forward, you'll not only see that kind of talent level, but successes by mid-level personalities because of the proliferation of the newer technologies.
But will a new talent ever be able to break through solely off digital platforms?
Of course. Historically, the beauty of radio, in its traditional sense, is that it has undisputedly been the source by which new talent has been introduced to the marketplace -- but here is where that starts to change. Through social media, you have the ability to identify and understand a personality's popularity much earlier than you ever had before. Now that you have all these new distribution platforms in place, you're going to see people transitioning from audio to digital work. Of course, that presumes no matter how popular personalities are online, they have that "it factor" that is executable on-air. They have to have that special something, however you define it, but I love the fact that digital space has pushed out the medium the way it has - which challenges you to learn from it to be successful on it.
When it comes to optimizing digital platforms' potential, does radio "get it" yet - or are there still too many disbelievers?
Much of my last four-and-a-half years have been spent working in the digital space ... actually more in digital than on the radio side. If I have learned anything, it is that radio is going to have to embrace, in a much bigger way, the platforms that are available. That's where the audience is going to grow. Secondly, if a radio station or company believes their digital future continues to be in streaming their product on a website, then they will not do all that well.
The reason radio hasn't grown in the digital space to the degree that it should is that some radio companies are not investing in the digital side because they haven't had the ability to show where their listeners are and for how long they're there. Now there's new technology that enables you to do that; you really know where the footprints are. PPM and social media have assured us that more so than not, the footprints and ratings in social media are parallel to listening on terrestrial and in the digital space.
What is way behind the curve, due to the downward pressure on expenses and consolidation, is that radio has not invested in exclusive programming for digital. Why spend a lot of money in a new space that's not making money? One of the drivers behind iHeartradio is content distribution on smartphones and on devices that won't necessarily grow radio audiences if the content is not unique.
The biggest mistake we have made in the radio business is that we incorrectly assumed that our signals' terrestrial content, when put on another platform, is going to work and be successful. That's not correct. Listeners don't automatically go online to listen to their favorite radio stations when they can also choose all kinds of things that can be more appealing. But if you give me exclusive, compelling content for my online digital space that listeners can't necessarily get on my terrestrial stream ... that makes it very interesting for our listeners.
The fact that ESPN has grown its radio brand exponentially by offering exclusive content on espn.com ... that's going to be the standard going forward for radio companies that hope to sustain and grow their share in the marketplace.
In general, what would you tell your new clients about balancing their terrestrial work with their own digital efforts?
What I would tell new clients is -- and by way of example -- show them the number of emerging programming distributions that will be viable opportunities in the near future. Of course, this presumes that it's the right marriage between the right platform and the right talent. Not every talent who is successful terrestrially will work in a mobile situation, because how you become successful in terrestrial space can't always be replicated on digital.
How does one successfully market oneself online and in the digital space?
You can't, unfortunately, mass-market individual "online talents" in the traditional space and expect to convert new listeners without literally using a Super Bowl budget. It's also not enough to just tweet and post on Facebook. Social media becomes exponentially far more sophisticated in its ability to pinpoint potential customers and listeners. Going forward, the most effective social media marketing and viral campaigns will be socially focused.
I'm involved with an emerging company, Internet Media Labels in New York, that has developed technology, both front and back end, that allows its partners and customers to understand their potential user base in a more sophisticated manner than we ever had done before in this industry. We now have the ability to identify where potential listeners and users are.
What kind of benchmarks have you set to gauge whether and when ACM Broadcast truly becomes a success?
That will evolve over time, but I can tell you this: Marc, Phil and I are very happy with the way we're starting ... and especially happy with our first clients.
I think the tipping point for talent in the digital space will start after the new model year, when a number of new car models begin to roll out and are wired with mobile and Net radio capability. I believe they will double or triple the number of audio-capable models this year. And when that happens, over the next 18 months, you will see exponential growth.