July 30, 2013
There are those who are resistant to change ... and there are those who embrace it. You can put Norm Pattiz in the latter camp. After building a syndication powerhouse in Westwood One, Pattiz saw radio's reluctance to optimize their talent in the digital world, so he jumped in with both feet. Launching Podcast One and Launchpad Digital Media through his boutique syndication company, Courtside Entertainment Group, Pattiz has assembled an all-star lineup of podcasting superstars - and is able to monetize them. Here's how he's doing it.
When you left Westwood One, did you already envision forming Courtside, along with Launchpad and Podcast One?
When I left Westwood One, I wasn't thinking about jumping in business with both feet. But some of the talent who I had ongoing relations with, who I originally signed and were particularly close to me, indicated they'd rather be in a more boutique kind of situation, so that's when I thought about putting Courtside together. As a boutique, we'd start out with a few really big-time hosts with shows that can pretty much take care of themselves. I didn't really decide to make the move with Podcast One and Launchpad until probably the middle of last year.
And how did they come about?
Two things ... first of all, I've been in the radio business for 35 years; I've been around for just about every aspect of the growth in network and syndicated radio. When I saw the consolidation that was taking place, relative to station ownership, I didn't think that was necessarily going to be a good thing for independent producers who didn't own radio stations. I was of that opinion back at the time when deregulation was first enacted, which is the reason why Westwood One made the deal with Infinity -- which became CBS -- to get involved in the management of the company so we would have access to major-market radio stations for our programs, because I feared back then that consolidation would make it difficult for indie producers and distributors to get their programs cleared in enough markets to be viable.
Fast forward to 2012: It became really obvious that what I thought would happen ... happened. I was no longer at Westwood One but had started Courtside Entertainment - a small, independent producer and distributor of programming. I no longer had the ability to be able to do business with many stations because the major players in station ownership were taking their toll on me. I was determined that our shows needed another way to reach our audience.
I looked around and saw the growing impact of Net radio, podcasting and audio on demand, but I didn't see a major player in that game. Everyone was taking an entrepreneurial, mom-and-pop approach, but it had all the aspects of what I looked for when I started Westwood One. It gave me the ability work with the best talent and be very creative in coming up with a cutting-edge approach to programming -- and it had one huge advantage. Unlike the indie producers who couldn't do much or any business with the Clear Channels or Cumuluses of the world, this had ability to go directly to the consumer without having to be filtered through radio stations.
That, to me, created great opportunity. A mutual fiend introduced me to Kit Gray, a one-man band who was out there, repping a number of successful podcasts. When we met, he knew my interest in moving into this area, and seeing his ability to monetize it through advertiser support, it was kind of a perfect match. It made us not just a company that was into business representation, but also production. We were already demonstrating the fact that we could monetize podcasts and on-demand radio inventory; now we could expand our base by producing our own programs.
There are still some in radio who don't see a decent ROI in the digital world. What are you doing that they're missing?
I see the truth. It is there. I view this very much like the marketplace syndicated radio was when I started Westwood One. Back then, national advertisers didn't buy it, so what it needed was one two or a few people going out and being evangelists, who'd go out and cover all the major advertising agencies - and not just go after direct response. When Westwood One went public in 1984, we had gross revenues of $11 million; a few years later we were approaching $600 million. You need to be able to tell a story, to demonstrate that you are currently generating revenue -- even on a small stage --demonstrate the know-how and experience to be able to deliver on your promises. I think we have it all.
What is Edison Research bringing to the table in terms of audience metrics for your product?
Up to now, almost every single podcast produced has developed audience metrics in a slightly different way, so one of the things we did was bring in Edison to help us generate metrics that were acceptable to advertisers and gave us a level playing field. Now everybody in the industry has the opportunity to be measured in a way that advertisers accept and that is transparent in its methodology.
We've completed a number of surveys that have validated certain facts about audio podcasting. One thing it found was that audio podcasting is not like video podcasting, where people tend to download something, and then look at it weeks later. Our survey of listener podcasts found that consumers immediately listen to a download 60% of the time, and that consumers listen to 85% of the podcasts within 48 hours of downloading.
When advertisers buy spots on radio and TV, they know when spots are going to run; the message needs to be consumed at a particular time. Putting a message on a program that's not consumed for three months does not make that business more attractive to advertisers, but less. This research indicates that the reverse is true in terms of audio podcasts. People who consume podcasts are generally P1 listeners of a personality, host or the subject matter, so after they download it, they want to listen to it right away now. If they're too busy to listen in morning drive or during the workday daypart, they can consume it whenever they want, but within a short period of time -- and they want to hear it the first chance they get. Podcasting has given radio a pause button so that listeners can follow their favorite personalities and subject matter at a time that's convenient for them --usually very soon after it's first presented.
Are there certain kinds of personalities who create content that works better in podcast parameters? Do they all have to have a radio pedigree?
No. Adam Carolla is the gold standard of podcasting. When he left radio, he went into podcasting and his following was so strong that by simply letting them know he was podcasting, he brought over very large audience - which has consistently grown as he developed other programming to go with his own work. By the way, we represent all of the Adam's projects at Launchpad; we have very close relations with him by virtue of the fact that Dr. Drew, his former partner on Loveline, works for us as well. We created a number of additional programs featuring Adam and Drew -- even reprising some of original podcasts that they did on Loveline years ago. That's the story of someone from radio making a successful transition to podcasting.
The next story is someone who has never been on radio, but is very popular in another medium and has become a huge success in podcasting - former pro wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin. He's a great performer with great enthusiasm and a gem to work with. We launched him a couple of months ago. His second program delivered 760,000 impressions, which are big numbers that are very saleable to advertisers, especially in packages with nearly 200 other podcasts that we also represent.
How do you differentiate a great podcast from just a decent one?
I've been in the programming business for 35 years. We were at the forefront of growth of syndicated radio. We collectively brought a lot of people here with a lot of experience who were with me from the beginning -- and a lot of new people, too, because we're in a young business. One thing we knew from the very beginning is that we've got to keep our eyes and ears open for trends going on; we're not just looking at local radio to find the next national radio stars; we're looking at different forms of distribution on the Net, whether it's looking at YouTube stars or traditional radio personalities who no longer have a place in radio but had a good strong following, or just well-known people, big names who are interested in moving in a different direction.
Since we announced the formation of Podcast One and Launchpad, we've been inundated with thousands of requests from existing podcasts to get on our platform, so finding programming is not a problem. Finding hip programming will always be a problem, but at least we have far more flexibility in doing that than radio has. Being on radio means you only have so many hours in a day's schedule. When most of the major stations are owned by three groups that do a lot of voicetracking and syndication ... that creates a very small room for new creative growth.
Let me ask you a question ... who was the most recent big-time radio star? Elvis Duran or Ryan Seacrest? It's been years since a "new" radio personality became a big star. But with the new potential of podcasting, stars have more of a chance to be created every month.
Do you see Launchpad and Podcast One developing a Westwood One-type network to better market your podcasts in the digital space?
You can go to iTunes and see all of their 250,000 podcasts, and the top 300 are already broken down into genre. We do the same thing with the curated 200 we have now, so there's no necessity to create a network because every program can stand on its own. The reason you create a network is to market your product to advertisers and provide some kind of promotional advantages.
I also believe that one of the ways to reinvigorate Talk radio programs that have been negatively affected by the inability to get clearances from some major station group owners is being able to deliver markets that can't be delivered in broadcasting. Through the Net, we can demonstrate a way to reach an audience, to give a second life to a lot of Talk radio programming.
What are the most effective ways to market and promote podcasts?
There are a lot of ways to do it; I prefer to keep that to myself. Anybody bright will know the answer to those questions. I don't see the necessity of initiating the not-so-bright.
When we interviewed you three years ago, when you were still at Westwood One, you said something along the lines of, "You could have the second coming of Christ, and you'd still have a 50/50 chance of succeeding in syndication." Isn't it harder to succeed in podcasting?
No, you have a much greater opportunity for success in podcasting than you do in syndicated radio as a personality because you're not limited by radio station format. You can get to your fans, whether they're interested in a particular kind of music or particular kind of Talk radio. It's absurd to think that a lot of the top personalities only attract fans of one radio format. In podcasting, radio formatics are inconsequential. It's really about developing an audience for a particular personality or style of program, which again is not limited by its ability to be able to fit into a radio format
I'll give you an example of that in the music space. At Westwood One, we wanted to get into the Grammys for years and years. We always could put together a lot of pre- and post-shows, but never a live Grammy broadcast. We couldn't expect stations to carry it because there were too many different styles of music. Are you telling me if the Grammys wanted to do a podcast of that right now, it wouldn't attract a significant audience that would be attracted to it?
Much like in TV, formatics play far less of a role in podcasting. I haven't been as excited about a growing genre of radio/audio business since I founded Westwood One, when I also was in the right place at the right time. Back then, no single radio group owner could own more than five AM and FM stations; there was a three-year holding period, so you could deal with a lot of indie broadcasters. Today, when much of radio is owned by a few big guys, if they don't want to carry you, there's no place to go. But you can if you're online.
It sounds like you're down on radio...
Look, I've been a cheerleader for radio for 35 years and I still cheerlead for radio, but radio has got to realize that it can't think of itself as just owners of bricks, mortar and sticks anymore. Radio is now digital and online ... it's available to anybody, anytime and anywhere. I'm not saying that podcasts and the like will replace broadcast radio. It's still in a lot of places and bills a lot of money - and I don't see that changing anytime soon. But if radio wants to really grow, it has to embrace a redefinition of what it does. If radio continues to say it's all about dial position, that doesn't portent for a bright future.