iHeartRadio hits 200,000 subscribers; Mike Lane chats about turning popularity into profitability

Last week, iHeartRadio broke the 200,000-subscriber threshold and this certainly isn’t bad going given that it was only launched in August 2013. Since hitting the Kiwi market, the online radio platform has been used to stream over 10 million hours of content, and it has proved particularly popular among young listeners, with 38 percent of the audience aged under 25. 

While much of the content streamed on iHeartRadio comes directly from live streams of TRN’s radio shows, there have also been several examples of ad-hoc event-based programmes being set up to attract more listeners. The most recent of these was April’s Ed Sheeran concert, an event which followed on from Lorde’s free iHeartRadio concert in September last year.

But the programming hasn’t only been limited to music. One of the most popular events to come from the iHeartRadio platfrom since its launch was the Alternative Commentary Collective (ACC), which ran during the Indian cricket tour of New Zealand earlier this year

So successful was this initiative that TRN decided to bring Beige Brigade and ACC founder Mike Lane into its team on a permanent basis as the head of branding engagement.

In this capacity, he is required to develop creative content to deliver branded messages across all of TRN’s available channels, something that is becoming increasingly important after APN (which owns TRN) centralised control of its offering across its publishing, radio and digital properties.

Given that Lane has now been in his newly created role for a few months, we decided it was time to pick his brain.  


What makes a content-based solution shareable? What do you think made the ACC so popular?

At its core a content-based solution needs to be just that … good content. It needs to be relevant to the target audience and ultimately have an element of entertainment to it. People now are almost always judged on what they share and they prefer quality over quantity. No one likes a person who just shares anything and everything. You almost tend to switch off from that person and skip over anything they share—you want your friends to be the filter for good content.

The popularity of the ACC came down to some pretty simple factors – it had a very basic format that still provided ball-by-ball commentary of the game and kept listeners informed on the state of play but dropped all the often repetitive cricket clichés and technical information in the down time. The utter nonsense that was discussed in between balls and overs resonated with what a lot of fans actually do during a cricket game … talk utter rubbish.

Does shareable necessarily mean profitable? Is there any evidence to show that just because something is well-liked that people will necessarily pay for it?       

No – I think shareable content is just one aspect of a campaign – it’s a way of connecting with consumers and building a relationship that would ideally result in a client/product being top of mind. Success metrics for each campaign are unique. We can be asked to move a brand to the top of the consideration set, or open up new potential customers to the product set, or find a memorable way to communicate a unique product attribute. 

Most of the content you produce is delivered through platforms you have a vested interest in (such as iHeartRadio and the radio brands). What are some of the dangers of this?

The obvious dangers are platforms being overloaded with branded content messages all the time – there needs to be a balance that is comfortable with the audience. There is also the danger of getting your target audience and platform wrong – that would result in immediate public hostility.

What are some of the major problems with advertising in the digital age?

With a focus on programmatic buying and looking for the cheapest eyeballs, many marketers have focused on the front-end metric of price alone without looking at the value of the publishing environment and audience on the sites they are buying onto.  If someone clicks then good stuff. Even if 90 percent of the clicks are not your target market, or the “likes” were generated from click farms. It seems an odd way to achieve successful and sustainable consumer connections. Marketers don’t buy in other media channels based on blind audience pricing, so why should they in digital?  

Then on the other side of the spectrum, one of the major concerns would be the amount of rubbish content that is being generated for the hell of it and then it’s the consumers job to try and wade knee deep through it all.

Have you noticed a trend of advertisers moving away from traditional forms of advertising in favour of content-based alternatives?

More and more often clients are looking to rise above the traditional media clutter and begin a genuine conversation with their audience through a content based initiative. Having a station or on-air personality endorse and interact with a client’s product naturally and giving it some relevance is where the real value lies. However it does take a small leap of faith to allow stations and personalities to deliver that content messages in their own unique fashion, content based initiatives cannot be a fully scripted environment.  

How can content-based advertisers avoid these pitfalls?

Never rely on just a content based solution alone – these need to be complimented by a strong traditional media plan to drive the straight commercial messages. Engage the personalities and radio brands early to help develop content based solutions.  Content based initiatives are more of a partnership between client and media provider than ever before.  Everyone thinks they can create great content, but if you look at YouTube, for every video with a high number of views, there are literally hundreds of thousands that only the creator and his Mum have watched.  So if you want a professional result, then go to the professionals.

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