iHeartMedia Announces Digital Expansion Into Canada in Partnership With Bell Media

Two leading North American media giants, America’s iHeartMedia and Canada’s Bell Media, have signed an exclusive partnership to bring iHeartRadio’s free digital radio and music streaming service to Canada. The deal will encompass everything from live and televised events to content on car dashboards, handheld devices and consumer electronics, putting Bell Media ahead of its direct media competitors in Canada which have more traditional leanings.

iHeartRadio -- a leading U.S. digital radio service, with 75 million users registered since its launch in 2011 -- expanded into Australia and New Zealand in 2013 and is expected to be fully operational in Canada by the summer.  

The service will showcase content -- music, news, sports, and other “relevant and customized” programming -- from Bell Media, including 106 terrestrial radio stations. Bell also owns 30 local television stations, five national, and 34 specialty stations, which includes the annual production of the MuchMusic Video Awards and Juno Awards, and the daily entertainment show eTalk.

"We recognize that iHeart is ahead of the curve, and we have a mirror model -- we’re digitally progressive with a terrestrial-based model of radio stations,” Randy Lennox, Bell Media’s president, entertainment production and broadcasting, tells Billboard. “We are taking the position that we are iHeart North, so to speak, the Canadian franchise of iHeartMedia, which includes its events, its concert, its digital platform, its consumer electronics position, et cetera. We’re seeing this as a positive step forward in terms of modernizing the business.”

Lennox, who served as Universal Music Canada’s president and CEO until late last August, approached IHeartMedia shortly into his newly created role at Bell.

“I had admired the iHeartMedia radio brand from afar in my time at Universal, thinking what an immensely ubiquitous and beloved brand this is,” Lennox says. “So upon arrival at Bell Media, we [senior management] went to New York and had a series of meetings with them about how our assets were mirrored.”

“And I’m going to use a word that’s very interesting. It’s a ‘beloved’ big brand,” says Lennox. “I had choices here and I thought, ‘That’s the way to go.’ It’s much more that we approached them given that we felt that we were kindred spirits with respect to our vision and our asset base -- both of us own, respectively, 858 and 106 terrestrial radio stations; both had a desire to really have a digital strategy.”

iHeartRadio will offer all of Bell Media’s broadcast and digital-only radio stations across mobile, auto dashes, tablets and smartphones, gaming consoles, wearables and more. The partnership will also bring iHeartRadio-branded events to Canada.

Will Bell Media’s content also be available in the U.S., an appeal and exciting prospect, likely, for many Canadian artists and producers?

“That’s a 2.0 question,” says Lennox. “Right now, we’re in the process of just getting our platform yin and yang, so that we have the proper digital positioning for dashboards or for consumer electronics. The fact that there will be a geo-fence short-term does not preclude there being one long-term.”

An iHeartMedia Canada office will not set up shop here, says Lennox.

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“Here’s a way to look at it. We’re running 106 radio stations and 69 television [stations] in Canada. We have the iHeartMedia relationship representing it in this country. We will be integrating our radio and television assets to accentuate, very proudly, the iHeart brand in Canada.”

iHeartMedia will make the announcement about the Bell Media partnership at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas today.

Michele Laven, president of business development and partnerships for iHeartMedia, is at CES and was not available to Billboard prior to the announcement. In a release, she called the deal “an important milestone in further expanding our international footprint,” adding, “This new partnership will allow us to work with distribution partners, including auto and consumer electronics, to extend our brand and reach even further.”

Darren Davis, president of iHeartRadio, continued: “Joining with Bell Media to extend the iHeartRadio brand with Canadians is an exciting moment for us. This partnership allows us to connect with even more music fans and radio listeners and we know Canadians will enjoy the service as much as our listeners in the U.S.”