Nearly two decades after the deregulation of U.S. radio ownership touched off a frenzy of consolidation, the largest radio companies are picking up the pace in maximizing the benefits of their national audience reach by creating more exclusive artist programming thanks to increasingly closer relationships with labels.
Clear Channel led the way with its "Artist Immersion" programs 18 months ago, and now Billboard has learned that CBS Radio, the No. 2 radio group in terms of total audience, is rolling out several new programs under the name "Amplify" designed to align its stations more closely with the music industry.
The three biggest elements are "Impact," which focuses on song or album releases from big-name artists; "Launch," which creates multiplatform exposure for new acts; and "Artist Hook Up," an exclusive promotion or event for CBS listeners.
The traditional radio groups see these exclusive partnerships as a way to showcase their scale and strength particularly as advertising platforms when placed alongside Web radio services like Pandora, which have added tens of millions of listeners in recent years but still lag in terms of advertising.
CBS Radio president Dan Mason feels this will illustrate a key difference for radio from pure-play online music services. "It's competitive when it comes to products that play music out there, but we don't believe those type of services can sell product," which he believes will be one result of these programs.
The first examples of the "Impact" and "Artist Hook Up" programs are the release of Justin Timberlake's album "The 20/20 Experience" (RCA Records) on March 19, and Blake Shelton's new release, "Based on a True Story" (Warner Music), which arrives March 26.
The Timberlake campaign begins March 16 and, in addition to on-air content about the album, will give listeners the chance to win a trip to meet him and see a performance at an exotic location. Shelton's promotion will include highlights from songs on the album, comments from the artist and trips to the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas, where a grand-prize winner will hang with the artist backstage and on the red carpet. According to Martin, it's an opportunity to generate better listener experiences than individual stations could while also creating an easy solution for labels. "This way artists and managers are open to doing more. Justin Timberlake is not going to go market to market to do a promotion for each station. Now we can do one big one and knock it out of the park."
Martin says each program will be tailored to the artist and stations will be able to choose whether to participate. Those that do will receive content they can customize to fit the station's brand as part of CBS' focus on local programming. Decisions about which songs to include in the "Launch" program for new artists will be made by the company's PDs, who Martin says talk to each other about music. "These songs will be ones we all are excited about."
Republic Records artist Avicii will be the subject of the first "Launch" campaign scheduled for April 1-5. It will include song clips and sound bites of the artist discussing the inspiration for his music. There will also be a major digital component on CBS websites, Radio.com and mobile apps.
Republic senior VP of radio and video promotion David Nathan says companies like CBS and Clear Channel partnering with labels is causing him to reconsider how to include radio in his promotional plans. "We are really trying to partner with radio," he says, "and we never really thought that way before."