John Sykes, Robert Sillerman on New Clear Channel, SFX Partnership: 'We Want to Be the Best'

The just-announced SFX-Clear Channel partnership “came together rather quickly,” says John Sykes, Clear Channel’s president of entertainment enterprises, in part to match the speed of EDM’s development.

“[EDM] is the fastest-growing music genre in America and is moving rapidly from the alternative to the mainstream,” said Sykes. “For that reason we want to be the best destination for it.”

The deal with SFX -- mogul Robert F.X. Sillerman’s roll-up of EDM entities, which he took public last year -- includes the creation of three new products branded by SFX-owned Beatport, including a national DJ contest, a live event series and a Top 20 Countdown show that could be a game-changer for the industry. Founded in 2004 and acquired for $50 million by SFX last year, Beatport is primarily an online marketplace where DJs get the latest and greatest dance music, posting over 20,000 new tracks for sale per day. But over the years it’s also become one of the strongest and most popular brands in dance music.

“We’ve been aware of Beatport’s power and credibility not only within the EDM world, but also as an audience leader across genres,” says Sykes. “Forty million unique users per year is the gold standard for what’s happening in EDM, and makes them a perfect companion for our other countdown shows like Ryan Seacrest, which give an accurate read of what’s trending in America.”

Because of the constant flow of new music in EDM, Beatport’s Top 10 is a critical filter, and one of the genre’s strongest indicators of popularity; Sykes calls it “a bellwether” for EDM. But while tracks like Martin Garrix’s “Animals” have crossed over from early Top 10 success, most have stalled without an additional outlet for growth. Powered by Clear Channel distribution and syndication, the new Top 20 Countdown could make stars out of acts like deep house outfit Dusky, which topped the chart for four weeks last year with the dreamy “Careless,” and Showtek, the chart’s current No. 1 with the hard-hitting “We Like To Party.” And it will give additional national exposure to more established chart regulars like Hardwell, Avicii and Afrojack.

“I harbor no illusions that we’re going to get to, in the near future, anything like Ryan [Seacrest’s] show,” said SFX CEO Robert F.X. Sillerman, “but we will.”

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Clear Channel has already put down stakes in EDM, launching dance-dedicated brand Evolution as two terrestrial stations in Miami and Boston, and a channel on iHeartRadio, which Sykes says became the digital platform’s most popular upon its premiere.

With such a large, mainstream footprint, the Countdown Show could increase the importance of music sales in a dance artist’s career, which up until now have been considered so insignificant that many have resorted to giving music away for its promotional value alone.

“This is a really exciting step forward for the genre as a whole in the U.S.,” said one major label executive of the Countdown Show. “Ticket sales and streaming numbers make it obvious that there is an audience here to support these ‘club’ tracks as songs on the radio. Many of the types of tracks that chart highly in the Beatport Top 10 go on to become radio hits in Europe, so this could, potentially, finally, be the conduit we needed to have the same types of successes on this side of the pond.”

As for the Ryan Seacrest in this plan -- the on-air talent that will voice the Countdown -- Sykes and Sillerman say to wait and see.

“Because of Evolution, we have developing artists and people like Pete Tong, godfather of EDM, Afrojack and others who could lead the way,” says Sykes.

“That’s an announcement for a later time,” says Sillerman, “but you’re going to giggle,” implying that perhaps it won’t be the venerable Tong at the helm.

Sillerman is also bullish about the other elements of the deal, the DJ talent show and live event series.

“Having been an owner of ‘American Idol’ and seeing the power of letting people select winners -- we’d always get more votes in presidential election years than who voted for the President -- there’s a major difference here, but one that speaks to the power of Clear Channel as a terrestrial and digital powerhouse that’s just simply putting it all out there, not for the purpose of creating great TV; this is about the music pure and simple. I think it’s going to be pretty powerful.”

Noting that “Clear Channel has raised the bar for multi-artist performance events with their Jingle Balls,” he says that at least two events of that type are planned for Halloween 2014 week.

“The exact titles and locations and still in the works,” says Sykes.

Of course, any new media product on an advertiser-supported platform is created on the basis of its salability, and Sykes anticipates success in that area.

“Already the relationship between sponsors and EDM brands has been growing exponentially because it’s no longer a side business; it’s a mainstream pop culture phenomenon,” says Sykes. “With that comes huge young audience, and with that comes advertisers.”

SFX quietly announced Anheuser-Busch InBev as its first major brand partner over the holidays, in a global deal that could be worth up to $35 million, according to the New York Times. Sources say that Corona could be the cornerstone brand of that deal. 

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