(Updated at 2 p.m. ET: iHeartMedia issued a statement to Billboard saying, "Our goal is to provide our listeners with the best listening experience they can find anywhere -- including improved locally-focused programming. The changes we made are designed to do that; we are using our resources and technology to better serve our listeners, including providing even more content and programming to our local communities.”)
iHeartMedia's layoffs of hundreds of employees this week in a self-described move to modernize the company most likely means two things: A shift in emphasis from AM-FM airwaves to apps, streaming and podcasts; and an increase in centralized, syndicated programming rather than live, local DJs.
"You're simply taking content that someone has already produced and pushing it out someplace else on another channel -- there's a lot more money in that," says Gordon Borrell, CEO of broadcast-analyst firm Borrell Associates. "Say what you want about iHeart, but they're making some pretty smart and strategic decisions to stay afloat and morph in what's becoming a difficult media environment."
This week's layoffs, part of what former employees have called a "a bloodbath" cut deeply into iHeart radio stations around the U.S., particularly those in "mid-major" markets such as Pittsburgh and Asheville, North Carolina, The deep and unexpected cuts have shocked record labels’ radio-promotions departments, who have lost many of their long-standing relationships. "When you're talking to the market guy, he's saying, 'They let go of all these people and I'm running an automated system right now,'" says a label source who frequently works with iHeart. "Which is a shame because there is a huge need for something more local."