Kanye and Kimmel's Recent Dustup Shows That YouTube Is Radio's New Friend (From the Magazine)

Far from being fatal for radio stars, video is helping propel some broadcast stations into the era of digital content.

That was the case when the BBC’s Radio 1 decided to put its hourlong interview with Kanye West on its YouTube channel in September. Days later, late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel did a parody of West’s interview. That prompted a war of words between West and Kimmel on Twitter, culminating in a Kumbaya moment when West appeared on Kimmel’s show. All told, the interview garnered 3.5 million views, making it the most-watched music interview BBC Radio has ever created.

“It’s safe to say that 10 years ago, a U.S. chat show host wouldn’t have seen it, wouldn’t have responded to it and wouldn’t have entered into an A-list Twitter beef over it,” BBC Radio 1 executive producer Joe Harland says.

Radio stations like Radio 1 and New York outlets WNYC and WQHT are turning to YouTube as part of their broader strategies to “future-proof” their business in an increasingly connected, digital environment. Rather than view YouTube as cannibalizing radio, many stations report getting an uptick in over-the-air listens when they leverage YouTube as a marketing and branding platform.

Lin Dai, VP of digital and TV programming at Emmis Communications-owned WQHT, says hip-hop fans no longer see radio as the only way to tune into the station as they live on mobile phones, tablets and laptops. “They don’t make the distinction about what is radio or not radio. This is a fundamental change in behavior. For us to be relevant, we need to be present in digital and video. We need to be more than just on-air talent.”

Radio stations have experimented with video in fits and starts during the past decade, with varying degrees of success. Some found the expense of building an infrastructure to publish online videos too steep, while others felt the demand for video in a narrow-band environment was too low. But YouTube’s arrival in 2005 changed things fairly quickly.

“It’s given every radio station a way to become their own MTV channel,” says Ron Davenport Jr., chairman of Sheridan Broadcasting, an independently owned company with three stations. Sheridan received a patent for a technology that synchronizes radio broadcasts with YouTube videos in real time.

Like Sheridan, many broadcast companies see online video as a way to expand their reach as global media brands rather than radio stations with a limited geographic reach. For public station WNYC, just 7% of its YouTube views come from the New York metropolitan area, and half come from outside the country. That’s important for selling national brand advertising.

“Some stations are seeing significant audience growth on YouTube, as high as 30 million viewers a month, by reformatting their content as online video and extending their reach beyond their transmitter’s terrestrial reach,” YouTube content partnership director Vivien Lewit says (see table).

Still, monetization hasn’t always caught up to audience growth. New York Public Radio senior director of business development Erik Diehn says the revenue from video sponsors and ads aren’t lucrative.

“To make significant money, you’d need tens of millions of views a month. We’re nowhere near that,” Diehn says. “That being said, we are seeing significant growth trajectory in our subscriber and view counts. It’s realistic to expect that YouTube will pay for itself in a few years’ time. We’re not getting rich by any stretch.”

Part of the challenge is consistency -- producing a constant stream of videos that can organically build and grow a fan base in time, CBS Local Digital Media president Ezra Kucharz says.

“For this to matter as a business, it has to scale,” says Kucharz, whose company has started to zero in on its YouTube strategy this year. “To do that, you need a steady flow of high-quality content to make the math work. We like the buzz. We love the traffic. But we love the revenue even more. It this weren’t driving traffic and revenue, we wouldn’t be doing it.”