"You can't stop technology, nor can you control it. The only winning strategy is to embrace it -- and embrace it as early as you can."
Fitting words here at CES from iHeartMedia chairman and CEO Bob Pittman, reflecting on lessons learned from the music industry's early dealings with streaming tech.
Pittman has been steadily redefining iHeartMedia as an integrated digital entity. The company's new moniker is a nod to its iHeartRadio app, which he views as an extension of the company's traditional radio brands. "We don't look at it as iHeartRadio competing with digital players," he tells Billboard, noting that although the app's 54 million unique users according to comScore "sounds big in digital terms, it's only about a quarter of our reach in broadcast radio. With broadcast radio alone we reach more consumers than Facebook, Google or broadcast TV networks in the U.S."
Look for iHeartRadio to continue cropping up on new devices and platforms. Its recent activation on Android Wear smart watches enables users with iHeartRadio installed on their Android phone to control the service via LG, Motorola and Samsung watches, with more wrist gear expected to join the mix.
You're more than 3 months into operations as iHeartMedia. You already had all these interconnecting businesses, how does linking them under the new brand change things and accelerate scale?
Actually, we became iHeartMedia because the lines between all of our platforms were getting very blurry and we were already beginning to operate as one, in terms of serving the consumer in different ways on different devices. We reach almost a quarter of a billion listeners with our broadcast radio stations; we're almost up to 90 million monthly uniques on all of our digital products; and our social reach is almost 80 million. Combine that with our 20,000 annual events and our almost 150 million reach with Outdoor and you begin to see how this company has put together unparalleled scale across multiple platforms.
Digital repositioning has guided much of your business strategy since coming aboard. How specifically do digital extensions expand iHeart's relationship with the consumer both for the company, and for your on-air personalities?
In the most simple terms, what we added were more radios. We've always had radios in the car, radios by the bed and radios at work, and now we also have what are new radios to the consumer -- digital devices -- at workstations and in everyone's hands. More ways to listen to the radio means more occasions for our listeners to connect to our legendary brands and our one of a kind personalities – and it's a very good thing for us, our listeners, our advertisers and the music industry.
What two pieces of wisdom did you take away from the music industry's early dealings with Napster and other streaming companies?
First, consumers always get what they want -- and if you don't make it available to them they'll find it however they can -- and, unfortunately in Napster's case, that meant even if it's illegal. And the second lesson is that you can't stop technology, nor can you control it; the only winning strategy is to embrace it -- and embrace it as early as you can.
The iHeartRadio app continues its strong play, with nearly 54 million unique visitors via mobile devices and desktop. What's your plan for the app in 2015? How can you reach, and hang on to, a dominant position in such a crowded market?
We don't look at it as a crowded marketplace and don't look at is as iHeartRadio competing with digital players -- we look at it as a way to extend the reach of our traditional radio brands into new devices where the consumer expects to find us. And though 'almost 60 million' sounds big in digital terms, it's only about a quarter of our reach in broadcast radio. Indeed, with broadcast radio alone we reach more consumers than Facebook, Google or broadcast TV networks in the U.S. What has been great for us is that consumers are loyal to the brands they love as long as the brands are loyal to them -- so by extending our reach onto all the devices and platforms where they want to find us, we are continuing to serve our listeners in all the ways they want.
The iHeartRadio Music Festival garnered 5 billion social impressions this year. Where do you go from here in building the festival as well as other live ventures for EDM, Latin, and other genres?
2014 was an expansion year for us, as we continued to serve our consumers not only with the iHeartMedia Music Festival -- which, as you point out, had as big a social impact as the Academy Awards and twice that of the Super Bowl halftime show (and twice what it had the previous year) -- but also with new events we added; the iHeartRadio Fiesta Latina, the iHeartRadio Country Festival and the iHeartRadio Music Awards, all of which were tremendous successes. In 2015, we intend to continue to grow those new franchises as well as the iHeartRadio Ultimate Pool Party, the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball Tour, and the Festival, franchises that have continued to grow every year. Although these are all major events in their own right, we see them as part of the integrated content experiences we provide our consumers: They are live audio on our radio stations and major promotions; they are digital audio and video content that promotes our stations and iHeartRadio as well as the artists. Maybe most important, they are a critical way for us to help build the appeal and excitement of music and the fantastically talented artists we work with, along with the major music companies and managers, and create demand for consumers to go to music instead of other forms of entertainment.
You recently launched on Android Wear, so now we have iHeartRadio on our wrist. What's next?
Expect us to be everywhere our consumers are -- and as new technologies emerge and new devices develop, we have made the commitment to be there as well.
You've said the biggest challenge is always keeping up with the consumer. No one has a crystal ball, but what consumer trends are you watching most closely as we head into the new year?
The biggest consumer trend has been the shift from connected home to the connected individual. This has been a big advantage for every service that is mobile -- and radio is mobile at scale. This is our sweet spot. Additionally, we are just seeing the great expansion of the possibilities for audio. We have by far the biggest footprint in audio, and we intend to use that position to build new and exciting products for our consumers. You can also expect to hear from us soon about exciting new ways we'll be helping our advertisers harness the power of audio.
What's the first thing you read/watch when you get up in the morning?
Watch? We're iHeartMedia! The first thing I do in the morning is turn on Elvis Duran and start listening. He tells me everything I need to know about what's going on before I hit the office.