Clear Channel's Niche Play Online

Regional President Jeff Howard on Targeting Gays, Nascar Fans

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A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The days of listening to two or three radio stations on a regular basis are long gone, a sign of the times Clear Channel is more than willing to acknowledge.
Jeff Howard, regional president for Clear Channel Radio Sales.
Jeff Howard, regional president for Clear Channel Radio Sales.

In a direct nod to podcasts and satellite radio, the terrestrial leader is looking to expand its online reach by creating its own hyper-targeted programming for two of the most underserved niche audiences on the airwaves -- Nascar fans and the gay community.

Pride On Demand, launched Nov. 28 as a streaming and on-demand channel in 12 markets, features a weekly radio show from "Will and Grace"-esque hosts Ryan & Caroline, celebrity gossip from Hollywood blogger Perez Hilton and guest programming from the gay-friendly likes of Margaret Cho, Carson Kressley and Joan Collins.

Race Day, meanwhile, will super-serve the racing community come January to coincide with the start of Nascar's new season, with interviews, podcasts and specialized music programming launching across more than 500 of Clear Channel stations' websites.

Both programs will see terrestrial programming overlap and come with built-in ad support from Clear Channel's national advertisers in addition to support from regional markets.

Jeff Howard, regional president for Clear Channel Radio Sales, spoke with MediaWorks about moving radio listeners to the web and the opportunities for advertisers to reach them in that space.

MediaWorks: So why Nascar and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community for your first forays into targeting niche audiences?

Jeff Howard: From the on-air side, we're constantly combing that area to find new talent. These things are bubbling up to the top where we see potentially very passionate listenership. Both of these bring about discussions of pride and bringing people together. They're great places to start the next phase of on-demand programming.

MediaWorks: Was this a conscious effort on your part to make a move toward more satellite-radio-based programming?

Mr. Howard: Absolutely. We have a tremendous amount of folks with great brainpower constantly in the idea lab. The terrestrial radio format gives us the flexibility and freedom to do some unique stuff. Our idea lab is trying to create a number of different sources. Satellite has done a good job of breaking down those sources, so it's just a matter of time until we could get the right content and put it in the right place.

MediaWorks: How will this programming encourage brand loyalty among listeners?

Mr. Howard: We would love to be able to grab them with multiple touch points throughout the day. If you take those touch points from an advertising standpoint and use the strength of both radio and online together, it can happen.

We're fairly new to the game in terms of the ecosystem of online. ... We've definitely gotten lot of people's attention simultaneously just through telling that story. What I find is advertisers A) want the right idea, B) they want ownership and C) they want communication with maximum impact. Some of these -- Race Day and Pride -- may not be for every advertiser. But we're looking for qualified advertisers -- and there's a pretty good return for them. Advertisers in general are Hilton, Toyota, American Express, Delta, Monster.com. Really, 2007's just going be a very big year for Clear Channel online. It's a little bit of our best-kept secret.

MediaWorks: Will it be easy for you to drive listeners to your stations' web portals?

Mr. Howard: There's a built-in credibility for us. It's very easy for us to exactly migrate [an audience] over and give it a much larger place to be. I hazard to guess [niche content] will expand. I believe it's going to be very important content to consumers if it's engaging and it's entertaining, topical and pretty powerful. There's no reason why that can't grow.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story quoted Jeff Howard, regional president for Clear Channel Radio Sales, saying: "We get 100,000 to 400,000 plays in one week." In fact, a spokeswoman said, Clear Channel has gone from 100,000 plays at the beginning of the year to 4 million plays a week now.
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