NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- A decade ago, Clear Channel was always fingered as the main culprit for contributing to the homogenization of radio and popular music. So it's more than a little ironic that the same company that strategically limited its own radio stations' databases of new music to play on-air has alternately established itself as one of the biggest breeding grounds for music discovery.
The secret weapon? Evan Harrison , Clear Channel's exec VP and head of its digital operations, who introduced the iHeartRadio app two years ago. Launched on the iPhone in 2008, iHeartRadio synchronized live streams from all Clear Channel stations with online-exclusive stations such as eRockster that expanded the company's music to include tens of thousands of new songs that had never been played on radio before.
Only two years into its launch, iHeartRadio.com now reaches 22 million unique listeners a month, with millions of downloads on iPhone, Blackberry, Android and other devices. Just as significantly, iHeartRadio has been a major contributor to the estimated $175 million in digital revenue Clear Channel earned in 2009, based on figures released by SNL Kagan, more than the $75 million grossed by arch rival CBS Radio and the $50 million earned by Pandora during the same time period.
What drove all the success was Clear Channel's re-commitment to thinking of itself as a content company that could break new talent and leverage its relationships with artists and record labels just as well as MTV or VH1 could in the 1980s and '90s. Mr. Harrison adopted a similar strategy when he ran AOL Music prior to joining Clear Channel in 2005, often scoring exclusive streaming rights to new releases and pop single premieres before his current colleagues in radio.
"Discovering new talent has always been the lifeblood of many of our programmers, but they had to make sure their listeners were enjoying what they're hearing. And one of the first things we built together was the concept of music on-demand and being able to see what was driving the most traffic online."
One of the first artists to benefit from that strategy was a then-unknown country artist named Taylor Swift in 2007. More recently, artists such as Phoenix and Sara Bareilles have received the similar multiplatform launch-pad treatment from Clear Channel stations and their online counterparts. One Clear Channel executive estimated that the average station's database of new music recently expanded from 100 unique songs to 175, a seismic shift in how the average radio listener hears new music.
|BY THE NUMBERS|
|Revenue grossed by Clear Channel's digital, online and high-definition properties in 2009, according to SNL Kagan|
|Number of monthly unique listeners at iHeartRadio.com|
|Number of new songs played a week on Clear Channel stations, up from 100|
Now Mr. Harrison is trying to bring that music-discovery philosophy to other formats. Clear Channel recently partnered with 19 Entertainment, MySpace and Hulu for "If I Can Dream," an original reality series where unsigned musicians and actors share a "Real World"-style house in Los Angeles and document their attempts at stardom. Clear Channel has helped promote the show by conducting exclusive interviews and performances with the talent, which in turn has helped the show become a top 30 weekly program on Hulu.