iHeartMedia will harness more than 850 radio stations to build its podcast audience and entice potential advertisers. The company today announced Sunday Night Podcasts, in which 270 stations will play a prerecorded podcast episode in between music or talk radio. The initiative will bring podcasts to the airwaves in every one of iHeart’s markets.
Station programmers can decide which iHeart show they broadcast, which will likely be chosen based on the station’s audience, and when to play it. The company is giving them a variety of shows to choose from, so a station catering to a big city might choose to play The Breakfast Club, which originally comes from Power 105.1 in New York City, or a show called Culture Kings. A pop station might play Stuff You Should Know, Conal Byrne, president of the iHeartPodcast Network, tells The Verge.
“What we don’t want to be is too much of a heavy hand on these programmers and say, ‘I want to take over your airwaves,’” he says. “But, that said, it is a strong recommendation from us centrally, to say, ‘Look, let’s not just stop there. Let’s actually try to get this up to 3-, 4-, 500 stations every Sunday night that are playing this.’”
Stations will play these shows every Sunday, so listeners can develop a routine.
Byrne says the dedicated podcast time exists for three reasons: it markets the podcasts; it gives stations a chance to refresh their programming lineup; and, most crucially, it’s a “huge new product” for advertisers.
“If [an advertiser] wants to sponsor [a show], I can now actually redistribute that back across broadcast radio,” Byrne says. “For a lot of brands, [scale and reach] is the key. They can’t get into the medium yet because they feel like it’s just not enough scale. This solves that problem.”
iHeart has already experimented with playing its podcasts on the radio, and Byrne says it has been successful. He cites the show Disgraceland, a true-crime podcast about music, as having received 200,000 monthly downloads before being brought into the iHeart network. The company then began premiering new episodes and running promos on broadcast radio, and Byrne says it now receives around 2.2 million monthly downloads. “I’m not saying it was all broadcast radio, but I know that had a part in this,” he says.
Ultimately, iHeart is playing to its strengths. Like NPR, it’s leveraging its stations to build a brand following that can cross over to on-demand podcasts. People who listen to the radio might not yet listen to podcasts, or they might never have heard the podcasts on iHeart’s roster. Another major radio company, Entercom, sees the same potential as iHeart. Yesterday, the company announced that it acquired two podcasting companies, Pineapple Street Media and Cadence13, to help it build its podcast advertising business as well as its show catalog. It wouldn’t be surprising if Entercom began airing its own podcasts on its more than 235 radio stations across the US, too.
“This ability to redistribute and market audio podcasts across broadcast radio just gives us a leg up,” Byrne says. “You think about one out of three Americans actively listening to shows, that means you still gotta reach two out of three in a different way. Broadcast radio lets you do that.”