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RAIN 5/26: Nearly half of FM stations are streaming online, Arbitron reports

Posted on: 05/26/2010


For the first time, Arbitron has included streaming radio stations in the National Format Shares and Station Counts section of its annual Radio Today report. Based on Arbitron’s stats, Jennifer Lane of Audio4Cast calculates that 48% of all FM stations and 32% of AM stations are streaming their programming online.

The report also breaks down how many stations are streaming in each format. Classical stations are the most likely to simulcast online: 82% offer a webcast. Next is Contemporary Christian — which boasts 558 FM and 14 AM streams — then Country, with 497 FM and 50 AM streams. Lane was surprised (here) by the fact that only 52% of news/talk stations and 48% of talk/personality stations are streaming. “Those stations don’t have to pay per performance music royalties, which keeps some broadcasters from streaming, so it’s surprising that they’re not distributing their content online.” That said, there may be issues involved for such stations — which may broadcast syndicated programs or content owned by an entity outside of the station, like MLB games — to simulcast online.

If the fact that only 48% of FM stations are streaming seems low, it’s important to remember that Arbitron surveyed stations across the spectrum — so while broadcasters from small markets may not stream, it’s likely that most higher-profile stations and/or those in large and major markets do. For example, Arbitron surveyed 1,337 Country stations for the report. In the top 100 U.S. markets, it’s unlikely there’d be more than about 150-200 Country stations. One could safely assume all of those are streaming, and there’s still a respectable percentage of streamers among smaller markets. You can download Arbitron’s study here.


The BBC has launched an iPhone app called BBC Listener. As the name suggests, users can tune in to BBC Radio programs and even download them for offline listening. The app also includes a Radio Tuner feature, which resembles the classic dial tuners of yore (see picture at left). The app itself costs $2.99 but the BBC charges $12.99 per quarter after that for access.

Will such pricing work? Well, PaidContent does predict that “there’s potentially a decent U.S. market” for the app, but points out (here) that much of the content delivered through BBC Listener is available free online. Then there’s the state-side juggernaut: NPR. “NPR in the States does at least as good a job at radio news and documentary, and all its apps, like its podcasts, are free.”


As more people tune in to radio streams on mobile devices with large and often touch-friendly screens, it becomes more important to create compelling visual content to make a radio app worthy of taking up that big screen (especially if the user can’t run other apps while listening, like on the iPad). With that in mind, radio expert James Cridland — reporting from Stockholm’s Radiopuls conference — outlines some ideas for how radio can be visually engaging.

One idea is to display user-submitted photos, which gives users some fame and a reason to watch the display. Screens could also display quick polls that would affect programming (like “Should we play the Beatles or the Stones next?”), thereby creating “a hidden extra secret to listeners to a ‘radio with a screen.’” Both ideas collect info via 50-cent text messages, 25 cents of which would go to the broadcaster. “New technology’s always easier to work on if management can see a potential revenue stream. And this seems like one,” Cridland writes (here).


Analysts have been buzzing about the possibility of Sirius XM going global. The anticipation was reportedly sparked by the actions of Liberty Media, which both bailed out Sirius XM in 2009 and bought debt from international satellite radio operator WorldSpace. “Speculation has run rampant that perhaps Sirius and WorldSpace could work to bring
Sirius XM’s programming abroad,” TheStreet.com reports here. “Whether it wants to, or not, is another question entirely.”

Craig Hodges of the Hodges Fund, which owns 10 million Sirius XM shares, “said he’d be disappointed if Sirius XM wasn’t in the position to expand overseas two years from now.” But another analyst, David Trainer, president of Nashville-based research firm New Constructs, is skeptical: “The business is seriously unprofitable at this point…[expanding internationally] would require a lot of additional capital.” Trainer also argued Sirius XM’s recent successes (RAIN coverage here) “contain accounting distortions that doesn’t show the true picture of just how unprofitable this company is.”

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