Ryan Seacrest and Bob Pittman, two entertainment figures with significant digital and TV notches in their belts, visited CES and its inaugural C Space track to make the case for radio. It has far more clout than most people realize, they argued, citing social impressions and reams of statistics pointing to the sense of companionship many listeners feel with the century-old medium.
Pittman, a seasoned exec who was part of the original team that launched MTV before moving on to AOL Time Warner and other prominent media roles, is now chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia, which rebranded recently from Clear Channel. "We wanted to change our name to attest to the fact that the businesses we run are not siloed and radio is not just a giant broadcast tower," he said.
Seacrest's daily iHeartMedia national radio show and two-plus decades as an on-air host have remained central parts of his brand as an entertainment figure. "Programming is curated and people just develop a really strong connection to it," he said. "The reason I go into a radio station every day and have since I was 15 years old is that there's nowhere else to get that kind of emotional connection."
Pittman rattled off an almanac's worth of stats about the potency of radio, noting the billions of social impressions racked up by iHeartMedia events such as the Jingle Ball and the iHeartRadio Music Festival. Even so, he lamented that TV CPMs average three times those fetched by radio sellers. Seacrest and Pittman both agreed the industry, battered by the seismic changes of digital music distribution and online growth in general, did a poor job telling its own story. "We didn't walk into a sales meeting and convey the strength that we have," said Seacrest.
Asked if the recent dustup between pop star and Taylor Swift and streaming music service Spotify that saw Swift pull her entire catalog off of Spotify boosted iHeartMedia's ratings and metrics, Pittman said it probably did. But even more significant, he said, was radio's role in "telling people what music they can buy" on these platforms. Recent surveys, he noted, have found that nearly three-quarters of Spotify, Pandora and online streaming listeners use FM radio as their primary discovery tool.