Radio Magazine Field Report - Ad Insertion roll out

Posted in Reports on Aug 01, 2013

Terrestrial, over-the-air transmission remains an important delivery vehicle for public and commercial broadcasters. The cautionary tales of radio's demise in the face of digital media are exaggerated: A recent audio report from the Pew Research Center confirms that most Americans own at least one AM/FM radio, and that terrestrial listening remains an influence. That same report, however, also notes that radio's growth and momentum almost exclusively depends on digital streaming. It should be no surprise to anyone Internet-based media is more than a fad, and radio stations that embrace streaming media are essentially stating that they refuse to be left behind. Consumers around the world have assimilated more technology into their daily lives, and in the process the ratio of terrestrial versus online listeners has inevitably shifted. And it's certain that this shift will continue. At the same time, radio of the 20th century provided us with certain time-tested techniques and quality standards that should not be ignored. I believe it's important that new technologies, techniques and delivery platforms serve as an addition rather than a replacement. In this way, online streaming becomes another avenue to deliver content without sacrificing the processes and quality that made the content valuable in the first place. The ability to deliver broadcasts worldwide is certainly an important advantage. All Classical Portland, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary as one of the few remaining pure-format classical radio stations, has had a streaming presence since the turn of the century. My mission upon joining the station in 2011 was to evolve our streaming platform, which remained unchanged for ten-plus years, to a higher service tier. We switched to a new content delivery network (CDN), StreamGuys, to help us increase streaming listenership, and now offer eight continuous streams offering two levels of audio quality. We have drawn more listeners by making the online listening experience as easy as possible. This way, the listener can forget the technology is there and let the music be all that matters. Our programming decisions are meticulous and our hosts are knowledgeable, friendly and laid back - but online listeners will quickly tune out if the experience is choppy and underwhelming. CDN companies are instrumental in sustaining high levels of streaming reliability to increase online listener enjoyment.

This all sounds easy perhaps - and it's true that a radio station can get a stream off the ground with minimal costs and infrastructure. However, incorporating streaming media elegantly requires notable investments in equipment, services and talent. This means that new ways to generating revenue are also needed. Ad insertion technologies offer perhaps the most attractive means of monetizing online and mobile streams, allowing us to prominently recognize our sponsors. Those of us in community-supported media understand the rules of sponsorship differ from the advertising content of our commercial media peers. Still, there are benefits to embracing technologies that can help us in the public media generate revenue, and ultimately attract more listeners and members. StreamGuys pointed us to AdsWizz following our inquiries on ad insertion services. Though still in the early stages of deployment, we have successfully incorporated audio "pre-rolls" into our streams - essentially, short sponsor recognition clips (or requests for donations) targeted to our online audiences that play when the stream is launched. Online streaming and other new Internet technologies can be fun and exciting, but sometimes that's not enough of a reason to justify the expense. While we were ready to more directly monetize our streams, I had several trepidations before committing to ad insertion software. How much control would I have over the injections? Would it handle multiple audio formats, with StreamGuys supporting MP3 and AAC+ for our services? Will the administration interface be useful? How reliable will it be injecting, playing and passing off pre-rolls to the live streams? The last question was perhaps the most important; we hope that listeners will welcome our pre-rolls, but we certainly can't expect them to be forgiving if stream quality is disrupted.

We've found that jumping into the shallow end of the pool with ad insertion technology has been worth the risk. The service itself has been reliable and hassle free. Listener enjoyment is our foremost concern, so I'm pleased that the transition from pre-roll to live stream is smooth and elegant. We're admittedly using the service in a simplistic manner to start. We made the choice to only use in-house produced audio pre-rolls for the foreseeable future. All injections are 10 seconds or less, and only happen upon stream initiation. A simple point-and-click user interface makes it easy to add or change audio files as new ads enter the pre-roll rotation. The use of in-house-only pre-rolls means we're not seeing the immediate tangible benefits a radio station might see from using a third-party ad network or agency. However, we expect pre-roll sales to ramp up in the near future based on early feedback, and the platform now in place will easily accommodate growth. Analytics software from both companies is helping us strategize when and where that growth may take shape. StreamGuys offers a tool to directly compare weekly online listenership with our Arbitron reports for terrestrial listenership. Additionally, their SGreports software utilizes the Sawmill platform, which is analogous to Google Analytics and allows us to understand almost any combination of who, how, what and when our streams are accessed. AdsWizz sweetens the pot with stats on pre-roll impressions, with plenty of options, metrics and filters that I'll use more as our injection platform grows.

Let's be honest: Not many listeners enjoy pre-roll messages. However, the average online stream listener realizes that a 10-second message is often preferable to a subscription service. This is where services such as AdsWizz are helpful. If we, as content providers, are going to incorporate revenue-generating services, it might as well be easy to use and offer plenty of advanced customization options. All Classical Portland stands apart from similar radio stations because the station's programming stays true to the vibe of Portland and the Pacific Northwest. We have a strong sense of place, we love the music we play, and we're passionate about sharing that with our neighbors and the rest of the world. I think ad insertion tools give us the best opportunity to directly monetize our streams while still keeping our online and mobile experience as attractive as possible for listeners.

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