James Cridland

iHeartRadio — the future of radio?

iHeartRadio has done something clever this week.

In the US, the iHeartRadio app contains a bunch of features — not just live radio streams, but podcasts, algorithmic radio stations and (if you pay for it) a music service much like Spotify.

A few weeks ago, it added a feature that brings it up to parity with Spotify — its own version of “Discover Weekly”, that feature that uncannily works out the kind of music you enjoy listening to and gives you more new stuff that you’ve otherwise not heard. This service is the main reason I stick with Spotify: so it’s interesting seeing iHeartRadio adding its own.

Last week, it added something that even Spotify doesn’t have — intelligent segues. Up until now, every music service has essentially played a set of songs one after another, with great big gaps between them. Many bright young programmers were quite happy with this — because they hadn’t come from a world of radio, where you can do some lovely things with a proper segue. I’ve lost count of the amount of music services I’ve spoken to who have looked at me with a blank stare when I talked about what a segue was.

iHeartRadio appears to have fixed this, though — working with some outfit called Super Hi-Fi to produce proper, decent segues, whatever you’re playing on the service. And, yes, volume levelling too.

In the UK, the latest MIDAS survey from RAJAR, which came out very recently, shows that during the work day, about 17% of the UK listens to the radio, but about 12% are listening to on-demand music services (slide 17). That’s a considerable amount of listening to music services (in a country that doesn’t have Pandora or iHeartRadio, but does have Spotify and a number of other services).

iHeartRadio’s strategy appears to be to invest in a product that competes with radio, and might one day take it over. That must have been quite a hard sell. But as they continue growing that product, it seems more sensible by the month.

Up until now, radio’s main promotional tool has been to promote their music policies, to the exclusion of all else. But when you’ve online music services which are now capable of music discovery and even the subtle effect of a decent segue, now’s the time to focus, surely, on the other things that radio has to offer.

After all — why promote “the best music from the 80s, 90s and now” — when you could be promoting, instead, the thing that makes your product unique — the human beings.