While the U.S. media and advertising landscape is rapidly changing in the era of COVID-19, radio in general — and iHeartMedia specifically — is positioned to meet the needs of consumers and advertisers alike.
That’s according to iHeartMedia CEO Bob Pittman, who on Tuesday appeared on Bloomberg Television’s “Bloomberg Technology” to discuss the contemporary climate for advertising and media consumption amid such uncertain times.
“It’s a tale of two cities,” Pittman told host Emily Chang. “Advertising is down, but the consumer is probably more engaged with radio than they’ve ever been. They come to us in times of crisis because what we provide really is companionship… We keep them calm. We keep them company. And they’re finding us on all these new devices, too.”
Pittman said the company’s success is rooted in a plan hatched roughly a decade ago to ensure content could be delivered wherever the listeners are. Today, he said, iHeart’s content is on more than 250 platforms — including everything from smart TVs and smart speakers to gaming consoles and Roku. This, he said, has allowed for enhanced engagement as well as a deepening of the listener relationship.
Podcasting has emerged as an increasingly important component of iHeart’s overall content offerings, and that hasn’t changed in the era of COVID-19. In March, Pittman said, iHeart was one of just two companies to see an increase in podcast listening — the other being The New York Times.
Those results came despite the fact that U.S. daily commutes, a primary daily listening opportunity for most consumers, were at a standstill.
“I think it’s because we’ve got this relationship with podcasting and radio, so that the two are really tied together,” said Pittman, who hosts his own podcast, “Math & Magic.” “We can promote the podcasts that are going to be most relevant where people are. As they’ve shifted perhaps from commuting to [being] at home, they shifted genres they were listening to, and perhaps different podcasts. The net result was it was up for us. And we continue to see this real strength in podcasting.
“And in podcasting, unlike probably the rest of media, the advertising sales continue to be strong,” he said. “Every time we go through a downturn, there’s always some new product which grows during that downturn. In 2008 and 2009 it was social. Today, it looks like it’s podcasting.”
Pittman acknowledged the difficult contemporary economic climate, but said the good news is that the economy always finds a way to come back to life — no matter how dark things seem. That reality, along with a slate of new content and service offerings, should help advertisers remain in the fold, or come back if they’ve suspended their advertising initiatives for the time being.
“I think radio is going to prove its value here, because it turns out that it is what people need right now,” Pittman said. “It’s engagement. Coming out of this they’re going to need that kind of information, that companionship, that comfort to help them through it.”
Pittman said he believes advertisers have in recent years discovered a real renaissance in the audio space, a trend he thinks will continue — even in the midst of a brutal economic climate.
“It’s deep now, as it is for all of the media players with advertising, but I think we’re adding new products and services for our advertisers — data, analytics… Coming out of this, every advertiser has to almost re-engage their brand with the consumer,” he said. “So they really need this reach that we have — we now have more reach than TV — and they need that kind of engaged, trusted voice to explain what the product means today in this new world as we’re coming out of it. So I think we probably fit the bill better today in this new world than we have in quite a long time.”