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As we are nearing the kick off of the 10th edition of Radiodays Europe, we wanted to spotlight a first-time speaker at RDE: Darren Davis, President of the iHeartMedia Networks Group.  Darren is due to speak on Monday, April 1st in a session entitled “Checking the pulse on America's largest radio group.”  Sadly, we won’t be in attendance this year, but wanted to urge you to check out his session and to give you a brief preview of what he plans to present.


When we last checked in with Darren in 2017, iHeart had just announced that it was launching two on-demand streaming services: iHeartRadio Plus and iHeartRadio All Access:  http://globalmediarcp.com/news/5-ish-questions-iheart-radios-darren-davis.  That exciting project is just one of the many things Darren oversees as part of the iHeartMedia Networks Group – which includes national businesses like Premiere Networks, Total Traffic + Weather Network, the NBC News Radio Network, plus all of iHeart’s Digital businesses, and the iHeartPodcast Network too.  To say he’s “got a lot on his plate,” would be a gross understatement, which is another reason why we are so thrilled to feature him on the Global Media blog.


GM: In the past year, we’ve seen iHeart become a huge force in Podcasting, now eclipsing NPR as the #1 podcast publisher globally.  How did that happen so quickly?  What are your thoughts on this part of our business?  How does iHM differ in its approach to podcasts and how important are they in optimizing iHM’s strategy of ubiquity?


DD: It’s been an amazing year of growth.  By summer of 2018, iHeart had grown up the Podtrac ranker to close in on NPR at the top.  And now through our acquisition of How Stuff Works and the launch of several successful new shows, iHeart has become #1 overall.  Big new shows like “The Ron Burgundy Podcast” (https://www.iheart.com/podcast/the-ron-burgundy-podcast-30270227/) and Season 2 of “Monster” (https://www.iheart.com/podcast/105-monster-28735578/) have given us a big boost. Plus, we’ve been launching great new local podcasts with our talented air personalities.  And as further evidence that radio advertising works, our on-air promotion of these podcasts, and in many cases actually airing the podcasts themselves on the radio, has vaulted us to exciting new levels.


We see podcasting as an obvious and natural extension of our core business as America’s #1 Audio Company.  Podcasting is just one more great way for consumers to engage with iHeart when they want to, how they want to.


GM: As of last August, iHeartRadio (available both online and as a mobile app) had amassed an impressive 125 million registered users.  When we last spoke with you, this number was closer to 100.  Is this metric the most important one for you?  If you had to isolate the single most important metric for iHM in 2019, what do you think it would be?


DD: I think the most important thing we look at is the number of platforms and devices we’re on. Our goal isn’t to grow one piece in particular… Our goal is for more and more consumers to be able to access and enjoy iHeartMedia’s content – regardless of where or how they choose to.  As of today, iHeartRadio is integrated into over 250 platforms and over 2,000 devices.  So, whether it’s our O&O radio stations, or our partner stations, or digital-only stations, or podcasts… it’s never been easier to listen.


GM: In our work consulting media groups around the world, it often surprises our clients to hear that the iHeartRadio platform includes radio stations from competitive media groups like Cumulus, Greater Media, Cox, and Emmis.  What’s the rationale behind this decision and how important has including stations from these other group been in the success of iHeartRadio and its impressive number of registered users?


DD: We like consumers to be able to hear the best stations in America and from around the world. So naturally we love having other broadcasters’ stations available on iHeartRadio, including our international partners at ARN in Australia (http://www.arn.com.au/), Bell Media in Canada (https://www.bellmedia.ca/), and Grupo Acir in Mexico (https://grupoacir.com.mx/).  iHeartRadio provides them with an industry-leading digital listening extension for their brands without them needing to do the heavy lifting of building a separate app and building a new brand from scratch.


GM: Last time we got together, you spoke about pursuing a strategy of “ubiquity,” explaining that this entails “making sure iHeartRadio (and therefore our broadcast radio brands) can be found ‘everywhere.’  Radios, smartphones, automobile infotainment systems, tablets, wearables, gaming consoles, smart TVs, you name it.”  How important has the automotive industry been in optimizing this strategy?  Can you share with us some “best practices” in your experience with this sector?


DD: Here’s iHeartMedia’s POV on features and navigation consumers expect in the car:


1. Research shows that consumers want AM/FM front and center in the car dash, so radio in the car must be in the top audio position in the dash.

- Usage of AM/FM radio in the car has been rock solid for decades.

- Every consumer wants to use the car radio.

- Radio has the highest usage of any product in car.


2. Consumers expect radio stations to be organized by dial position.

- It is the habit of almost a century of navigation.

- Never mix stations with podcasts or other forms of audio. It will create frustration and confusion for consumers.


3. Listeners expect a complete set of all stations in the coverage area to be on the radio. 

- All stations, no matter how small, have unique audiences.


4. Consumers want Manual Controls in the dash radio even if voice control is available in car.

- Voice is “in addition to” not “instead of” manual controls.

- Not every consumer is comfortable with voice in every situation and at every time—the manual control also provides information the voice alone cannot. The two work hand in hand.


With that said, we also want to make sure our stations are available EVERY possible way a station could be featured in the car, so we also are partnered with majority of all major OEMs/Original Equipment Manufacturers as well as aftermarket manufacturers, so for people who want to listen to stations through an app, we’ve got the iHeartRadio app there for them. 


GM:  What role has the smart speaker had in iHM’s strategy of ubiquity?  What do you think are some of the best ways that iHM has been leveraging this innovation in how listeners are consuming audio entertainment?


DD: Smart speakers have become the new in-home radio device. And at iHeart, we began working deeply with Amazon and Google many years ago, in anticipation of this shift by consumers. In fact, today AM/FM Radio is the #1 Activity on Smart Speakers, followed by weather, then setting a reminder and streaming services.  It took years of architecture and partnership work to get to a place where iHeartRadio is natively integrated into smart speakers without a user needing to mess with downloading or using special skills.  As I’ve talked about before, our strategy of ubiquity means doing experimentation and development work for as many different new platforms as possible.  Some of them will turn out to be hugely popular, and some won’t – but that’s how it goes in a culture of innovation.  At iHeart, we pride ourselves on looking far enough ahead that we’re able to keep iHeartRadio available “everywhere.”


We want to extend a huge gesture of gratitude to Darren for sharing his thoughts with us and our readers around the globe.  If you are planning to be in Switzerland for Radio Days, we would urge you to check out his session on Monday, April 1st at 11:15 AM.  We are sure that it will be a highlight of the conference!