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New Orleans. It’s the local flavor coming all the way through. That is not going to be undermined by the Internet. If anything what it does is show the whole world, here is what a great jazz station should look like.
WR: You said earlier that you want to understand what is happening on every radio station on TuneIn, all the time. With 70,000 stations, how is that possible? Can you automate it?
JD: It’s a very human problem. Google can just create all of these automated bots that just scrape the Web and compile the data in real time. For us, there is no real way to automate knowing what is playing on this station at that moment. It gets even worse when you think about geography. If we have a directory for a station in Brazil it should look locally authentic. You want someone constructing the radio directory who is keyed into those listeners. So TuneIn has a worldwide work force in Brazil, India, China, Japan, Switzerland, the U.S., trying to build the absolute best directory so the experience always feels authentic.
Another way we do it is through technology. Some stations report “now playing” information to us. And some of our client [apps] report back what is being listened to. If you are listening to a music station, your client, depending on where you are, may report back “I’m listening to this station and here’s what’s playing right now.” We use that data to serve better search results.
The problem is doing that at scale, across thousands of stations all day, every day. It just isn’t practical. If you listen to talk radio and Rush Limbaugh is talking about Barack Obama, and the search result for that is three minutes old or five minutes old, that is not relevant anymore. It’s incredibly real-time. The industry is heading down that path but we’re not there yet.
WR: How does TuneIn earn money?
JD: Right now it’s primarily through display ads. One of the unique things about a smartphone is that there is a display—the radio in your car has no room for a display ad, but the radio on your phone. We revenue-share back with our content partners, so it’s incremental income for the radio industry. We have a separate product called Amplifier, which allows broadcasters to log in and see all their station’s listening up through the previous day. They can see where their listeners are coming from, what devices they are using, and what revenue they made. As Google Analytics is for the Web, Amplifier is for live audio.
WR: Do you work with all 70,000 stations in your directory to get permission to connect to them, or is it more automatic than that?
JD: It’s kind of like Google. Do they go out and do a deal with every Web server in the world and say “We’d like your permission to put you in our search engine”? No. On the other hand, we are happy to pull them out if they don’t want to be part of it. But because we provide broad distribution with revenue sharing, the vast majority of the audio world is excited to be part of the platform.
WR: What reasons do stations give for not wanting to be part of TuneIn?
JD: The best example would be Clear Channel. They have their own platform called iHeartRadio, and they want to limit distribution of their stations to just their platform, to try and drive users to iHeartRadio rather than any other platform. We see that as an analogous situation to AOL 20 years ago. AOL had no interest in being part of the Internet because if it put all its content on the Internet, why would you pay $20 a month for AOL? Well, who won? It wasn’t Prodigy or Compuserve. It was everyone else.
We believe the movie will play out the same way it did 20 years ago. We think radio providers should focus on the content. We will focus on the technology and discovery and bringing this to every user. You focus on what you do best, which is creating amazing local content, and the users will decide.
WR: Your own personal background is mostly in social gaming and interactive entertainment rather than broadcasting. What made you a good fit for this job in Internet radio?
JD: We are a technology company, not a radio company. If you were to go out and find a typical radio CEO to take over TuneIn, I don’t think you would be amplifying what is great about TuneIn. TuneIn is, I hope, best served by someone focused on product, and providing the best entertainment products and the best user experience we possibly can. I feel like it’s a natural fit for me. I’m super passionate about the space and have a lot of experience building engaging games and applications across many different devices, and I’ve seen some of this movie before, like AOL transitioning onto the Internet.
WR: Last question. You mentioned that you build audiophile speakers. I’m just curious, what’s the situation for audiophiles when it comes to Internet radio? Can you get decent sound over a streaming Internet connection?
JD: With news, talk, and sports, it doesn’t matter. You don’t worry about sound quality. But most stations stream multiple bit rates. If you are on Wi-Fi and you want a high-bit-rate stream, you can get extremely high quality sound. Once you get much above 128 [kilobits per second] the difference starts being inaudible to the human ear. So, one of the funny things about terrestrial radio is that the sound quality is pretty low, because it’s analog over the air. But online broadcasters can pick any bit rate, and it’s coming straight off the equipment, not going through a tower.