Stitcher, the Pandora of Talk, Works to Make Internet Radio Easier

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listen while you drive to the grocery store, and then listen on your mobile device, then get home and listen on your tablet. It’s absolutely seamless.”

Stitcher earns money by showing display ads, which appear on your smartphone screen. Eventually, they’ll also appear within the Web app. The company has run “a number of very successful tests” of ads that combine audio and display elements, a format pioneered by Pandora. “The combination allows you to do some really cool, fun stuff” like surveys or games, Shanok says. For instance, an advertiser could ask, “Who do you think is going to be MVP of the Super Bowl? Click now on your screen.’”

But Shanok says these advertising programs are in the “beginning stages” and that the company is still working on building its own ad sales force. “There is no doubt that the dollars are there,” he says. “Terrestrial radio advertising is a $15 billion a year business, and 35 percent of that is talk radio. If you look at the growth in revenue at companies like Pandora, it’s quite fast. So, there isn’t a question about the viability of it.”

It may help that Stitcher’s users are an attractive lot for advertisers: mostly affluent, educated professionals in the 30-to-60 age bracket. But at the same time, Shanok says, “we have teenagers listening to shows about motocross and 75-year-olds listening to shows about knitting and people in rural areas listening to shows about bass fishing.” (Not to mention people in urban areas who wish they could go bass fishing.) “The mix of folks is only going to become more broad as we continue to break down the barriers to listening.”

It may be a while yet before listening to on-demand Internet radio is as easy as flicking on the radio. Then again, more and more people don’t even have old-fashioned radios. Until I got an emergency radio for my earthquake kit last month, the only radio I owned was the one in my car, and Arbitron says radio ownership is on a gradual decline across the U.S.—it fell from 96 percent in 2001 to 93 percent in 2011.

Radio-like experiences are sure to be part of the media mix on the Internet far into the future, whether they’re delivered via smartphones, tablets, PCs, or brain implants, and on the talk-radio side of the equation, Stitcher seems to be building a lead. Shanok, at least, is confident: “We believe what we’re doing will replace the radio dial at some point.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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