At ABC Radio, Better Ad Targeting for the Streaming Crowd

ABC Radio says it streams 3.9 million Web connections a month, totaling almost eight million hours of radio time. That’s a lot of listening hours, and contains mountains of highly targetable ad inventory that the Disney division has so far done little to monetize, treating it rather as a simple extension of its terrestrial broadcast sales.

Now, with an eye toward changing that, the company has entered a content and ad streaming agreement with VitalStream.

The deal will, for the first time on ABC stations, let marketers target their radio advertising to online listeners according to age, gender, region and other demographic factors. Online listeners pony up this information during the one-time registration process when they first open a stream.

ABC Radio’s marketing and Internet director, Robert Shiflet, said it was the high degree of demographic specification that made VitalStream’s platform appealing.

“Here in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, it’s the heart of pick-up country,” he said. “If Ford Motor Company came to us, they could say, ‘If the listener is a man and he’s 45-years-old or older, I want him to hear an F150 commercial. If he’s under 45, I want him to hear a commercial for the new Ford Mustang. If it’s a woman, I want her to hear [about a different vehicle entirely.]”

“There’s zero waste,” he said. “It’s very precision sales marketing that we’re going to be able to offer. Few companies have that ability now.”

The deal covers 75 stations in most major markets, according to VitalStream Ad Services EVP Steve Newman, and involves display as well as audio ads. VitalStream’s browser-based audio player allows the radio sites to show banner units synchronized with the audio spots. While this poses an integration challenge for ABC Radio, which still maintains separate sales groups for its broadcast and interactive inventory, Newman said it’s getting easier. Under the agreement, VitalStream will also represent ABC Radio ad inventory.

“Two years ago, nobody knew how to do this, because the interactive group did Flash banners, and the radio group did radio,” he said. “Now we can put video ads on the radio sites, so we’re talking to the video or the television group.”

The companies hope to implement the agreement by early October. VitalStream must first install new encoders and sound cards at all ABC Radio stations. This allows it to convert the broadcast transmission for Internet use and extract the terrestrial ads in preparation to insert the digital placements. The Internet transmission is delayed 15 seconds to allow VitalStream’s platform to measure the length of the ad break and select appropriate targeted commercials or station promos to place there.

It’s not a foolproof system. That 15-second delay can be enough to create problems for some of the stations’ call-in promotions, which give away prizes and rewards to the first, third, or eighth caller. VitalStream’s Newman said stations could solve the problem by having Internet-only promotions, but DJs and station owners by and large haven’t adopted that approach.

Back in May, VitalStream acquired audio and video ad firm Eonstreams, which allowed it to bundle content and ads together for its publisher and broadcast partners. Other VitalStream clients include MySpace, Spike TV, Comcast, NYTimes.com, P&G, Edmunds.com, CNET and Brightcove. VitalStream’s service is Windows Media-based.

ABC Radio holdings include WMVP in Chicago, KLOS in Los Angeles, WDRQ in Detroit and KXXR in Minneapolis St. Paul, among others.

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