Clear Channel to Resume Radio Webcasts

Clear Channel Worldwide’s radio stations will resume Webcasting their terrestrial programming during the next several weeks, through a plan that dodges some of the prickly issues facing streaming media.

Clear Channel had been one of several terrestrial radio broadcasters that pulled their Webcasts following criticism from the American Federation of Television and Recording Artists — which contended that commercial talents should be receiving royalties from advertisers for the re-purposing of their work online. AFTRA spokespeople pointed to 1998’s controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which in part specified that royalties for digital sound recordings also applied to Webcasts — making the issue both hotly debatable and potentially litigious.

But now, Clear Channel’s Los Angeles-based interactive unit will reactivate the 150 stations streaming terrestrial broadcasts, and will be adding about a hundred more stations by year’s end.

That’s going to be accomplished through a revenue-sharing deal with Hiwire, one of several firms that provides streaming ad insertion technology to terrestrial stations. Hiwire works by detecting upcoming commercials in a terrestrial broadcast, then “stripping out” the commercial as the stream is rebroadcast on the Web. In its place, Hiwire inserts an AFTRA-compliant ad — one for which advertisers have paid Web repurposing fees.

As a result, Clear Channel is back online, and Los Angeles startup Hiwire has a huge new client. According to the companies, about 200 million avails will be handled through Hiwire each month — three to six times more inventory than Hiwire previously had across its network of streaming stations.

“With the remarkable growth of Internet audio over the last several years, Clear Channel vowed to find a comprehensive approach to streaming that made both legal and financial sense,” said Kevin Mayer, Clear Channel Interactive’s chief executive and chairman. “Hiwire has a proven track record of serving ads for Internet radio and has the infrastructure in place to handle our significant ad inventory.”

And that’s also good news for the future of the fledgling streaming media ad industry, which experts had been expecting to grow exponentially in the coming years — barring legal complications.

“The AFTRA debate … seemed like a punch in the stomach of the [streaming radio] industry. A lot of people were saying, look, this is dead before it every got off the ground,” said Hiwire spokesman Wayne Hickey. “But Clear Channel is going back online with 250 stations, in the top 50 markets … and that’s a pretty big company that’s putting a stake in the ground on this.”

Furthermore, the new audiences created by Clear Channel’s commitment to bring new stations online, and reduced AFTRA liability, likely will combine to make streaming media buys more appealing.

“I think we’ve overcome that obstacle of there not being enough listeners on the Web to deliver ads that pay,” Hickey added.

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