Questions for Radio Disney’s Director of Synergy

The “Radio Disney Now!” podcast began last August as a repurposed three minutes or so of Radio Disney programming in an ad-free format. Since then, the weekly program has become the most popular family-friendly podcast on iTunes, according to the company.

Those 250,000 or so listens have provided enough proof of demand to encourage the company to enhance the content and begin serving ads. A revamped, longer version of the show launched last week, and by summer the first ads, from THQ, will appear.

Radio Disney’s director of synergy and marketing, Michael Peterson, recently fielded our questions on the podcast, its ad products, and the moral conundrum of advertising to kids online.

Q. What’s Radio Disney’s podcasting opportunity as you see it, and how did you come to this point?

A. It’s an extension for us, a way for kids and families to tap into Radio Disney content anywhere, anyplace, anytime.

The podcast is just the latest digital initiative. Three years ago we launched on XM and Sirius satellite radio. In July of last year we did a deal on iTunes, launching family-friendly content and a way to buy music people know is going to be safe. We have a product called RDTV. For lack of a better description, it’s MTV done Radio Disney-style, but it’s a VOD product.

In August of last year we started podcasting. It wasn’t just a way to listen to the same stuff. It was featured content, things kids really love.

Since that time we’ve done close to a quarter million podcasts. We call them interactions [since not all of those involve someone downloading the audio file to a device].

Q. Who are the first advertisers?

A. THQ is one of the first ones we’re going to come out of the gate with in July. And we’ve got a major packaged goods company following up behind that.

We’re trying to be sensitive to advertising to kids. A new medium like this is always a delicate place. There are really no rules, and we’re trying to be careful not to take advantage.

Q. Does that mean being extra conservative with ad products?

A. We just make sure the separation between content programming and what’s commercial will be very evident. We’re not going to blur those lines to the point where the kid won’t understand the difference. It’s following the same guidelines we follow on-air.

Q. Do the ad products in the podcast differ from what’s on-air?

A. Not today. We debate that on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Out of the gates, no. It’s going to be pretty cut and dry.

There will be a standard ad insertion, as well as a “brought to you by.” And the podcast page on the Web site will have a “brought to you by.”

Q. Do you expect podcasting to require new ad products eventually, or will you always be porting over radio spots?

A. I think it’s a combination. You’ve got different clients in different places with different needs. Some will want to try things that are creative. Some will want to be more traditional and port the same spots they’ve seen on air. We’re at the point where we have to think about things differently.

Q. Have you done a lot of research into the medium and how it’s used, or are you throwing your hat into the ring more casually to see what happens?

A. The latter, like everybody else right now. It’s so new. Through focus groups and conferences that have kids on panels, we know how technologically savvy they are… anecdotally rather than through any hard data.

Q. How many podcasts are we talking and what are the themes?

A. Right now we only offer one podcast, a weekly podcast called Radio Disney Now. It had previously been — up until this week — repurposed on-air features we had played.

Just this week we launched a new version of the podcast called “uncut.” It’s a much longer podcast, seven minutes compared with the three that we were doing. What I like about it is it includes a lot of content that you may not have heard on Radio Disney. It has a rawer sound. We’re going to continue to evolve them until we feel like we’ve hit a home run with it.

Q. Is having a raw sound important to the identity of podcasting, do you think?

A. That’s an interesting question. I don’t think anybody knows right now. If you look at the origins of podcasting, the grassroots, that’s where it started. People identify with that. But I don’t think that’s what it has to be.

We have to ensure it’s up to the quality and standards of Disney as well.

Q. What’s it like for you personally, leading Disney into this new medium?

A. I love it. I’m not a traditional radio person. At the time I joined, there wasn’t much of this we were doing. It’s been fun expanding the brand.

But there’s so many different things that come so fast. To hit the right one and do it well continues to be the challenge. Nobody knows what’s going to be the right thing. By the time we get off the call there’ll be 15 other things we should be doing.

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