User-Generated Radio Site to Sell Custom Campaigns Direct to Advertisers

While injecting advertiser influence into user generated media like blogs has stirred controversy, Web radio site BlogTalkRadio hopes advertisers and its everyday audio show hosts embrace the idea. Now, advertisers looking to reach fans of anything from handicrafts to Hollywood will be able to buy customized campaign packages direct from the young site. And they’ll be buying from a terrestrial radio sales vet who’s ready to explore the still-maturing world of online radio.

“The variety allows me as a marketing person to connect all kinds of companies with all kinds of consumers,” said newly-hired BlogTalkRadio Director of Advertising Sales Frank Neill. A traditional radio sales and marketing exec for the past 15 years, most recently at WJJZ FM in Philadelphia, Neill will offer advertisers in-stream audio ads, e-mail marketing and coupons, as well as custom ad opportunities like integrated content and live host spots. Neill is based in Philadelphia and expects to do a lot of traveling to New York, northern California, Chicago and elsewhere.

Launched last summer as a do-it-yourself talk radio network, BlogTalkRadio allows anyone to phone in a live radio talk show, complete with a limited number of callers. About 37,000 show episodes have been enabled by the service so far, and about 6,000 went “on air” in November, according to CEO Alan Levy. There were 1.5 million downloads of BlogTalkRadio programs in October, he said.

This week, listeners could catch folksy commentary from cowboy poet Baxter Black, live coverage of Major League Baseball’s Winter trade meetings on “Talking Baseball,” and a 30-minute political opinion program called, “No BS Found Here!” On average, around 240 shows run each day for about 20 minutes.

Selling the unique audiences associated with long tail content appeals to Neill, who’s more accustomed to offering much broader terrestrial radio audiences to advertisers. In addition to pairing brands with narrower, perhaps better-targeted audiences, Neill counts the interactivity and social tools associated with BlogTalkRadio shows, including forums, chats and host blogs, as major selling points, too.

At this point, Google AdSense ads and display ads from other networks are bringing in the bulk of the company’s ad revenue. BlogTalkRadio also offers its audio platform as a white label product to clients including Sun Microsystems.

Now, in addition to offering impression-based pre-roll audio ads in live and archived shows, e-mails, coupons, and live ads read by hosts, the Web radio outfit aims to create customized products such as branded stations and brand integration with pre-existing shows.

“So far in the past two weeks I’ve spoken with or e-mailed with the top 50 to 60 hosts,” said Neill. “I’m working with them on developing advertising products that make sense for their shows.” That means determining which types of advertisers hosts would like associated with their programs, as well as categories they’d deem unacceptable.

“Any revenue that’s being created on their show or on their profile page will be shared with the host” starting in the next couple weeks, said Levy.

Standard format ads can be targeted contextually as well as demographically according to user registration data; registration isn’t necessary to listen to a show, though.

Travel advertisers have expressed interest in customized integrated show content, for example. Many advertisers have already created their own shows to push products or information, from thriller novelist Brad Thor to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

“There are a number of companies that are focusing on the problem of matching advertisers and ad agencies to audio content,” said Dave Nelson, president and CEO of TalkShoe, a podcast service that gives content creators a cut of ad revenues. His firm, however, doesn’t have a direct sales staff.

“I don’t think TalkShoe or BlogTalkRadio should be in the business of selling all their ads,” he said, arguing there are too many advertisers, agencies and individual content creators involved in the space to make direct selling of most inventory feasible. TalkShoe sells most of its 15-second pre-roll ads and live host-read ads through podcast ad brokers and networks including Kiptronic and Blubrry.

Still, TalkShoe has sold some ads direct after advertisers have approached the company on their own. For example, according to Nelson, game and utility software firm Ambrosia Software contacted the podcast service and is now running pre-roll ads and host-endorsements.

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