It may just be a coincidence that Cumulus made a major content announcement with CNN News on July 31 (Cumulus News To Be Powered By CNN) and ABC announced it was expanding its product for stations Thursday, five months before its contract with Westwood One ends. Or ABC may want to let the 2,000 stations it delivers products to know ABC News is still here, and it will be here no matter what Cumulus does with CNN. Wednesday afternoon ABC was very aggressively pushing the word out about the plan to "expand radio operations," and "go direct to radio stations." We spoke with ABC News Radio GM Steve Jones about the plan and what stations can expect over the next several months.
RI: You announced an expansion. What does that mean for stations?
Jones: I would say the first thing is that we have decided that we can best serve our radio stations by having control of our distribution and giving them access to us. So, on that point, radio stations currently have to go through a third party when they want to create relationships with the syndicators. It is not a very frictionless opportunity there for back-and-forth for what radio stations need. Under this new relationship we are going to have, we will control the affiliate solutions part, or the affiliate relations part, of the process. We are actually going to change the name; we are calling it Affiliate Solutions and we are taking our people that create the product and the content and work with the radio stations every day. We have also hired some veteran affiliate-relations people who are well known in the stations, and we are integrating them so that they can engage directly with the stations, specifically on the type of programming. We already create entertainment programming associated with the Jimmy Kimmel Live program, Dancing with the Stars, Nashville, The View. Most of that ends up on digital audio right now. It really doesn't have a significant broadcast radio distribution play right now. We are going to change all of that in this new relationship with the radio industry.
RI: Part of this means, too, that there will be no more distribution with Cumulus, which expires at the end of the year. Talk about SkyView?
Jones: They are primarily a company that has relationships with the professional sports teams. They've been around about 20 years in Scottsdale, AZ. What they do is facilitate for professional teams, the creation of their own radio networks. So, the LA Dodgers Radio Network or the New York Jets Radio Network would be something that SkyView manages. What they are going to do is help us with distribution. But part of the announcement today is that we made a real commitment to the radio industry by buying hundreds of receivers that we're going to send to our affiliates. We will actually control that last mile of distribution to the radio stations. SkyView will handle the satellite component of that. And they also will handle the network radio sales for us.
RI: Why did you decide that this was the right thing to do?
Jones: We have been looking at the landscape for the last couple of years knowing that there was going to be an opportunity for us to change the relationship with radio at the end of this year. We decided that this plan is the best way for us to engage directly with the radio stations and ensure that, at all times, we are meeting their needs, 24/7.
RI: So this brand new relationship starts in January, correct? Or will stations notice something before then?
Jones: Well, they are going to notice today, as a result of this news, that we are basically front and center again with the ABC Radio brand. That iconic brand has conveyed quality of both service and content and reliability to radio stations for many years. We are going to put that brand front and center. And under the ABC Radio brand, we will have our ABC News brand, which is the most-listened-to commercial radio news network in the United States. We will have our very-fast-growing prep services, called Agency AirPower. We will have our digital business that creates content for radio station websites, called ABC Digital. Then, lastly, ABC Sports Radio. Those four pillars will be under the ABC Radio brand. That's what will be front and center January 1st. But today we are explaining to radio stations what it is that we're doing. We've launched a brand new website?ABCRadio.com. It will have all of our content that will be available currently and also explain what stations need to do in order to ensure that they continue to receive everything they are getting from us now on January 1st.
RI: What do you want stations that do not carry the ABC News product to know about why they should take a look at you guys?
Jones: I would say, more broadly, just beyond news, I want them to know that we are making a big commitment to the broadcast radio industry and that we believe we have much more to offer. We already have personalities and brands that their listeners engage with on television or through digital, every single day. It is the shows I mentioned, from Jimmy Kimmel Live to the other entertainments shows, Good Morning America, etc., and we are able to, more effectively starting January 1, serve those radio stations who want to both draw new listeners and retain their existing listening base by providing them more of this content. For the radio stations looking for a news provider, we are the number one network radio news provider in the United States based on our reach currently, and we believe that is because radio stations know that when it comes to quality, we don't compromise. We do think quality is important in radio. There is a lot of chatter about radio stations not caring anymore about quality. I think all of us in the radio industry have seen when you shortchange quality, the results are disastrous. The ABC News brand is recognized not only by the radio industry but the Radio/Television/Digital News Association recognized us this year with their overall excellence award; meaning that in every aspect of what we do, we were the best. We were very appreciative of that. That will be awarded in October. We have a proven track record there and we think radio stations that want quality and consistency when it comes to news will either continue with us or will want to join with us.
RI: Any new talent hired, or do you plan to hire down the road?
Jones: One of the things, as I mentioned is we have taken control of the relationship with radio stations directly. We have created what we are calling Affiliate Solutions. That is the forward-facing department that will both act to affiliate radio stations but also to serve them product and content. We have hired some people in that space. Some of them are names you probably know. Heidi Oringer is our Director of Affilate Solutions. She left Westwood One to come work for us. Amy Bolton was previously a SVP/GM of News/Talk at Dial Global and Westwood. She has joined our team. Mary McCarthy is our manager of Affiliate Solutions. She also has a longtime relationship with ABC at Westwood One and, prior to that, Citadel and the ABC Radio Networks, years ago. SkyView Networks is hiring salespeople that will work for them across the country. This is, I think, a great story for radio. It shows we are committed, not only in words, but in actions. We are very excited to continue our partnerships with the radio industry and to grow it even more, starting in January.
RI: Just to avoid any confusion, radio stations that are taking the product now, should they call you directly? It is only August and the contract with Cumulus goes through the end of the year. Are you effectively saying it's over now?
Jones: The relationship that they have to receive our product through Westwood One continues until the end of this year. If they go to the ABC Radio website, they will see the important steps that they need to take now in order to ensure that they continue to receive the high-quality content they have previously chosen to get.
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