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Thursday, July 26, 2012
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Clear Channel Changes Competition

It's akin to a light switch. One moment you claim that Pandora is not your competition, while you are building a Pandora-like delivery platform for your own radio stations. You even go so far as to compare your new service (iHeartRadio) to Pandora in an early press release to the radio industry. Topping these actions you publicly state "Pandora is not radio." To some, that's slick double-talk.

Then you switch. The next moment is used declaring another company as a "digital rival." Only, this statement isn't made until: 1) you build a directory of stations similar to the one you claim is a rival, and 2) data flows in which suggests there's little forward progress using the "attack Pandora" strategy.

"Whether or not a formal agreement has been signed is not relevant to the action of linking - though it may be a requirement to be listed on iHeartRadio." If the above sounds vaguely familiar it's because that's what Clear Channel has done, thrown the big switch. While it once seemed overly concerned that Pandora was stealing its online thunder, Clear Channel's iHeartRadio has now changed focus to become an aggregator of stations. And it realizes that TuneIn is another competitor doing online better than Clear Channel.

One would not be concerned with this if Clear Channel didn't have the ability to form the story in a light of its liking, but it does. An example is the July 25, 2012 item that appeared at Clear Channel-owned "Inside Radio," which reads as follows: "Clear Channel Stations Now Tune In": Many radio groups have not signed formal agreements with TuneIn but that hasnít stopped the online radio aggregator from providing access to their streams. With digital rival Clear Channel, TuneIn appears to have taken an 'if you canít beat Ďem, join Ďem' stance. "

There are two parts to this statement that caught my attention (besides the fact that we see a company-run radio trade publication operating as if it carries no bias). A) Suddenly it's "TuneIn" that's a Clear Channel rival. Anyone remember this being mentioned before? B) I'm not a lawyer so check me on this, but the practice of linking to a web site is not illegal.

There are two forms of links. The first is a link to a web site's home page. The other is referred to as a "deep link," where the linked object is beyond the home page in a web site's hierarchy. From what I've heard, seen, read, linking is not illegal as long as the linking company does not try to pass off the linked item as the linking company's product - which TuneIn does not.

Deep links are not banned or illegal, but may be subject to litigation.

"Deep linking" (and linking in general) may be covered in a web site's Terms of Use or Copyright sections; after scanning on Clear Channel station web sites I find no mention of either. View it yourself. Both are the same at all Clear Channel web sites.

A radio industry trade evolving a story in the way the above words describe suggests there may be fear in the upper echelons of the organization that perhaps its former focus on Pandora was misplaced. TuneIn may now be considered more a threat than thought. I wonder if word came down from the executive suite that it's time to run a story.

That stated, I find "Inside Radio's" comment regarding TuneIn's "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em stance" appearing as a stab at TuneIn. Only it carries little weight when you consider that "Inside Radio" does not have a disclaimer to the story stating it is a Clear Channel-owned entity.

Whether or not a formal agreement has been signed is not relevant to the action of linking - though it may be a requirement to be listed on iHeartRadio.

Here's a quote by reputable publication ClickZ about the 2006 Ticketmaster vs. case: "The court addressing the Ticketmaster case stated 'hyperlinking itself does not involve a violation of the Copyright Act.' Linking a reader to another Web site is like using a 'library's card index to get reference to particular items... faster and more efficiently.'"

TuneIn sends a visitor to Clear Channel streams and web sites. They are links like you'd find in a search engine query. Which brings us to this observation: One might argue that it is not the Clear Channel station's presence which makes TuneIn valuable, but TuneIn's aggregation of tens of thousands of links in one place (i.e., the convenience provided a user).

Any way we care to cut this latest round of corporate complaining it boils down to another "rival" being identified by Clear Channel, and this time it's not a content-driven rival like Pandora. TuneIn got the jump on CC as a distribution platform (an aggregator).

That "Inside Radio" would carry Clear Channel CEO Robert Pittman's words "Pandora is not radio" one week and then later count Pandora as radio makes you wonder. Again, an example, with this quote courtesy of "Inside Radio": "Aprilís Triton Digital Webcast Metrics report shows in dramatic fashion the hockey-stick growth internet radio listening has experienced during the past 12 months." With Pandora clearly adding to "the hockey-stick growth," it must, therefore, be considered "radio" by Inside Radio.

Is this a bona fide radio-industry trade publication or a mouthpiece for radio's largest company? Are stories appearing at "Inside Radio" to align with corporation goals or reader needs? In my opinion, in this latest case with TuneIn, it's a light-switch mentality driving content.

Imagine how opinions within Clear Channel stations that subscribe to "Inside Radio" are formed by reading its own radio industry trade publication. It's mind boggling - or possibly mind shaping?

As a footnote: The latest Triton Digital Webcast Metrics show no signs of an online hockey-stick growth for iHeartRadio, despite hundreds of CC stations promoting it multiple times per hour. Get your free Audio Graphics-compiled breakout of the data here.

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