April 3rd, 2017 by Inside Radio

Companies have used HD Radio side channels to create innovative content that is flowing well and easily through their respective markets. However, the overall monetization plans for these extra frequencies? That’s more like an inconsistent drip. But among the trendsetters, some profit ideas are already in the pipeline.

One of the industry’s marquee success story belongs to Saga Communications, a longtime champion of the space. CEO Ed Christian has consistently touted HD’s potential, so much so that he coined the term “metro station” to define new outlets launched by the company on HD radio-fed FM translators. Christian has also consistently lauded his company’s crafty “The Outlaw“ classic country format, now in six markets—Des Moines, Asheville, Springfield, IL, Jonesboro, Clarksville, TN and Manchester, NH—and spreading, all via HD side channels and FM translators.

“There’s real money there,” Christian recently told Inside Radio. “One of our HD metro stations billed about a half-million dollars last year, revenue that we would not have without it.” Saga COO/executive VP of operations Warren Lada is equally bullish: “Metro stations either fill a void format-wise, complement an existing format or act as spoilers. As such, it gives us an incredible opportunity to promote the stations and monetize the investment.”

CBS Radio, which has launched 130+ HD side channels, is also exploring creative sales approaches. “HD Radio has been around a long time, but it’s relatively nascent as we explore approaches to monetization,” VP of Programming Jeff Sottolano tells Inside Radio. “We recognize there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach.” Thus, the radio giant has sized up the ways that work best for them. CBS has found success in some markets selling on-air spots on side channels in the traditional way—as a complement to AM/FM buys. And Sottolano adds that signing one brand to sponsor a channel has been a win-win.

Case in point: In Philadelphia, Sottolano helped launch “Phillies 24/7” on the HD-4 channel of classic hits “98.1” WOGL, sister to sports WIP-FM, which has broadcast rights for the baseball franchise. “The channel is unique with team replays, condensed game versions, Phillies daily and weekly talk shows exclusive to the channel,” Sottolano says. “From a monetization perspective, we have been successful in presenting a single partner.” In 2017, it is RE/MAX.

CBS complements the sponsor buy with promotion on its Philly AM/FM stations, digital assets and social media. Sottolano adds, “It’s much like any 360-degree title sponsorship.” And providing added value, the Phillies 24/7 website is kind enough to provide a link: “Don’t know what HD Radio is? Click HERE to find out more.”

Also breaking revenue ground with HD is Nashville-based Cromwell Radio Group. Owner Bud Walters insists that HD side channels need not suffer any kind of inferiority complex among radio sales teams. “These original formats are ‘real’ radio stations providing alternative program choices,” he says. “In Decatur, we are getting listenership and ratings. We sell them just like full-power stations and do not push [the term] HD. Our stations are all streamed and have websites and apps.”

Galaxy Communications’ Syracuse NY classic rock “TK 99” WTKW airs ESPN on its HD-2 channel, which also broadcasts on WTLA (1200). Says the company’s Syracuse Market manager/director of Sales Steve Vasick, “This has allowed us to generate significant sports marketing revenue through sponsorships of local sports talk shows, exclusive broadcasts of NCAA tournament coverage and specialty ‘On the Road’ and pregame coverage of Syracuse University Athletics and Yankees baseball.”

The ESPN AM/FM combo allows coverage, such as the NCAA tournament on AM, while the FM could, for example, broadcast a local talk show covering breaking news about Syracuse University basketball. “This is a luxury afforded us by creatively utilizing the HD side channel. It has given us an outlet for programming that we previously had no place to broadcast,” Vasick says.

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