Earlier this year, TuneIn’s chief executive Rich Stern said he hoped his radio platform would attract more third-party companies willing to host their streams through his smartphone, tablet, smart TV and smart speaker apps.
Well, this week, he got part of his wish.
In a surprise move that stunned the radio industry, iHeart Media announced a formal partnership with the San Francisco radio company, bringing hundreds of local iHeart Radio stations to the platform.
The move will see iHeart Media become the designated local advertisement sales representative for TuneIn, and TuneIn will use iHeart Media’s Triton Digital subsidiary to deliver advertisements across its supported streams.
“The TuneIn and iHeart partnership is a great marriage of content and technology enabled by Triton’s cutting edge and comprehensive suite of audio advertising technology to support streaming audio and podcasts businesses with both direct and programmatic sales,” Brian Kaminsky, an executive in charge of data and revenue strategies at iHeart Media, said in a statement.
TuneIn started out more than a decade ago as a scrappy San Francisco-based startup that was akin to directory assistance for Internet users who were looking to find and listen to radio streams.
The directory was integrated early on into Internet-connected hardware like Logitech’s Squeezebox, smart DVD players and early Roku devices, with TuneIn eventually finding momentum when cellular networks became robust enough to allow smartphone and tablet users to stream high-quality radio through TuneIn’s set of applications.
Over the last decade, TuneIn has focused primarily on content partnerships with third parties, while occasionally losing some in the mix. Early on, the company supported Cumulus Radio and CBS Radio streams; both were eventually pulled as each company focused on its own smartphone offerings. (CBS Radio, which once distributed its streams through the Radio.com brand, was acquired by Entercom a few years ago; Entercom and Radio.com eventually became Audacy).
Other content partners have proved to be more successful: In 2015, TuneIn launched a new premium feature that allowed out-of-market streamers to listen to live play-by-play through Major League Baseball, a perk that was once reserved for satellite radio customers. Radio stations offered by Cumulus Media eventually came back into the fold, as did official support for local radio streams from Alpha Media, Bonneville and local NPR member stations.
In an interview with the Radio and Television Business Report earlier this year, TuneIn’s Stern said he felt that radio broadcasters like iHeart Media should want to avail themselves of the opportunity to host their radio streams on every platform possible, including his own.
“Any broadcaster who has a station that depends on advertising for monetization should be on every platform,” Stern told the trade publication. “It should be anywhere there’s a customer, and that includes TuneIn.”
Less clear is whether Stern was having active negotiations with iHeart Media at that point about a content and advertising partnership, but he said iHeart’s approach to keeping their streams locked into their own apps was only hurting their own revenue potential.
“If the walled garden strategies are allowed to persist, I think it retards growth for the entire industry, and I’m not sure that’s something the industry wants,” he said.
The partnership is hardly without precedent, at least from a content distribution standpoint: iHeart Media has allowed Apple to tap into its streams for its Apple Music app on iPhones, iPads and Apple TV for more than two years now, with users of the app having native access to iHeart Media’s local radio stations and nationally-formatted music streams.
Those national streams are not available on the TuneIn platform just yet, but TuneIn users have immediate access to local iHeart Media radio stations in their area along with hundreds from other markets across the United States.
Those stations include the highly-rated New York-based pop station WHTZ (100.3 FM, “Z100”), Los Angeles Top 40 station KIIS (102.7 FM, “Kiss FM”), New York soft rock station WLWT (106.7 FM, “Lite FM”) and news-talk station KFI (640 AM).
In the Sacramento market, iHeart Media owns six radio stations, including the market’s only commercial news station KFBK (93.1 FM, 1530 AM), soft rock station KBEB (92.5 FM, “The Breeze”), local talk station KSTE (650 AM) and R&B station KHYL (101.1 FM).