Major Radio Broadcasters Go After Internet Revenues

Armed with strong online sales figures, a group of public radio stations is teaming up to create a bigger, more profitable presence on the Web.

Fifteen major public broadcasters, led by major market stations WNYC-New York, WGBH-Boston and WETA-Washington have formed a for-profit online radio venture to extend their radio audiences beyond their local markets and capitalize on sales of branded goods related to well known public radio programs.

The group bought a stake in Public Interactive Inc. — a company formed originally as NewMarket Network — to develop radio Web sites. The company continues to seek private investors in addition to its broadcasting partners. Together, the fifteen broadcasters operate forty-eight stations across the country.

Joining the Boston, New York and Washington broadcasters are WXPN-Philadelphia, KERA-Dallas, WBUR-Boston, KPLU-Seattle, KPBS-San Diego, WYEP-Pittsburgh, WCPN-Cleveland, Oregon Public Broadcasting, the WAMC/Northeast Public Radio regional network in Albany; WKSU-Akron/Cleveland, South Carolina Educational Communications, Inc. for South Carolina Educational Radio and Vermont Public Radio.

“Radio and the Internet are a powerful and proven combination,” Public Interactive President Tom Lix said. “When you consider public radio’s loyal, educated audience of 20 million, the opportunity is even more compelling. When you understand the range of powerful content brands, it becomes irresistible.”

Public Interactive’s Role

Public Interactive will provide syndicated Internet content for the stations to promote during their broadcasts. Among the content projects underway at Public Interactive is NewsRoom, a real-time news database tapping not only the member radio stations’ news operations but other national and international sources as well. The room will include audio and video clips and a visitor discussion area.

Public Interactive is also developing Personal Public Radio, an exclusive feature that enables individual stations to offer non-broadcast programming and on-demand audio on their Web sites. The company will also produce online chats for the stations to give listeners a chance to meet with some of public radio’s personalities. The new features from Public Interactive are due this fall.

Past Performance Records

The radio stations are viewing this Internet expansion project partly as a new opportunity to raise operating funds. Legendary for TV telethons and radio fund drives, public broadcasters have seen the Internet blossom into a new revenue source recently. According to 1998 holiday sales figures Public Interactive released in February, Web sites for branded public radio programs, such as Car Talk and Ketzel Levine’s Talking Plants, generated significant revenue for their broadcaster parents.

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