Competing Against Streaming Playlists

Spotify and Apple offer more music than listeners can ever consume.

It’s like a cable channel to older people where they watch only a handful of channels even though they are paying for hundreds.

But now there is new evidence that radio isn’t losing audience to Spotify, Apple Music and streaming music services mainly because they offer too few songs.

It’s not about that at all.

Instead, the few main objections to radio are solvable. 

It’s just the industry is looking at streaming music competitors the wrong way.

The fix.

The easy part and one thing that will take some guts.

How to compete with such potent streaming services.

And the quickest way to start winning young listeners back.

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The iHeart & Cumulus IPOs

Radio has not been able to successfully launch an IPO for years now.

Think Alpha Media.

So why are iHeart and Cumulus even trying now when there is even less interest on the part of lenders and investors?

iHeart signaled some type of public offering in their bankruptcy.

And now it appears Cumulus, out of bankruptcy but not out of financial trouble, may be on the verge of having what iHeart is having.

There are two IPO options to look for – it will be one of these.

How iHeart’s IPO will be priced.

How the Cumulus IPO must deal with distressed debt partners.

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The Cumulus Foreign Ownership Waiver

They’re kidding, right?

A special waiver to allow foreign investors to own 100% of Cumulus?

Or at least some of it.

Why now and why look to offshore financing?

Their stock is trading at close to $17 – and they just dumped $1 billion in debt out of bankruptcy – so what’s driving this sudden move.

What if the FCC says no?

The repercussions at Cumulus clusters – will there be more nationalizing local jobs, cutting costs, etc.

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Meruelo’s One Market Strategy

It’s hard to believe with its purchase of KXOS-FM, Los Angeles, Meruelo is a dominant player in the second largest market with its fifth radio station.

All it took was money of which Meruelo has plenty thanks to the casino business.

And radio stations desperate to sell at pennies on the dollar.

Of which the industry has many owners waiting in the wings.

But that alone is not the future of radio.

Meruelo becomes a big player in LA.

Now what other markets do they need to be in.

These people have a plan that is so unlike that of traditional radio owners that it deserves a closer look.

What the radio industry is looking for next after consolidation may be what Meruelo is doing.

Why are they so bullish on a radio industry barely able to break even?

Here’s the next piece of the puzzle. 

What the greater radio industry should go to school on now that consolidation has failed.

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Cumulus Cash Flow Crisis

Cumulus is back in financial hot water.

Real operating cash flow numbers have been revealed.

The local revenue and trade numbers without adjustments.

They’ve had to trade more and report it as cash revenue – here is that number.

Their recent firing of hundreds of traffic directors is juxtaposition against real expense figures that they legally have to disclose.

How is podcasting working out?

And what is Cumulus becoming more dependent on.

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Why Are Spotify & the Record Labels Getting into Podcasting?

Go figure.

Spotify, Apple Music and the other streamers have become the new radio among in-demo listeners.

But they barely make a profit because music rights fees are so high.

The music industry is soaring.

So why are streaming services like Spotify going into podcasting, a place where Apple already resides without earning its usual profit margins.

Spotify is spending hundreds of millions to build its podcasting platform concerning the music industry.

Now the record labels are jumping in.

Two just launched podcasting deals.

Radio can’t seem to profit from this nascent business.

What do the record labels know that radio doesn’t?

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The Westwood One Dilemma

Lew Dickey didn’t spend $260 million for Westwood One only to see it wither away like this.

Mary Berner all but announced everything is for sale at Cumulus publicly (except Dallas) but she artfully stayed away from commenting on the big elephant in the room – their underperforming radio network.

No statement of support and continued ownership.

No growth plans other than previously mentioned podcasting rep deals.

No sale sign.

Yet Westwood One has two big insurmountable problems begging the question – what are the Cumulus lenders currently overseeing the company going to do with Westwood One.

Are there any interested buyers remaining?

Why is their profit shrinking faster than anticipated?

Is there a plan for shedding Westwood One entirely in a breakup?

The mixed signals as described by those behind the scenes.

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Entercom & Cumulus Outsourcing

Radio is fast adopting outsourcing as a business model.

Nothing is sacred. 

The newsroom at Entercom’s 1010 WINS for example is an expense so great that Entercom is urgently looking for ways to cut the head count down.

But now, faced with the inability to grow revenue, control costs and post a real profit that isn’t adjusted to look good, Entercom and Cumulus are ready to adopt new ways to run radio stations as if they were SiriusXM.

How programming, management and sales will be affected at these two radio groups.

Cumulus and Entercom both have ambitious outsourcing plans.

The time frame is aggressive.

Ignoring the risks they are fully aware of – one group has actually tried outsourcing experimentally and it didn’t work – how they are going through with it anyway.

The body count – first real numbers on just how many jobs will be lost in just one job description by year’s end.

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Should Radio Be Rebranded Audio

Bob Pittman’s first post-bankruptcy news release did not have the word radio in it one time in spite of the fact that terrestrial radio delivers the lion’s share of iHeartMedia’s total revenue.

Even more so since iHeart split Clear Channel Outdoor from the media platform.

Entercom’s two favorite words are and audio presenting a somewhat split message.

And iHeart and Entercom plan to appear together to promote audio to the trade as the amazing platform of the future as a united industry searches for ways to brush away the tarnish they, among others, inflicted on radio through vicious cost cutting.

Podcasting is audio and iHeart has spent $100 million while still in bankruptcy staking out a bulkhead – perhaps that’s a clue.

But is radio right to be rebranding terrestrial radio as audio?

What are the advantages that these radio groups seek other than the obvious one?

Is there a downside risk?

And, there is a better way.

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Summit Media as a Potential Buyer

Radio buyers are hard to find these days.

Prices are going down but have yet to bottom out.

And lenders are vanishing – not high on financing radio acquisitions.

There’s EMF, Meruelo and then not too many more potential buyers available right now.

One potential buyer is Carl Parmer’s Summit Media, the company that originally bought a handful of smaller Cox market spinoffs and has been building from there.

With station prices going down, is Summit a player ready to pounce?

And what markets would they be interested in?

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The Projected Effect of Podcasting on Radio Listening

iHeart has spent over $100 million lately to enhance its podcasting efforts.

Cumulus while spending virtually nothing is using podcasting as its savior from poor spot revenue results.

Entercom – check, podcasting spoken there, too.

Meanwhile Spotify, one of the giant music streaming services along with Apple, invested over $400 million of late – with more to come – to make podcasting a co-equal with music much to the chagrin of record labels.

The questions are – can a radio company compete with mega apps that have such dominance?

And what about the law of unintended consequences?

In other words, do we have first clear look around the corner at how podcasting will affect radio’s main terrestrial business?

Does it cause radio listening declines?

Will podcasting help or hurt music streamers and radio?

What will be the effect on younger audiences?

Is it smart to promote podcasting as much as radio does?

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The Cumulus Leftovers

Mary Berner recently sold over $100 million in prime major market radio properties to Educational Media Foundation (EMF), more to others and traded stations and/or clusters to Connoisseur and Entercom in a desperate attempt to raise money.

She settled for EMF pricing – the bottom feeders of station buyers.

And she had to give up former cash cows like Bridgeport, CT cluster because to be blunt, they fired the manager with all the know-how and revenues tanked.

The new Cumulus board may have forced Berner to start selling assets to make them more whole but the rushed way in which it was done leaves them with orphan stations, a dinged Westwood One network and AM stations they seemingly can’t give away.

What they did wrong to be left holding so many unsellable properties.

The options going forward for selling additional stations.

What Cumulus will have to do to repair the damage done to Westwood One in unloading major market stations.

And, what’s not for sale.

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Entercom’s Cost Cutting

iHeart and Cumulus may have had no choice but to resort to bankruptcy, but Entercom is flirting with even more danger than these two competitors.

The CBS Radio merger that David Field wanted to do so badly that he allowed CEO Les Moonves to dump $1.5 billion of debt on the company before he sold it has not gone well.

It’s more than mismanagement and firing the wrong CBS executives, it’s deeper.

Quarter by quarter Entercom promises a turnaround and even using “adjusted” accounting procedures, they can’t deliver causing their stock to suffer.

What was worth over $16 a share before the merger, is now in the $6 range and slips to $5 and change regularly.

Now, there is only one way to survive the last three quarters of the year and it is to slash expenses.

The cuts will come from three format groups and are likely to target all job categories but one in particular.

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iHeart’s New Beginning

With the court’s blessing iHeart Media has emerged from bankruptcy and reduced their debt from $16 billion to a much lower number -- $5.75 billion.

iHeart says it’s back to business as usual but what does that look like after bankruptcy?

Will they now be able to service the $5.75 billion in debt at unfavorable interest rates in a declining ad market for radio?

iHeart split Clear Channel Outdoor and the radio division and that comes with new pros and cons.

The real question is, is the focus back to terrestrial radio?

How do they service even reduced debt when it is so high?

And is a buyer ready to move in and take over?

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Entercom Programming Cutbacks

No announcements have been made.

The radio trade press is in the dark.

Entercom is at work retooling its radio stations.

This is the same Entercom that less than two weeks ago was bragging to investors and lenders that they are growing by leaps and bounds.

Turns out David Field is running out of ways to cut costs.

The new retooling plan targets certain types of Entercom stations.

Evidence of how desperate Entercom is to save money as actual revenue falls short.

Those who are being targeted have the one thing in common.

And there is already a pattern of where these layoffs can be expected right down to the specific daypart.

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The Increased Agency Commission Sham

Several years ago, iHeart began searching for ways to annihilate their local competitors by drastically dropping rates and generously upping commissions.

It was a nuisance that competitors had to suffer.

Now, Entercom has gone all in with iHeart in a “price fixing monopoly” of sorts unlike anything ever seen before.

The price is not fixed by agreement, it’s fixed by greedy competition to drive radio rates down at all costs until one of the two predator radio groups is left standing and any third parties are effectively kept out of major buys.

How are they able to do this – burned market managers know exactly.

Why increased agency commission is becoming the new “trade”.

The three buying services leading the race to the bottom.

More shocking is what these three buying services do with the extra commissions that are the highest ever offered.

The actual year to year metrics that show the disastrous downward effect rate dropping is having on radio comparing big advertisers such as USAA and Cox.

What radio operators not named iHeart and Entercom are doing to push back.

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Mike McVay’s Cumulus Exit

Mike McVay is gone.

And the decision to cut him loose says more about the new direction of Cumulus than it does about McVay.

McVay was hired by the previous regime hated by current CEO Mary Berner.

She stuck with him until no matter what happened because if there is one thing about Mary Berner, she protects her small but compliant management team.

So, beyond the corporate spin, what made McVay fall on his sword at this late date?

Does this mean that market managers can have renewed hope that regional VPs Bob Walker and Dave Milner will be next?

How is the removal of McVay and the uncertainty of Cumulus management related to their future plans?

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Entercom’s True Financials

Last week Entercom told analysts reporting on the first quarter 2019 revenue that the company grew revenue by 43%.

Did it?  

Some Wall Street people are beginning to ask the question how is Entercom doing as good as David Field claims when their stock is hovering so close to a mere $4 a share, the acknowledged breaking point.

So, we took the un-doctored 10k filing Entercom is required to produce as a public company and we asked financial experts with high level radio experience to dig into the legal figures that Entercom cannot parse in search of the true numbers.

Is David Field telling big little lies about the merged company with CBS Radio?

How much cutting back did Entercom really do and at what level are further cost synergies accurately projected going forward.

What about cash flow – this is the true measure of a radio company’s viability – how does Entercom do on that?

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Larry Wilson Eyes a New Radio Group

Here’s a man in his 70’s who is not running for president but can’t seem to give up his addiction for radio.

He built and sold Citadel for a profit.

Turned that into some seed money for Alpha which he planned to cash in on an IPO just when radio was falling out of favor with Wall Street.

Wilson was ousted from Alpha by Paul Stone, something you may want to remember as Larry reportedly wants back in with yet another group.

Not Alpha – could his new company be called Beta?

What Wilson sees that others don’t in buying radio now.

Wilson wrote an email to 141 of his closest friends – what’s in it.

Who is ready to back Larry Wilson – and you’ll need to take a seat for this one.

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Entercom’s Hidden Problems

Entercom is a company selling false narratives.

EBITDA up 42% -- but it’s not real EBITDA, it’s adjusted to make it look like growth.

Revenue barely up in the first quarter.

What happened to David Field’s promised cost synergies?

What’s Entercom’s real EBITDA using generally accepted accounting principles?

Meanwhile, there are new revelations about Entercom.

Why is it a risky investment?

How the future of the company is uncertain.

And what’s the real truth about Entercom’s financial problems.

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