CEO Q&A: Alan Levy, BlogTalkRadio

Chris Daniels talks to BlogTalkRadio CEO Alan Levy about the reinvention of talk radio, branded content, and the growth of podcasts.

Did you expect BlogTalkRadio would become as big as it has?
I had no idea it would get to the point where we are now hosting 2,000 radio shows a day and attracting 18 million unique visitors per month. Brands, individuals, and associations are all in the content-creation business today and our platform is ideal for that.

How does the company make money?
Revenue was in excess of $9 million last year. The company has a multi-faceted business model based on subscriptions and advertising. We are largely a word-of-mouth platform. Many people that listen to our shows become radio hosts themselves.

You recently announced a partnership with public radio broadcaster and PBS host Tavis Smiley, who created BlogTalkRadio's first talent-branded network. How are you looking to partner with major media brands?
We've launched this concept of creating networks for brands and other media properties. Tavis is the first and we'll be announcing more later this fall.

Tavis Smiley Network isn't just about him. He hosts a 20-minute show daily, but has other hosts who are part of his network. They're creating different kinds of content around subjects such as fitness and finance.

In what ways are corporate brands using BlogTalkRadio?
Brands such as Sears have been with us for years. They have a show called Craftsman World of DIY. Craftsman is the retailer's tool brand, which allows it to have conver- sations with experts, take callers, and have questions. We're interested in building networks on behalf of brands looking to create a new medium or form of dialogue.

Tell us how clients measure the impact of BlogTalkRadio.
We measure how many people listen to the shows. But we also build in social tools so our audience is not just listening on BlogTalkRadio. If you click on our iTunes button, for instance, you can pull the content right into iTunes.

We have also extended it to other distribution platforms. Most of the content is now consumed on-demand and through sharing on things such as Facebook's social graph. We have simplified the creation and distribution process.

How are PR pros tapping into the service for clients?
Our shows often feature celebrities, authors, and other notables such as Larry King. Most of the time it is publicists and PR agencies who reach out to our 15,000 hosts.

In the age of social media how did you make people understand radio's relevance, albeit in a new format?

Although the word radio is in our name, BlogTalkRadio is very little like traditional radio. We see it as a new medium. It's a live-streaming platform, but it is much bigger than that because of the sharing and on-demand aspect of it.

There is continuously an education on the importance of leveraging tools such as BlogTalkRadio that enable engagement and interaction with our radio hosts and their audiences and communities.

Who is the company's competition?
We compete with almost everybody, whether it is TV or Facebook. On the live content-creation side, we see ourselves as what video is to YouTube, but on the audio side.

However, whereas YouTube is a distribution platform, we're a content-creation company - 98% of our content is broadcast using our tools and technology. There are a lot of distribution platforms for content, but we're also a technology platform and that has been our secret sauce.

What about traditional talk radio?
We don't see ourselves as competing with radio. It has become very fragmented with no scale. Also, talk is mostly distributed through the AM dial and ultimately AM radio won't be in new cars [in the future].

Can the market for podcasts get bigger?
The market for audio is getting really hot and that is in large part due to the success of Pandora and even more so with iTunes radio, as well as other apps that broadcast and distribute audio content.

With mobile being what it is today, our platform is in the right place as a content-creation factory that is aggregating audio content and pushing it out everywhere.

What are the biggest challenges for your company?
For any media or technology company to stay competitive, it has to build tools and technology in a way that stands the test of time and competes with the largest media companies in the world.

One of the key reasons we're still here and doing well is because we own the technology platform and that allows us to be creative. That is why we're seeing so many other creative properties participate with BlogTalkRadio.

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