2016 has been the year for many, many things. Some surreal, others dumbfounding, but in the entertainment world, live streaming content has seen positive growth and evolution far beyond what it was last year. Major TV networks have been launching technology and consumer-based business innovation that’s already been at play in the music industry for some time.
Charles Raggio, Sr. Director, Artist Partnerships and Branded Content at TuneIn, has been busy cultivating deals and plans to further capitalize and grow what he and his team have already put in place, extending the streaming radio platform into the festival and concert space.
Raggio’s track record in merging music, technology, branding, and streaming goes back to his days at MOG, before it was acquired by Beats, which was, of course, then acquired by Apple. His experience working indie label and artist relationship agreements led him to Pandora, where he added a “branding content wrinkle” with the goal to bring more video content to the platform with an emphasis on a given artist’s music, and then matching that to the right brand.
“It sounds simple,” he explained. “But it was a big deal for Pandora at the time based on where they were in licensing talks and where they were, generally, in the artists’ space.”
The result was a number of key first-to-market deals for Pandora with major brands such as T-Mobile, and he and his team’s work on the launch of the Toyota Sessions campaign. And to keep the street cred going, he felt it was important to include “unbranded” projects, focused solely on promoting artists’ brands and music, in the mix.
Bringing the Bands and Brands Sponsorship Formula to TuneIn
After a tumultuous period at Pandora, Raggio left the company and joined TuneIn’s Global Brand Partnerships team as a consultant, working with Billy Hartman, VP of Global Brand Parnterships and Business Development, and a few other content focused sales folks that joined Billy from Pandora. When the contract turned into a full-time gig, and with his previous team members all back in full swing, he felt it was, “Kind of like getting the band back together.”
When it comes to branded content and the increased focus on this medium not only from a budget perspective, but also as a viable and long-term investment strategy for brands, Charles’ take, he admits, is dry but to-the-point.
“I personally believe that it is a product of scale,” he explained. “The reason I say that is because the platforms, or each individual platform, has reached to such a degree that they can have input. When it all works correctly, [the platforms] can have input into the actual content and the editorial of the content.”
Raggio sees his company, along with Pandora and Spotify, as a powerful catalyst to brands’ desire to become even more integrated into cultural society and develop deeper relationships to music and festival fans.
“We’re the music experts,” he said, explaining a given pitch. “Let us align you with an artist, in a meaningful way, and we will help tell what the artist is up to through our scale. I think it’s kind of traction, scale, and honestly, distribution.”
TuneIn has been able to reach that needed platform scale to support his team’s goals for a multifaceted content mix. This has included radio live streaming at festivals, hosted radio shows highlighting performing artists and festival news, on-demand recordings of artist interviews, and in-studio performances that take place at the company’s fully equipped recording studio located in Venice.
Laying new ground for this type of approach and program at TuneIn, and without any success stories under the belt, was initially a challenge. The chicken or the egg scenario was made a bit easier due to Raggio’s previous success in the field, including the Toyota Sessions he developed while at Pandora.
Over the past 18 months, Raggio and his team have succeeding in jumpstarting activations with his previous brand partner to launch Toyota Session on TuneIn. Pitching editorial ideas and a custom TuneIn station, the collaborative plan was “to amplify what they were already doing, in a cool and authentic way in the marketplace.”
From there, earned media banners and editorial style promotions were integrated into TuneIn’s platform to tell the Toyota Sessions story.
All was going well with the seven sponsored festivals, most of which were focused on indie music and hip-hop fans, including Voodoo Fest and Outside Lands. For those festivals, Spin Media operated the editorial plans and coverage. When it came to the country music Stagecoach Festival, the closest Spin came to country may have been their coverage of the CMA awards.
So it was up to TuneIn to create and develop an editorial plan that wasn’t a “been there, done that, with a tent and just a bunch of trucks in it,” type of activation, Raggio explained.
Instead, TuneIn pitched a Nashville-style, Toyota branded honky-tonk side stage, curated with ten to fifteen artists that would perform five to six-song mini sets, either electric or acoustic, whichever the artist chose.
Then, Stagecoach Radio on TuneIn was launched six weeks before the festival, complete with licensing rights to the music of every artist playing the festival. According to Raggio, “We were able to put up a human-hosted radio station,” and potentially taking a slight pinch at his previous employer, “not an algorithmic playlist.”
The station’s programming included new singles recorded specifically for Stagecoach Radio, including custom drops, which all led up to the on-site festival live stream of the music happenings on the Polo Ground at Indio. In post-event preparation, TuneIn “captured exclusive content and programmed that into the station for the weeks tailing off,” which was also made available on-demand.
TuneIn’s Stagecoach Radio content distribution spread both domestically and internationally, amplified through on-platform banners and through social media, integrating the Toyota brand into the entire activation, including the artists’ partnerships and editorial curation.
For Activations to Succeed, Artistic Vision Wins Over ‘Heavy Handed’ Tactics
In June of this year, TuneIn’s partnership with Red Bull, a big player in the live streaming festival space, took off with the launch of Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) Radio, which in its own right, has been operating since 2005.
According to RBMA co-founder, Many Ameri, in a statement, the move to TuneIn was to expand their reach even further, knowing that music listeners have many choices at their fingertips, “But where do they find the music they didn’t even know they were looking for? That’s the service that RBMA Radio provides, and partnering with TuneIn gets us one step closer to making music discovery easier for millions of listeners.”
As part of the launch RBMA Radio, programming on TuneIn also included live broadcastings from their Red Bull Music Academy events in Atlanta this past August, along with the eighteenth annual festival in Montreal in September, featuring showcasing artist performances and interviews.
With their partners Sonos, Red Bull, and others, TuneIn has used a similar, in-depth activation formula with their Stagecoach activation, which Raggio said has been successful through more insightful, less heavy-handed branded content that’s taken full advantage of TuneIn’s platform. “Their gut instinct, even through to the ad agency side, isn’t actually to do big cheesy, ‘beat you over the head’ kind of editorial in content.”
To support authenticity even further, getting artists’ involvement through their own social profiles is key, from simple reposting to creating optimized content for distribution, such as a 15-second video clip designed for Instagram.
“You really need people with editorial ‘know-how’ driving it,” Raggio explained. “This is the essential piece of the planning.”
True. If the content isn’t right. If it doesn’t speak to the audience. If the brand isn’t aligned with just the right artist, the campaign can fall flat, leaving the advertiser to assume that branded content and music sponsorships don’t work. Then they throw in the town and just go back to their 15-second TV ad spots and other traditional advertising methods.
I had to ask Raggio if he thought agencies are getting wiser when it comes to culturally led activations? Are they dialed in to effectively lead their client in the direction that will best succeed and drive results, or are they more apt to placate to the client on what they think will work versus what will really resonate with the target audience?
Charles sighs a bit, and said, “That’s the goddamn question, isn’t it? The level of sophistication, not just between agencies, but teams within agencies, and then new teams within agencies, and then new agencies…it’s easy to say that it’s easier to just work with the client. But sometimes it isn’t.”
He then mentioned the ‘brilliant ladies’ from Saatchi who worked with him to create and launch the Toyota Sessions, “That’s where the great ideas came from.”
It’s clear that finding the right agency and the right brand that’s “really focused on buying strategic media” versus wanting to sell boxes and lower funnel stuff is just the beginning. It takes time, from eight months to as long as two years, and some hand holding to partner brands together with artists and cultural events like concerts and festivals deals. To work with budgets and all the players involved, to maneuver all the moving pieces with a brand’s potential product or services announcements, at meet those reach and engagement goals for a given activation.
“It’s hard, but I think it’s getting better. I think there’s an appetite for that custom stuff. It’s just that the level of sophistication between agencies, and like any business, is a challenge.”
The Year-Round Steaming Radio Festival
A major part of TuneIn’s streaming festival model doesn’t involved branding, and is focused solely on being the conduit between the festival experience and the radio listener. Their radio programming has included Bonnaroo, or Roo Radio, and Bumbershoot in Seattle.
“I personally think that that’s the glue to keep being able to do these from a content perspective and an artists’ partnership perspective,” Raggio said. “Sometimes we do these on behalf of brands, and then not.”
TuneIn has also invested in a year-round level of 24/7 radio, human-hosted programming for the Newport Folk Festival, which for them, “Is such an important legacy festival.”
There’s also on-demand, exclusive content produced by Newport Festival that gets refreshed on the Newport Folk Radio page on a regular basis, which includes the “Behind the Wall” series of performances and interviews captured during the festival.
Raggio believes in the importance of content and brand building, and that the work is never done, even for legacy festivals, “That builds their reputation in both the live event space and in the festival space.”
During the festival off-season, TuneIn invites musical guests to record exclusive “TuneIn Sessions” at their Venice studio. Sometimes, they also discover opportunities to cross-pollinate content over to other TuneIn stations.
“We were going to do an interview with Rayland [Baxter] for one of our other owned and operated stations called Reverb,” said Raggio. Then they thought, “We’ll cross-sort those with artists that are playing at Newport Folk and repurpose them.”
During the Baxter interview, the artist discussed his new album, Imaginary Man (ATO Records), along with his experiences and performances at Newport Folk, and in turn, the festival promoted it out to their fan base.
Increasing Radio Reach to More Festivals and to Wherever People Are Listening
While live streaming video content providers, including Twitter, are moving their platforms to OTT devices like Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, TuneIn’s streaming has come to Amazon’s Echo and Sonos, the latter of which also became a brand co-sponsor of Bumbershoot Radio
“What better way to extend and expand on that legacy than a digital radio station that will provide exclusive content from our amazing group of performers, current and past,” Rob Thomas, AEG Live’s VP/Pacific Northwest, said in a statement. “With this partnership, we’re bringing Bumbershoot to everyone around the globe.”
This was the first three-way partnership that brought festival content to Sonos and TuneIn users. “We’ve always looked for exclusive content, centered around live performances,” said Hartman. “Our technology and integration make us the publisher capable of the direct-to-user experience within Sonos devices.”
In addition to Sonos and Echo, TuneIn’s major auto partners include BMW, Mercedes, Tesla, Volvo and Fiat, with availability in over 50 models with hundreds of thousands of monthly active users. Other auto integrations include Apple Carplay, Android Auto, and several third-party platform providers such as Nuance, Garmin and Parrot.
TuneIn plans for future technology partnerships to be wherever music fans live – at home, on the go, and even in the car on the way to the music festival – and although those additional deals are not yet officially announced, they’re “optimistic it’ll happen next year.”
Raggio and his team are also busy planning to further extend their 2017 festival season, along with a return to Austin in March for TuneIn Studios @ SXSW, in addition to Stagecoach, Newport Folk, Governors Ball, and Outside Lands.
Join me and Charles Raggio at the XLIVE session, “We’ll Do It Live – Challenges and Opportunities in Festival Live Streaming,” where we’ll continue our discussion on live streaming along with Jake Saxbe from TourGigs, Dusty Kraatz from XI Media Productions, and Harry Witz from Clair Global. XLIVE takes place in Las Vegas, December 5 – 8. Register here.