Turning On to Live Internet Radio with TuneIn

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my passion was connected entertainment, the idea of radio being reborn online was a perfect fit for me.

It’s exciting because this is the last mass-market medium to move online. As Netflix is to movies or Amazon is to books, TuneIn is to radio. It’s a $30-billion-a-year business, and as it moves online we are going to see the same movie play out that we saw with CDs and books and movies. So I expect there will be platform winners. Just as Amazon replaces the bookstore, TuneIn wants to replace terrestrial radio towers with the infinite Internet radio dial.

I also have this hobby, unbeknownst to most, of building speakers for fun. I’m an audiophile, and I would rather build my own speakers. I build so many of them, it drives my wife nuts.

WR: You mentioned that radio is the last mass-market medium to move online. Why do you think it has taken so long?

JD: We think part of the reason is that radio isn’t a perfect fit with the Internet. The Internet makes newspapers better, because all news articles are online, and Google lets you search them. But if you think about live radio moving online, there is nothing that provides transparency into what is playing on any given radio station. You get in your car and you have 70 local radio options. If I tell you there is an interview going on right now with the CEO of TuneIn, how long does it take you to find that? Longer than the length of the interview. On the Internet you have literally a thousand times more choice, yet if we don’t solve the transparency problem, all we have done is make things worse, because now you have even more options and you still don’t know what’s playing. TuneIn’s mission is to bring all radio together on one dial and solve for discovery, which includes not only providing a user interface, but also understanding what is going on, on every station, all the time.

WR: Others before you have tried to solve that problem for portions of the radio dial. There’s the Public Radio Player app from PRX, for example.

JD: We believe we are the only ones trying to solve for all live and on-demand listening for all stations worldwide. One of the things we believe is that a consumer doesn’t want one app for NPR and another for the BBC and another for Top-40 and another for ESPN and another for CBS. There are just too many brands out there. And that’s not how it works in you car. You have one radio in your car. So I think our goal is to try and solve that same problem, but do it for all broadcasters and all users worldwide.

Our goal is to provide the fastest path to the user to find what it is they want to listen to. If you want a really deep PRX experience, you will probably lean back toward their app, because they will be able to provide a core experience for their users, beyond what we could do for every content type. But that is the exception, not the rule.

WR: I’m betting that this effort to build a unified front end for Internet radio—essentially, interposing the TuneIn interface between a station and their listeners—creates some tension or friction in the industry. Wouldn’t individual radio stations or networks prefer to be the ones serving this content to their listeners?

JD: Broadcasters are exceptionally good at creating content. If you are a local radio station in New York City, your entire staff is built for creating local news or play-by-play sports or music. Now suddenly you are presented with a world where there are hundreds of different types of connected devices, not just phones but cars and home electronics like the Sonos player. How does an average radio station bring their content to all of these devices?

We don’t make any content ourselves. We say, the broadcasters are spectacular at this, but what they aren’t good at is bringing amazing user experiences to every device worldwide. TuneIn tries to be that glue between broadcasters who are streaming content online, and getting that content to users in a consumable way.

WR: Sorry to harp on this point, but if you’re bringing all those live streams into your app, aren’t you in essence diverting material that the individual stations probably wanted people to find on their own websites?

JD: This is exactly why TuneIn has gotten the traction it has: None of those streams even comes to TuneIn. Think of this analogy: as Google is to Web pages, TuneIn is to live audio streams. Google itself doesn’t serve you any of those Web pages. The websites’ own servers do. So it is with the TuneIn server, which doesn’t have any of those streams—they go straight to the client.

One of the reasons TuneIn has been really successful is that we haven’t required broadcasters to change their technology, or change what they’re doing. Rather, we are finding ways to create better experiences by centralizing all that technology, with a very consumer-oriented view.

WR: I want to ask a question about live radio versus podcasting or on-demand radio. You provide access to both, but in contrast to competitors like Stitcher, there’s a heavy emphasis at TuneIn on live streams. To me, that’s a little bit odd, since one of the great things about the Internet is the promise of content anytime, anywhere—it frees you from being tied to a broadcast schedule.

JD: I would agree that our emphasis is more on the live streams. Normally, if a listener is given a choice between a piece of on-demand content or live content, they choose the live content. That is one of the interesting things about audio.

I am going to go off on a bit of a tangent, but I promise to come back. If you think about radio, it has existed for 100 years. People have tried to kill radio over and over, first with cassettes, and then CDs, then … Next Page »

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2 responses to “Turning On to Live Internet Radio with TuneIn”

  1. Anthony says:

    Great article. I am an avid music fan from the states that happens to live in Tokyo, Japan. Tunein enables me enjoy and discover great music each day on the way to and from work,etc. My iPod touch combined with and LTE mifi is how I listen to my favourite Allegro Jazz, Lounge,FM Italia and LBC. It really expands my options on content I can enjoy.

  2. Jeannie says:

    WWOZ New Orleans has more streaming listeners around the world than they do terrestrial listeners in New Orleans because they produce a sound that is unique and loved the world over – and now everyone gets to hear it!