Broadcast Conglomerates Consolidate in Cyberspace

This week, Clear Channel (#1 in national radio station ownership) and Cumulus (#2) inked an agreement intimately linking their online broadcast strategies.
Cumulus will integrate the webcasts from its ~560 radio stations under Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio streaming platform, and will actively promote it on-air. In exchange, Clear Channel will cross-promote Cumulus’ SweetJack service, a Groupon-style business the broadcaster is developing in markets where it has stations, both on-air and online.
Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio platform is already a major aggregator of broadcaster-webcasts, with the Educational Media Foundation (and its K-LOVE and AIR-1 Christian music networks, heard on 400 stations), Spanish-language Univision (70 stations), and pubcaster WNYC already under its umbrella. Adding the #2 commercial broadcaster to this mix makes iHeartRadio the largest portal by far for radio stations that stream.
It’s also important to remember that Cumulus is also in the process of assimilating Citadel Broadcasting, which will add more than 200 stations to its stable – and to the iHeartRadio platform.
Back around the turn of the century, when Clear Channel amassed control of some 1,200 radio stations, it incited the public enough to inspire the LPFM radio service and rekindled the nation’s media reform movement. Matt Lasar has noted that Clear Channel and Cumulus already enjoy an effective duopoly on the radio advertising market in nearly all the metropolitan areas where they currently do business.
Perhaps more importantly, Clear Channel’s well on the way to cornering the market for broadcast radio-streaming: the collective might of more than 2,100 stations are now on board with iHeartRadio.
Of course, the Internet is a much different media landscape than broadcast radio, where the regulatory paradigm limits the number of permissible outlets and imposes some (mostly symbolic) notion of “public interest” on those who broadcast.
But a leopard cannot change its spots: Clear Channel’s ongoing prioritization of streaming over broadcasting illustrates its aspirations to dominate broadcasting’s newest platform.