The cable bundle as we knew it may be falling apart, but as more and more consumers start to develop a taste for on-demand audio content, a company called TuneIn is betting that people might be interested in a big, premium bundle of radio broadcasts and podcasts. The company, which attracts 60 million users every month, announced Tuesday that it is launching a premium tier in a number of its largest markets, including the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, with plans to launch the service in more territories in the coming months.
“We are taking the world’s best audio content and putting it in one place,” TuneIn CEO John Donham said.
The premium tier, which will cost $7.99 per month in the United States, includes unlimited, commercial-free access to 600 terrestrial radio stations, multilingual play-by-play broadcasts of Major League Baseball games, Barclays Premier League and Bundesliga matches, as well as college football and basketball games, and more than 40,000 audiobooks from publishers including Penguin Random House, HarperCollins and Scholastic.
If that sounds sprawling and large, that's because it is, by design. As established media formats like television and journalism face the prospect of slimming down, Donham is betting that on-demand audio can go big by offering a comprehensive, all-you-can-eat package. “When we think of the price point, the business model we're trying to learn from is the cable model,” Donham told International Business Times. "Most people listen to multiple things."
Audio, Coming Of Age
While a lot of attention has been paid to the surging growth in on-demand streaming music, the reality is that consumer appetite for all kinds of on-demand audio has been growing quite healthily as well. Podcasts in particular have enjoyed a lot of recent success -- most major publishers and broadcasters now develop podcasts of some kind, and a number of America’s largest broadcasters, including E.W. Scripps and Hubbard, bought their way into the format this summer.
Audiobooks are growing too. According to a trade group, the Audio Publishers Association, the American market for audiobooks grew a healthy 13 percent last year, to $1.47 billion, and publishers are following the money: The number of audiobooks published every year has quadrupled since 2010.
But for all the strides that both formats have made, Donham and others see markets that have plenty of growing left to do. Most of the listening to podcasts is confined to Apple devices, for example, and the audiobooks market does not yet have a subscription offering cheaper than $9.99 per month.
Take It To the Bridge
TuneIn is not the only audio company to offer a diverse array of audio content. Earlier this summer, Spotify announced that it was adding audio from Slate’s Panoply Network and video content from a number of premium content providers, including Vice, ESPN and Comedy Central; one of its competitors, Rdio, now offers its users access to all of Cumulus Radio’s broadcasts; Apple Music launched with ESPN Radio.
But Donham said he sees those companies and their products as distinct from his, and he doesn’t consider them competition. “When we look at on-demand music providers, like a Spotify or an Apple Music, it's a bloodbath,” Donham said. “Everybody has the exact same content on the same platform with the same price point; everybody's trying to sell you the exact same Rihanna song.”
Instead, Donham sees TuneIn, which offers access to stations rather than songs, as a combatant on a different battlefield. “Everyone kind of breaks the audio world into two categories,” Donham said. “There are people who are focused on on-demand, and then there are people who are focused on live. That's us.”
Drilling down more specifically, Donham said that he doesn’t see iHeartRadio, Rdio or Pandora as his primary competition. Instead, the company Donham said that he and his colleagues have in their crosshairs is SiriusXM, the satellite radio service that boasts more than 28 million subscribers in the United States.
“You look at it and you say, 'What a silly bridge technology this is,'” Donham said. “It's just in the U.S., it's only in your car, it's only 270 channels because that's the maximum bandwidth the satellite.”
Minor factual accuracies aside -- Sirius does have different kinds of hardware, and consumers can also listen to its feeds through their televisions and their phones -- Donham has made a pointed effort to be everywhere his competition is. TuneIn is available in many of the same car models that SiriusXM is in, as well as on televisions and in a number of household devices, including Sonos audio players and Amazon Echo.
His service is also available at a much lower price. At $7.99 per month, TuneIn Premium is cheaper than Sirius’s cheapest subscription tier, a music-focused package that costs $10.99 per month. Sirius’s top premium tier costs $19.99 per month.
Starting Tuesday, TuneIn will offer users the chance to try its premium tier free for 30 days. If the company can retain enough subscribers, it hopes to convince more publishers and broadcasters to join the biggest audio bundle on the market. "This is our starting point," Donham said. "Long term, what I want to do is when you join TuneIn, you can consume any audio book, any radio station from anywhere. That's the vision of where we're trying to go."