Friday, February 19, 2010

Jelli jams radio with interactive programming

Music lovers who have always wanted to be radio DJs now have that opportunity.

Through a San Mateo startup named Jelli Inc., they get to be in charge of a station’s playlist for a period of time. Online, they give songs a thumbs up or a thumbs down and have a chance to get their favorite tune on the air.

The concept is similar to crowdsourcing Web sites such as Digg, in which the group as a whole — not editors — determines the site’s top news stories. In this case, the crowd plays the role of the DJ.

It’s a twist on traditional radio, one that may help radio stations draw and retain listeners.

Young listeners “have other places to listen to music and other things to do with media and entertainment,” said Sonal Gandhi, a media analyst with Forrester Research. “The radio is not the sole source of entertainment anymore, so radio stations are trying to figure out how to combat the decline. Jelli is one of the ways they can do that.”

In late 2009, Jelli raised about $2 million in angel funding from First Round Capital’s Josh Kopelman, Chief Financial Officer Alfred Lin and others. It plans to use the money to expand its service and work its way to profitability.
New format can target audience

Like a syndicated radio show, Jelli is paid through an advertising and licensing partnership with the station. Jelli has a deal with KITS-FM — Live 105 — a modern alternative rock station owned by CBS Radio Inc. It is also powering a segment for several Australian radio stations, and later this year it is set to broadcast in 4,500 stations across the United States through a partnership with Triton Radio Networks. Jelli also plans to extend itself by introducing a mobile service, such as iPhone and Android cell phone applications, which would allow listeners to participate on the go.

Despite competition from online music sites such as Pandora Media Inc. and new music technology such as iPods and iTunes, the broadcast radio industry still commands a robust $15 billion in advertising in the United States, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report. And each week, radio reaches 236 million listeners age 12 and older, according to Arbitron Inc.

Jelli can help, said its CEO Mike Dougherty, such as aiding advertisers by better targeting their audience.

Ultimately, Dougherty said he hopes Jelli can become more widespread.

“Our hope is that you can have a 24/7 Jelli experience,” he said.
A new radio experience

In the Bay Area, listeners can have the Jelli experience through Live 105. Monday through Friday from 8 p.m. to midnight, and Sunday from 10 p.m. to midnight, they’re in charge of what gets played on the air.

Through the Internet, Live 105 listeners can chat with other fans about their favorite tunes. There is also a constantly evolving playlist; the listeners can vote for or against each song, sending it up or down the list. Through “rockets” and “bombs,” they can also send a particular tune directly to the top or bottom of the playlist. A Live 105 DJ moderates, giving shout-outs to Jelli users, but doesn’t touch the playlist during the time slot.

Dougherty said that the Live 105 listeners are having fun being in control. In one instance, the song “Psycho Therapy” by the Ramones inspired listeners to select a block of songs with a psycho or crazy theme, leading to the station broadcasting tunes such as “Insane in the Brain” by Cypress Hill and “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne.

“We’ve seen really, really cool playlists generated by the hive mind,” Dougherty said. “There are a lot of people out there who know a lot about music. They’re having fun being DJs as a community.”

The experiment, which began last summer at Live 105, has been successful so far, said Aaron Axelsen, Live 105’s music director and assistant program director for on-air, enough so that what began as a one-night-a-week offering was extended to six nights a week earlier this year. The station already connects to its listeners through text messaging and other technology, but this is a fresh take on tapping into its young, core audience of 18 to 34-year-olds, he said.

“As a music director, you’d think I’d be petrified,” he said. “Is it going to take over my job? Is it going to make me obsolete? But I’m thrilled with the Jelli partnership.”

He continued, “It’s important for us to adapt to the times, and this is a perfect way to do so.”
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