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In today’s Uber-inspired world, everything seems to be on-demand. So why shouldn’t your radio be?
After turning down three potential acquisitions, South African PVR-for-radio startup Iono.fm finds itself in an interesting space, somewhere in between the traditional radio industry and the modern digital podcast wave. The question is whether or not — in between meeting these two worlds — the startup will be able to capitalise on its unique position, or get cut too thin somewhere in between.
Iono.fm’s idea for an audio on-demand product initially focused on building an actual hardware product. “The economies of scale didn’t match-up, and we soon realised that building such a product would be a lot harder than we thought,” says founder Ryan Dingley. Fortunately though, the beauty of HTML5 means that the platform can potentially reach millions via smartphone, tablet or computer.
One of Iono.fm’s key features is that it gives both broadcasters and listeners more control over content. The platform allows users to create their own playlists from a variety of sources (including Iono.fm’s partner FM radio stations) and to merge them into one stream on-demand.
It’s been making money in a number of ways: the sale of audio advertisements and web banners on the site, closed group services and premium content which includes stand-up comedy.
The Cape Town-based startup is currently in talks with Knife Capital — a venture capital fund of which its Grindstone accelerator programme boasts a 61% increase in revenue for all its companies. Iono.fm is one of the ten small and medium-sized enterprises chosen to be accelerated for the year-long programme.
Expanding would simply mean setting up a team of three in each country while operations are managed from Cape Town, South Africa. “We’re looking for our first proper round of funding because we want to expand into Africa, which is expensive,” explains Dingley who’s been boostrapping Iono.fm for the last seven odd years. Dingley tells Ventureburn that there’s in-bound interest in Namibia, Botswana as well as Kenya where there is no current competition. Iono.fm’s landgrab strategy means that the revenue essentially comes later.
Nonetheless, its traction seems to be on track. In June 2013 Iono saw just under 11 000 downloads from just over 5 400 users. By June this year, that number rocketed to 100 000 with a 300% growth rate. In November there were 700 000 downloads with more than 85 000 people using the site in that month.
“There’s been a general mindshift within the last couple of years. Phones have become smarter, and people are more picky,” the tech entrepreneur slash lawyer says. “It’s like what DSTV was like before it had PVR (personal video recorder). Today, people don’t want to sit back and wait for content. Everything is on demand.”
Moreover, Dingley suggests “There is too much audio content scattered from traditional broadcasting to internet sources making it cumbersome to aggregate and access.” Iono.fm puts everything under one neat umbrella.
Going mobile in a mobile-driven world
Something that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise is that about 60% of Iono.fm’s users use their mobile devices. Thirty percent of its audience is also international, with the majority based in in the US, UK, Australia and Netherlands, all of which contain large numbers of South African expats.
One thing that’s hopefully going to boost the mobile audience even more is the launch of the iOS and Android Iono.fm app within the second quarter of 2014. As it stands, most of the mobile users use Android, which Dingley says is also the fastest growing operating system.
One of the features that encourages people to use their mobiles is the fact that the files distributed are compressed, meaning that on the high compression profile 1 hour will only set a user back around 9 MB. That’s 400 seconds per 1MB. The medium quality profile uses around 15 MB per hour.
Each audio file has to be modified into 12 versions to fit the specific device’s needs more accordingly. With local data costs becoming more inexpensive and Iono,fm users having the ability to either stream or download, this trend is likely to widen the audience even more.
Below is an example of The Daily Maverick‘s web embed:
“Iono is the only service that provides comprehensive packages for both the user (listener) and the content provider and is able to deliver audio content to lower end handsets and top end smartphones which helps in countries where the cost of bandwidth is expensive,” Dingley tells us.
Asked about where a digital music distribution startup stands against the likes of SoundCloud, Dingley points out that they are either very content-driven or purely user-driven. “Iono.fm is both,” he says. Iono.fm is also different in that it integrates with radio stations, functioning as a back-up for radio. There are currently more than 60 000 episodes available for listening with between 200 and 300 new episodes currently being added every day.
Dingley tells us that Iono.fm is also looking to integrate its system into cars’ dashboards next year — something definitely worth looking out for. He explains:
Our current service has great support for all internet browsers to cater for the largest possible market, but native applications enhances user experience and opens new consumer markets. These include mobile platforms (iOS, Android), in-car systems (Ford SYNC) and home media system (Google Chromecast, Apple TV, Roku). On the dashboard side we will focus on Apple Carplay after we re-launch our apple app (we currently have taken it down whilst we give it a revamp) and Android Auto when we release our Android app at the end of quarter 1 next year.
Is digital the future of radio?
In the US at least, more and more people are opting for internet service providers instead of traditional radio. Referring to music listeners, a 2012 study found that about 50% of the US internet population listened to an internet radio or on-demand music serviced like Pandora or Spotify.
“We have received feedback from some of our users, asking for genre-based songs in between talk shows,” says Dingley. This is something that Iono.fm might look into in the future but as a value-added feature instead. Iono.fm also has a premium feature where listeners can pay for stand-up comedy shows.
Podcasts have also claimed their fair share of popularity with the likes of Sarah Koenig’s Serial becoming the fastest podcast to reach 5 million downloads in iTunes history.
“Radio stations are increasingly aware of the need to be able to provide a customised service with audio on demand, but few have the capacity to design, build and maintain their own solution,” suggests Iono’s founder.
We have tried to be razor sharp on spoken audio but we have been approached frequently by listeners to carry music content and enhance the listening experience on our platform as we have incorporated codecs for music quality delivery. We are in discussions with other music based platforms to carry their music via our platform as we have a sizeable audience using our platform on a daily basis. We are still considering our options in this regard and will navigate these waters carefully as the sale of music online is heavily competitive with mature business models.
Talking about former 5FM presenter Gareth Cliff’s move to online podcasting in 2014, he says that “Cliff Central has been the biggest validation for Iono being a digital platform.”
The PVR-for-radio’s strongest performing content comes The Gareth Cliff Show, that he is hosting on his new internet based station Cliff Central.
According to South African Research Foundation, nearly 37.6-million of the country’s people listen to traditional radio, with the likes of pop music station 5FM being the most popular by far. If commercial music is where the money’s at, where does it leave Iono.fm’s audience of savants?