Originally published: March 20, 2012
Last updated: April 4, 2012 - 6:55pm
[Commentary] For all the hype over Internet radio and predictions of conservative radio's death, there is still nothing comparable to Clear Channel's empire when it comes to AM/FM talk.
About a year ago Rush Limbaugh's arch rival for the paranoid set, Alex Jones, managed to convince Rolling Stone that he "draws a bigger audience online than Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck combined." That may be true, but Jones' presence on AM/FM doesn't even rank him in the Talkers Top Ten. When Talk Radioland worries for Rush, they look to the man presenting himself as a kinder and gentler competitor, Mike Huckabee -- not the digital streaming environment. Sure, lots of people listen to AM/FM stations online. But bean counters have yet to reach consensus on how to systematically compare broadcast radio to online streamers. Late last year Edison Research hit the ceiling at the suggestion that it tried to compare Pandora statistics to Arbitron ratings. Pandora continues to dominate the online streaming environment, of course, with 80 million registered users as of January 2011. But beyond its cache of comedy albums, the firm mostly serves up music streams on an individualized basis.
Another point of comparison: Sirius XM's total audience for a lineup that includes Howard Stern clocks in at around 21 million subscribers. In other words, all of satellite radio—music, talk, Howard, the works—is only slightly larger than the optimal audience for the Rushbo. That means that everything that Rush Limbaugh says still makes vast waves. You can interpret the fragmented social networking world of bloggers, tweeters, and Facebookers who endlessly react to him as his competitors, if you like, but they're really just part of his audience recruiting team. Bottom line: in the Sandra Fluke controversy, old media led new media around by the tail.
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