Q&A with Robert Meyrowitz, President and CEO of eYada.com
With so much attention being thrown at music and Internet radio, there has really been a lack of programming focused on a huge market: talk radio. That's the mission of eYada.com (http://www.eyada.com), a company focusing on creating original live talk radio shows for the Internet.
Robert Meyrowitz, the creator of the now-legendary King Biscuit Flower Hour radio show, saw this gaping hole in net content and launched eYada in late 1999. Since then, the popularity of the site has grown wildly beyond his own expectations. So far it has three channels, Entertainment, Health and Sports, with others debuting later this year.
The real success of eYada has to do with the power of its hosts. Instead of grabbing no-name Joe Schmoes, eYada tags celebrities for hosting duties. They create compelling weekly shows that are broadcast live and are available for on-demand listening, as well. Current hosts include stars like Kim Alexis, Bob Berkowitz, gossip columnists Rush and Molloy and even the notorious Johnny Rotten.
Q: So tell me what eYada's all about.A: So many people talk about radio on the Internet and they all talk about music. But if you look at radio today the biggest and most successful formats are talk. And it just struck me that nobody was doing original talk for the Internet and that is what eYada does.
Q: Music is very popular, though. Are you immune from doing any music or is that part of your future plans?A: It is not part of our plans, we really are focusing on talk. My background, as you may know, is in music. So it doesn't mean that I would never do music but it is definitely not in our plans, our plans are to concentrate on talk. We are creating 30 hours a day of original programming, all with professional people, all with compelling content—really fun, really interesting, stuff that you really want to listen to. Quite frankly our numbers are bearing out what we had hoped: that people will hear it and become regular listeners.
Q: What's unique about your model is that you're using celebrities as talk show hosts. Why did you go that route?A: What we wanted to do was compelling programming. It is fun for anybody to do a show, but it's not necessarily compelling. I don't think I could do a great show—if I were to do it, my mother would listen. I hope! [Chuckles] But I wouldn't think I could draw a national or international audience—I'm just not good at it. What wanted to do is find people who we believe were really good at it and could do great shows. So we have been very selective about who we put on. We receive about 16 audition tapes every single day—75 to 100 a week.
Q: Is it necessarily radio people or all kinds of media?A: Mostly radio people but we get all forms of broadcasters: cable, network, local TV. But we also get a lot of writers and people that have interesting backgrounds.
Q: What sort of deals do you strike with hosts?A: They get paid a fairly hefty amount. They also get stock options and a percentage of advertising. It's a big deal so we can attract people like Kevin Cook from Sports Illustrated, Kim Alexis and Dave Meltzer and on and on.
Q: So what is your company's business model? Is it advertising?A: It is interstitial audio advertising like you have in radio and television. We have been quite successful in doing that. And we just started it.
Q: How are the ads done?A: We have a traffic manager that inserts the commercials in the programming. What happens in a live show is that you have pre-programmed breaks. Sometimes in a live show and most definitely with [host] Johnny Rotten, he doesn't always take breaks when he's supposed to. And that presents somewhat of a challenge for our traffic managers. Johnny has gone over an hour and a half without taking a break. If you want to listen to a great and entertaining show you've got to listen to Johnny's show.
Q: I think one big advantage to the Internet is that you can pretty much do or say anything, unlike traditional radio.A: That's right. We can do and say anything. We are doing it specifically for the Internet so what you're hearing is not like anything else that you could hear on traditional radio. And you really don't know what's going to happen.
Q: So do your numbers bear that out? How many visitors do you have and how long do they stay?
A: Well, they're staying an average of 18 minutes, which is a very long time. It's long on radio and huge on the Internet. The [listeners] are a little over a million a month, which is more than what we had projected. It makes our projections look ridiculous. If I tell you what they were it just looks silly. We just started to do our first bit of online advertising two weeks ago. Our goal is to build this audience and since our numbers are higher, we're sticking to our plan but revised it in terms of what we can achieve. We think that by August we can be over 2 million a month.
Right now we have an entertainment channel, a sports channel, we launch this week our health and fitness. Then we're going to launch a women's channel, a business channel and a teen channel.
Q: Are they continuously running like a radio or do you have to hunt them down for the live show times?A: No, they're on live. They're also archived so you can listen to what you want, whenever you want. So if I drive in the morning and I like listening to Howard Stern, he's on for five hours, and my drive is forty minutes. When I drive home there's nothing I like to listen to. Here, if I listen to Lionel to two hours in the morning I can listen to him for two hours at night. It is really the listener that is in charge not the people that are programming.
Q: I think one of the problems is that when you ARE in the car, you can't listen to eYada. Are you looking to make your content downloadable?
A: We do have a deal with XM (http://www.xmradio.com). They have a deal with General Motors and another company. That will be a factor, but our real thought is that we are looking at people that have to sit on their computer. People talk about drive time—I don't get into my car because I want to listen to the radio. I get into my car because I have to go somewhere and the radio is a nice thing to have with me. The same thing at the computer. They're sitting down not because they want to listen to the radio but they have things to do. Now they can turn on eYada and listen to the webcast while they're doing whatever they want. We initially thought our listeners would be in offices but we're finding a little more than half are listening at home.
Q: Is it any specific times?A: No, it's totally all over. We think that as we get more habit forming, there will be more regular times. We thought it would be more daytime. It's pretty even all over.
Q: You mentioned earlier how you choose to focus on signing celebrities as hosts. There are some companies out there that are taking the opposite route. They're giving tools so practically anyone to have their own talk radio. What do you think of that model and will you go down that path?A: It is a different model and it's basically a tonnage model. Throw enough against the wall and something should stick. It rarely has ever worked. So that you rarely get anything successful. Public access can be fun but rarely does anything become a major hit from that.
Q: Tell me how it's done. Is it done on your studios or from people's homes?A: Well, we have studios here in New York on 57th Street and 2/3rds of the shows come from there. Johnny Rotten does his show from his home in Los Angeles, Dave Meltzer does it from San Jose. Kim Alexis does it from her home in Florida. So it's really done in many places.
Q: Are you looking into other distribution for your shows like syndication or giving it out to other sites?A: Yes we definitely are.
Q: You come from radio, what made you switch over to the Internet?A: Actually I come from music. And radio. And it just struck me that everyone was talking about music over the Internet, when really, talk is the dominant form in radio and TV. Music is very much struggling. Here in New York one of the biggest all time music stations WNEW-FM is now all talk. VH1 and MTV don't play many videos--they do talk programs. And whether you're looking at Oprah Winfrey or Howard Stern or Jerry Springer or Rush Limbaugh or Don Imus or Jay Leno--it's all talk.
Q: Aren't they your competition, though? Other webcasters put out big names and do talk.A: I don't know who does that.
Q: I'm talking about Art Bell, Rush--they're on the Internet also.A: It is re-purposing--taking a radio and putting it on the Internet. That extends their radio audience somewhat, but it is not original programming for the Internet. What we're doing is creating our own audience base.
Q: I guess you're right. In terms of original "big name" programming there aren't many competitors out there.A: Well sooner or later, there will be. I think we have been able to get in first and achieve this audience level and we have some pretty strong alliances, partners and investors. I think we're in pretty good shape.
Q: Yes you recently announced a $25 million funding. I guess that'll fuel, well, everything, I suppose.A: [Laughs] Yes, including my jet. [Pauses] All right I don't have a jet.
Q: It seems things are growing rapidly for you.A: You have to remember that when we started six months ago, these are just temporary studios. But while it's horrible, we know we're going to talk about this the next twenty years. "You should have been here when." Because everybody's crammed in and doing all this programming out of there. Right now we're producing more programming than ABC and CBS and all from these little studios.
Q: What are your plans for the future in terms of other media?A: We're doing multimedia now so you can look at it. The goal is to make the multimedia an important experience. My presumption is that you go to eYada, put on Kevin Cook's sport show and minimize the window and do whatever you do. Then Kevin says he's going to put up a picture of a close play at a baseball game and tell listeners to maximize their windows to take a look. And people can call in and say he's safe or he's out. While the comparison to the radio is an easy one it is not. It's Internet webcasting that we're doing and we can do things that radio can't do.
Q: What about video? After all, eYada's vauge enough to include audio and video.A: You're right. Um, but right now the whole concept is minimizing the screen and going about your business. It's there when you're in the car, it's there when you're on the computer. If you're balancing your checkbook, if you're playing solitaire or doing a spreadsheet, you can be listening to eYada.