We just got a glimpse of Howard Stern’s next life, I think. I was running errands today listening to a repeat of the show from this week when I heard Stern talk with a caller about what he could do on the internet. Thanks to my handy Sirius Satellite radio, I was able to – Tivo-like – back and up repeat what he’d just said and I wrote it down:
Tomorrow I could go on the internet and start my own channel with my own subscribers. You’d be able to click and watch us on TV, watch us in the studio live, streaming. You’d be able to listen to us streaming. You’d be able to get us on your iPhone. You’d be able to do everything right at the click of the internet. I wouldn’t even need to work for a company. I’d be my own company… So true it’s ridiculous.
Sounds like more than idle admiration of technology to me. Stern has a year left on his contract on satellite. He’s so valuable to Sirius, they surely will make him an offer it would be hard to refuse. But I suspect that much of his last reported $500 million contract came in stock and that stock is now worth $0.59 (I know all too well, because I own some), so continuing with satellite would still be a gamble. Besides, he has plenty of money and no divorce settlement to pay off (or so it would certainly appear). This week, he was lambasting Rush Limbaugh for ripping off his listeners selling them T-shirt; in response to a question from Gary Dell’Abate, Stern said even an extra $1 million wasn’t worth that. Could he be rationalizing a cut in pay?
On the internet, Stern would get the complete freedom he has long lusted after. He would share his revenue and value with no one but his staff. Now that we can listen to radio over the internet – on our internet-enabled phones – we can listen to him anywhere (is this why he has refused to allow Sirius to put him on the iPhone? I’m still unhappy about that). He would have direct relationships with his fans. He could charge them (and, yes, I would pay for it; he’s why I subscribe to satellite now … see, I am not a pay bigot). He could sell advertising in new ways. Fans could get him anywhere, anytime. If he’s smart – and he is – he could open up enough tidbits to go viral, letting his audience market him for free.
I wrote about Stern as a pioneer in my book. He rethought radio networks and built his own. He brought satellite radio to critical mass. But satellite radio was always a transitional technology, waiting for ubiquitous connectivity that would enable on-demand programming anywhere. (I tried to warn Sirius’ president, Mel Karmazin, here.) Now our phones can give us radio and soon Stern will be ready for them; they will make him portable.
There’s a larger trend at work here: Entertainers (radio, music, comedy, books, columnists, even filmmakers) will have direct relationships with their audiences. Like Stern, they won’t have to work for companies or go through them for distribution. That’s already happening, of course, on the web for creation, distribution, and monetization. That idea is even extending to funding. Look at Kickstarter – a Spot.US for creativity – where your most loyal fans who most want you to make something can fund or invest in it, maybe for nothing more than the privilege of helping you (this is the Wikipedia ethic). It returns to the age of patronage, only now the kings don’t fund the artists, the public does and less money is wasted on middlemen.
Maybe this is all wishful thinking. I’ve been dreading Stern’s retirement (but I think so is he). So I’m hoping that he makes the leap to the next generation and that others will follow his example. Am I reading too much into his conjecture about the internet? If I am, I’ll bet Karmazin is, too.
: Tim Windsor adds in the comments: “Sounds like Howard needs to make a pilgrimage to Leo Laporte’s TWiT Cottage to see how this can be done professionally for surprisingly little money.”
Right. Leo shows it all: how to do live video with chat and also distribute across many platforms.