Howard Stern 3.0: The future of entertainment

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.

  • I too heard him hint at it. My bet is he signs for a 1 or two year extension. I don’t think Internet radio is ready to go portable into cars just yet, and morning drive is his market. One of his callers brought up net neutrality, and how the big boys want to control the pipe. That is his biggest threat in the brave new world.

  • He’s had to be watching what Kevin Rose, Gary Vaynerchuk and others have been able to do with Flip cameras, passion and a point of view (and we know Howard has a point of view;)

    There’s no doubt in my mind that if he’s got the desire – he can easily become his own company…

  • I’ll bet that Stern is taking a close look at what Adam Carolla is doing with his podcast Last I checked this was a top 10 podcast and for a while it was the #1 downloaded podcast on iTunes with over 500K downloads a day. Attracting advertisers will be tricky if they keep the content uncensored but I’ll bet both of these guys could attract a large audience that would be willing to pay $5/month for the content. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops.

    • I agree, Carolla has demonstrated just how easy it can be to take your radio show to the Internet and maintain a seizable audience. And Carolla’s show is so much better now, I actually enjoy listening on the daily.

      Although, while $5/month is definitely reasonable, I’m not certain I would bite. We’ll have to see how it plays out.


  • 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.

    • Exactly what i was thinking while reading this…

  • David

    Back when Howard was still on K-ROCK, and competitor WNEW offered programming in a similar vein, there was a show on WNEW that never quite hit its stride called “The Radio Chick” hosted by Leslie Gold. A few months ago, Leslie Gold started her own Carolla-style podcast. I thought that was a smart move. It seemed like she was following a TWiT style business model, taking control of her own programming (and career) after being fired from one radio station after another over the years.

    The reason I bring her up is because she just abandoned her podcast in favor of a new venture called (in which I believe she is a partner). Shovio aims to be what Stern is describing, combining live uncensored audio, video, and viewer call-ins via webcam. It’s not on phones yet but that’s apparently in the works. Shovio features Leslie Gold, plus a handful of other former radio shows I’m not very familiar with.

    Unfortunately, it’s awful in every way. The audio quality is worst than the worst transistor radio (really unlistenable). The picture quality is like 2001-era streaming. And the worst offense of all is the user interface, which looks like it was just thrown together by a programmer who doesn’t understand how humans interact with technology. (The first thing I would do if I were them is hire a designer to overhaul the site).

    I don’t know how she got suckered into this venture. Like Stern, Leslie Gold understand that this sort of thing is a good idea in a general sense. But I doubt that she even uses the internet if she thinks this website is any good. is not so much blazing a new trail as it is driving off the road.

  • Paradigm shift++

    Howard Stern? yawn

  • I only wish we had someone like Howard Stern broadcasting in the UK. Even though he’s pretty outrageous some of the time, he’s also refreshing. His prank calls to TV shows are marvellous.

  • This subject is well covered in Chris Anderson’s book “Free.” He discusses the very same trend you’re discussing, where artists, musicians, entertainers, and other “content creators” will no longer require the services of publishers, record labels, or even broadcasters. I fully expect Stern to become his own broadcast channel and [gasp] probably even sell a T-shirt or two.

    • Yes, Jon, I cover it in my book, too. But it would be gratifying to see it come to life on a large scale.

  • Chip

    Jeff – I heard what Howard said and thought he was actually paraphrasing what you’ve written about here. Haven’t you even suggested directly that Howard could his own thing?

    I don’t want him to retire…give me 2-3 new episodes a week, or even a few one-hour podcasts like Carolla does. The key for Howard fans (and I think for him too) is to hear his opinions on current times and great interviews.

  • Eric Gauvin

    Stern’s fame is built on being a shock jock on a regular old everyday radio station, which provides the context to be shocking. If he ports his show over to a DIY enterprise like Laporte he will take his pre-existing large fan following with him, which I don’t really think exemplifies the the future of anything.

  • EgotisticalFool

    The only thing bigger than Stern’s nose is his ego.
    If he went online, he’d really find out what he’s worth – not much.
    His current employer should fire him for his statements.

  • Don’t think that a talent-centric entertainment program offers anything meaningfully different than traditional media. Just replicating the old model on a new medium. A talent-centric program PLUS a utility for fans to twitter, with little coherence or consequence, is a weak attempt to replicate a real fan club meeting at the local pub.

    Stern may enjoy a bigger share of the pie. Good for him. The model won’t work for another talent without Stern-level popularity.

    Katherine Warman Kern

    • It’s working today for bands that are finding their audiences online.
      The difference for them is that they do not have to go through the gauntlet of the industry.
      The difference for someone who already has and has succeeded, like Stern, is that he can own himself and not depend on others to distribute him. That’s what he and I are talking about. He kills the middleman. That’s new.

  • I don’t listen to Howard Stern, but would find a couple of problems with his premise:

    1 – As mentioned, it doesn’t help in your car. I expect this would change as high-speed internet access over cell networks and the like become more ubiquitous.

    2 – I know at my workplace, web streaming has been blocked via websense. A few years ago, I used to listen to the radio via station internet streams, but no more. Again, cheap/easy internet wireless access that covers a large area would bypass this.

    Until then, it is over-the-air for me.

    • you can get radio today over your smart phone and you’ll get that hooked into your car. voila. radio.

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  • JustJude

    Stern is a loud mouth who only knows how to use fowl language. No talent. No brains.

    • Then don’t listen to him.
      I don’t like 99 percent of the entertainers on earth. I watch the 1% I like.
      Is that a better way to live life? Pick the ones you like, ignore those you don’t. It’ll make you a happier person and save you the time of adding comments such as that that really add nothing.

      • frank

        Have you really listened to Howard? That is the same shit eveyone says that heard a tidbit of Stern.

    • MikeyT

      JustJude – try to listen to stern. You might be surprised by the level of intelligence and aptitude Stern brings to his listeners. You might also be surprised that howard frowns on swearing without a reason. Best thing to listen to in your car – – – – Hands Down

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  • Ted

    The story of artists and and/or content owners, of some kind, wanting to control their destiny, go direct, and take a bigger cut is at least as old Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Charlie Chaplin forming United Artists in 1919. In their case they did not even need revolutionary technological change.

    Today’s technology allows the potential for this even more easily, but the problem is that it’s not really about technology. It’s about distribution, marketing, management, and fleeting public taste.

    Let’s not forget that Stern is first and foremost about audio porn. If you want to emmulate that, good good luck to you. But does anyone doubt that Stern has traded the vast majority of his brand popularity for a cash payoff, that is now significantly diminished. So he has lost both brand quity and cash as his public exposure is not all but gone behind the Sirrius pay wall along with it’s stock price.

    Live 365 has made the technology available to everyone to be a radio star for almost 10 years, yet I can’t think of a single example of a phenom from that vehicle.

    United Artists survives today in name only. The dream of that early experiment did not fair well mostly for a variety of poor business decisions that proved that it’s all way more complicated than simply getting an interesting idea on film….or on the web.

    • “Let’s not forget that Stern is first and foremost about audio porn”

      You are so wrong, he is first and foremost about making people laugh, and that he does better than anyone else on radio.

  • I too have LONG wanted for Stern to drop the shackles of the “terrestrial radio” (a term I would hasten to point out to the h8ters was coined largely because of Stern) environment and strike out on his own using the web (he could have single-handedly legitimized Internet radio in the same way he legitimized Sirius as a competitor to XM).

    It’s been fascinating to watch his complete transformation from a virtual Luddite opposed to going online (remember when he used to be puzzled when people would ask him why he didn’t have a website?) to someone looking for the next killer app.

    I worry, though, that he’s so long been a company man that he wouldn’t be comfortable functioning outside that structure (particularly given how late it is in his career) and how mistrustful he likely is of making a web venture profitable. Moreover, to a great extent some of the most creative moments of Stern’s show have come from the limitations imposed on his content (though the greater freedom at Sirius hasn’t proven detrimental to the quality of his show).

    I also worry that Stern may not be willing to experiment with a creative (ie low) pricing scheme (which would raise the incentive to pirate his content).

    However, he’s one I can’t imagine settling into a comfortable retirement (he still gets up to broadcast at 6am!) – and the web is the next realm to be conquered. Given how frequently he rails against those who downplay his influence because of the size of his satellite radio audiece – one could imagine the sweet satisfaction he’d get from establishing a dominating presence on the web and proving the critics wrong.

    It sure is going to be interesting as hell to watch.

    Sidebar: It’s fascinating to see the hoary old criticisms levied against Stern’s show by people who clearly haven’t ever taken the time to listen to it and all of its depth and complexity (yes, I said depth and complexity). That’s perhaps the most enduring quality of his programming: it allows one to see what they want to see in it (so a pipefitter in Newark can tune in for the raunch, while members of the intelligentsia like Jeff Jarvis or Terri Gross can tune in for its fascinating human drama and insightful wit). That sort of unique and broad appeal is ripe for the web.

    • Groger

      Re: Sidebar: Howie’s content is downright Shakesperean in its appeal across social strata. There is room for everyone in his theater. His success is in appealing to the pent up dumb teenager trapped inside everyone of his “grown up” and intelligent audience. That is the timeless common denominator he plays to and thrives on.

  • I’ve been trying to explain what Leo Laporte (and now Howard) is up to for about a year to the company I work for. Although, I had hoped I could wake them up – Jeff…I’m glad you are on this.

    Check out Leo’s equipment at:

    Thanks again Jeff.

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  • Rick

    Jeff gives Howard too much credit. Stern is in love with radio and went to satellite for its promise to be what radio was when we were growing up (I’m nearly his age and also a longtime fan of radio), as much as for some censorless freedom. Stern will go internet only if he can’t make a deal with Karmazin – who he greatly admires as a radio giant (I don’t like Mel). Too few people of Stern’s audience – mostly boomers, not so many of the internet generations – are comfortable with the complication and expense of cellular internet to make the big payday Stern expects for his efforts. OTOH an international audience might intrigue him enough to do 4 shows a week, with embedded ads and pay video. The current Howard TV is annoyingly limited in distribution, leaving those of us not on some specific cable systems able to get the show only through :unsanctioned: channels.

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  • Bill

    FYI, Shovio (which I like) isn’t launched yet. They are still pre-launch.
    The concept is amazing, It’s way cool, two-way broadcasting I have been peeking in on it, and I haven’t had a problem with the audio or video quality. Picture is sharp. If Stern is about audio porn, it could get mighty graphic on new tech like this.

    I agree Stern’s audience is boomers. My neighbors 16 year old kid never heard of Stern. That was a shocker to me.

  • Anon

    Inside rumor has it that he is looking at a 4 year extension with a terrestrial radio part in addition to Sirius. He will then produce movies, TV, and probably more radio etc.

  • I too heard him hint at it. My bet is he signs for a 1 or two year extension. He is not using any brain.

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  • A.C.

    I also hope he continues in some aspect. I bought Sirius for his channels, and am amazed at his interviewing skills- No other interviewer pulls as much information from a celebrity as Stern. (See Rosie O’Donnell interview) Not sure if he has the energy, unfortunately.

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  • Larry

    Stern is talking about Shovio, I think. Its exactly what he’s described, and I believe he and Gold share the same agent.
    I’ve been watching on and off for weeks, and the audio and video quality have improved 10 fold since their test broadcasts. So has the website. I like it so much, if i can’t be there live, I hit the archives and watch later.

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  • Rayca

    I’m sure Howard is thinking long and hard about the exposure and freedom the internet can bring him. Good luck making any real money on it, though in the ways you suggest. I listen to him now for free from a pirated website, through an internet radio. I, quite frankly, think Howard is “allowing” or even running that site. Entrepreneurs like Howard need to re-think how they are going to generate revenue from the internet. It won’t necessarily be from subscribers. Where there’s a will, there’s a hacker. Howard HATES AT&T. That would be my guess why he doesn’t want streaming from the iPhone. My phone offers XM Sirius. I can’t see Howard signing on for another five years. One year contracts? I don’t know. He’s getting stale now. He should invest his time in doing the other things/media he loves. Go play some chess, Howard.

  • kevin

    stern’s old competition, star & buc wild just started on shovio (along with valerie smaldone, formerly of wltw). i’m sure he is curious to see how they perform.

    also, i agree with previous posts about shovio’s presentation. quality has improved greatly since alpha launch in october.

  • Bill James

    I have watched Shovio on and off, and it feels like a public access tv station on the internet…lame presentation, stuttering video, audio levels all over the place… amateur high school quality at best. The idea that Howard would be a part of that is ludicrous, he’d start his own network and be 1000% better off.

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