Known For Free Radio & Podcasts, TuneIn Adds Premium Access to Sports Broadcasts & Audiobooks to Attract New Listeners
Posted: 2.16.17 Entertainment

Known For Free Radio & Podcasts, TuneIn Adds Premium Access to Sports Broadcasts & Audiobooks to Attract New Listeners

By: Adam West

The Crunch: From its early days, TuneIn has worked to change the face of streaming audio. When it started, the company initially differentiated itself from other streaming services by offering listeners free access to thousands of radio stations and millions of podcasts from around the world. Then, the platform ramped up its programming options by launching a premium subscription service that features play-by-play coverage of every NFL, MLB, and NBA game; more than 40,000 audiobooks; and more than a dozen language learning channels. By expanding its menu to include such a diverse array of content, TuneIn is proving to be an exclusive one-stop shop for every listener’s streaming audio needs.

When it comes to streaming music services, today’s listeners have many options to choose from. But if someone is looking to stream something other than music, such as live coverage of the Super Bowl, breaking local news, or the audio version of the latest “Game of Thrones” novel, those services won’t be of any use.

TuneIn began as a software company focused on providing users mobile access to a global spectrum of radio stations, a service that was immediately popular. In fact, when TuneIn released numbers in 2014, it boasted more than 50 million active users, making it the “world’s largest audio network.”

Not content to rest on its laurels, TuneIn recognized the value it could provide listeners by bundling its massive streaming music and talk radio selection into an affordable monthly subscription plan with live sports coverage and access to audiobooks and language-learning channels.

“With the introduction of TuneIn Premium, we are taking the world’s best audio content and putting it all in one place,” TuneIn’s CEO John Donham said when the service was introduced in 2015.

The premium subscription gives TuneIn’s now more than 60 million users access to live coverage of all MLB, NFL, and NBA games; more than 40,000 audiobooks; and more than dozen language learning channels. On top of that, both the premium and free versions feature more than 100,000 global radio stations, 5.7 million podcasts, and live feeds from every NHL game.

TuneIn Improves Its Offerings By Striking Deals with Sports Leagues

Privately owned and based in San Francisco, TuneIn started in 2012 as a free platform for streaming live broadcasts from radio stations around the world. Accessible through the company’s website or mobile app and available on a wide range of devices, the service allows users to search thousands of stations to find the ones that are currently playing the song, artist, or program they want to hear.

By focusing on live radio, instead of on-demand playlists, TuneIn differentiated itself from traditional streaming music platforms.

“Everyone kind of breaks the audio world into two categories,” John told the International Business Times. “There are people who are focused on on-demand, and then there are people who are focused on live. That’s us.”

The company really set itself apart when it launched TuneIn Premium, the centerpiece of which is live play-by-play coverage of high-profile professional sports in the U.S., the U.K., and Germany.

The premium service started in August 2015 and initially offered streaming feeds of all MLB games, from spring training to the World Series, along with live coverage of soccer matches from the U.K.’s Barclays Premier League and Germany’s Bundesliga.

Screenshot from the TuneIn homepage

TuneIn’s premium tier gives subscribers access to sports broadcasts, audiobooks, and language learning channels.

These initial deals with the MLB and European soccer leagues paved the way for TuneIn to offer even more live sports to its premium lineup. Just two months later, the company added the NFL to the mix with live broadcasts of every game from preseason through the regular season and postseason, including the Super Bowl.

And in 2016, TuneIn inked a deal with the NBA to feature play-by-play coverage of all of the league’s preseason, regular season, and postseason games along with marquee events like the NBA All-Star Game, State Farm All-Star Saturday Night, and the NBA Draft.

In addition to covering all of the games, TuneIn is also producing its own live sports shows focused on the NFL, MLB, and NBA out of its studios in Venice Beach, California. These original broadcasts are available to all users and feature interviews with players, coaches, and executives; discussions of games; and in-depth analysis of lineups, drafts, and injuries.

Users Access 100,000+ Stations with Free and Premium Subscriptions

While TuneIn Premium is anchored by its live sports coverage, it also boasts other unique content you won’t find on any other single streaming audio platform. For bibliophiles, there are more than 40,000 audiobooks from major publishers such as HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Scholastic. The subscription also includes more than a dozen language-learning channels to help listeners quickly become fluent in foreign tongues like Arabic, Russian, Spanish, German, and Japanese.

On the music front, the premium tier features 600 commercial-free radio stations, including leading broadcasters such as Digitally Imported, 977 Music, and Many of these stations are also offered on TuneIn’s free service, but at the premium level, the ads that free listeners hear are replaced with music selections that are chosen based on the premium user’s listening preferences.

Premium subscribers can enjoy all of the content found on TuneIn’s free service, too. As with the premium tier, TuneIn is constantly adding fresh content to its free programming, and one of the most exciting additions involves a deal with the NHL. On January 1, 2016, the company began providing play-by-play coverage of NHL games, starting with the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins.

Like the deals with the other major sports leagues, the NHL coverage includes live broadcasts of every game, from exhibition and regular season games to the playoffs and the Stanley Cup Final. Unlike the other sports, however, the NHL content is available to all TuneIn users, not just premium subscribers.

Screenshot of popular music radio stations on TuneIn

TuneIn differentiates itself from other streaming services with access to more than 100,000 radio stations.

Of course, the cornerstone of TuneIn’s free service is access to 100,000 radio stations and 5.7 million podcasts. Both the radio stations and podcasts offer a diverse variety of programming — music, news, sports, talk — and feature big-name players like CNN, Radio Disney, ESPN Radio, and Ted Talks.

TuneIn’s huge selection of radio stations offers both traditional AM/FM and online broadcasts from more than 200 countries. The fact that many of these stations are both local and live gives them a distinct advantage.

In an interview with Forbes, John pointed to the 2015 Boston Marathon bombing as a prime example of TuneIn’s ability to bring an unparalleled sense of immediacy and intimacy to its listeners.

“We had millions of people from around the world listening to local radio stations in Boston because it was the most relevant content of what was going on at that moment,” he said. “You listen to CNN and you’re getting a national feed. You listen to the local radio station, like WEEI in that area, and it’s just crazy compelling because they’ve got reporters all out in the field, and they’re broadcasting everything that’s going on.”

Brands Can Drive Customer Engagement with Targeted Ads

TuneIn offers unique advantages for advertisers, as well. The platform allows brands to reach its more than 60 million listeners around the world, with ads that can be specifically targeted based on geographic location, time of day, user demographics, listening device, and content preferences.

Screenshot from a TuneIn ad whitepaper

Pairing audio and visual ads allows advertisers to reach a large audience through TuneIn’s free streaming service.

What’s more, because TuneIn’s app features both audio and visual components, advertising campaigns can combine images with sound for a rich, multimedia experience. This capability allows a display ad to appear on the app’s screen at the same time an audio ad is playing, so a brand’s message is simultaneously seen and heard.

The company reports that pairing an audio ad with a display ad in this manner increases response rates by 30 percent.

A Privately Owned Internet Radio Company with a Wealth of Content

Although many media outlets like newspapers and magazines are currently scaling back operations to become more streamlined, TuneIn is bucking that trend and actually expanding its offerings. By constantly adding more content and services to its menu, John said the brand is emulating the bundling approach used by cable companies.

“The business model we’re trying to learn from is the cable model,” John told the International Business Times. “Most people listen to multiple things.”

With more than $25 million in venture funding from Institutional Venture Partners, Sequoia Capital, Google Ventures, General Catalyst Partners, and Icon Ventures, it’s clear that John isn’t the only one who’s betting that going bigger will be better for TuneIn.

And as the company steadily increases the variety of content available in streaming audio, TuneIn is sure to offer even bigger benefits for both its listeners and advertisers, as well.