Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman: ‘We better be the ones to cannibalize ourselves’

From The Verge:

ob Pittman’s parents always found it strange when he would crank up the volume on his AM radio to listen along to his favorite shows while doing his homework. “Some people have always been multi-taskers,” says Pittman, with a smile, during an interview last week. “People talk about how we’re always checking our smartphones or tablets these days while we watch TV, but really, human behavior hasn’t changed. It’s just new gadgets giving it a different expression.”

Pittman’s passion for radio paid off with a gig as an announcer when he was just 15. He transitioned into programming, taking control of the flagship WNBC in New York when he was 23 years old. From there he moved to television, eventually earning a spot in the history books as one of the creators of MTV. He joined AOL in 1996 and stayed through the glory days of the Time Warner merger. In his current role as the CEO of Clear Channel, Pittman has returned to his first love. He’s overseeing a vast radio empire, helping hundreds of local stations around the nation to succeed in an era of web streams and mobile apps.

Do you think the TV landscape is ready for a big shift, like it was during the early days of cable, when you launched MTV?

When I started, cable was a way to get the TV signal to rural areas that couldn’t get a clear picture any other way. It was just starting to come to the big cities, where people already got TV, and so there it made sense to do these cable-only networks focused on something, like music or sports. The cable companies went to the big broadcasters and asked them to create these new channels, and of course, the major networks said no. They didn’t want to cannibalize their existing business by building out new channels.

My feeling about Clear Channel has been, if the landscape is changing, we better be the ones to cannibalize ourselves. That’s why iHeartRadio is on phones, tablets and the web. For radio, we’re used to the idea that it doesn’t matter if it’s AM, FM, satellite, internet, mobile — we don’t care. The smartest players in the TV space will do the same thing.

It seems like some companies are really in a bind. HBO would love to make their programming available anywhere a la carte, but can’t because they don’t want to jeopardize their lucrative relationship with the cable companies.

People get too attached to the technology, to how they get the songs and shows they love. You know what the original name of MTV was? Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment Company, because back in the late 70’s everybody was enamored with the idea of satellites. But pretty quickly the cool new gizmo changes. I don’t give a shit how the TV signal gets to me, it just gets to me. We’re still so fascinated with the smartphone or the iPad. Well I thought it was great when I first got an 8-track player under the front seat of my car. But a few years later, it was gone. And I didn’t care because all I really wanted was to hear Santana while I was driving.

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