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TuneIn radio service gets social with relaunch

TuneIn switches frequencies from being a radio-stream directory to more of a radio-related social network. Early use suggests it's a hit.


TuneIn, the site that has long served as the Internet's main directory for streams of terrestrial radio, relaunched last week to function more like a social network, and the change seems to be hitting the right notes.

TuneIn told CNET that in the first two days of the relaunched TuneIn, the number of favorites -- when a user selects a radio station or podcast to follow and, under the relaunched site, populate an individualized feed of content -- more than tripled compared with two days just before the redesign went live. The number of new favorites added on May 7 and May 8 was 1.53 million, compared with 611,570 on the same two days a week earlier, before the relaunch.

Unlike all other categories of media disrupted by the Internet, terrestrial radio has enjoyed some comfortable protection from online upstarts because it rules the one sphere where connectivity has the most difficulty penetrating: the automobile. The glacial pace of car rollouts and safety considerations about driver distraction have been big barriers to digital radio rivals and kept terrestrial radio's hold on the lion's share of an estimated $14 billion radio advertising market.

But it also means terrestrial radio has lacked the motivation to make its business Internet relevant while rivals in print and video media have raced to keep up with changing consumer habits. With the exception of radio giant Clear Channel's online arm iHeartRadio -- which blends live-radio station streaming with Pandora-like, data-based stations you can create based on an artist or song -- traditional radio stations generally haven't done much more than slap a livestream of their broadcast up on the Internet. More than 100,000 let TuneIn do that work for them.

The relaunched TuneIn, besides being much easier on the eyes than its prior incarnation, adds a bunch of social-like features. It creates a live updating feed of what's happening on the stations you favorite; allows you to follow other users and send "echoes" of what you're listening to anyone on TuneIn or on other social networks; and creates a customizable profile page for each user.

Radio stations themselves can send out echoes to their followers, such as, for example, CNN Radio sending out an echo about some breaking news coverage as it's in progress or a local station alerting its fans when it has a big act in studio for a live performance.

"The biggest one that hasn't moved online yet is radio," TuneIn Chief Executive John Donham said, adding that he doesn't view online streaming operations like Pandora, Spotify, or Beats Music as competition to TuneIn. "We don't see CD player and radio as competitive with each other...We're the only ones that do this worldwide."