Jan. 31, 2023 | Podcast

Episode 11: Bringing the physical and digital worlds together with iHeartMedia

Brian Kaminsky, Chief Data Officer and President of Revenue Strategies for iHeartMedia

About the episode

How does a traditional media giant like iHeartMedia leverage the metaverse to make meaningful connections with its audience? We talk to Brian Kaminsky, Chief Data Officer and President of Revenue Strategies for iHeartMedia, about how its new virtual entertainment venue, iHeartLand, provides an immersive, always-on community for families, gamers, entertainers and advertisers.


Brian Kaminsky

Chief Data Officer and President of Revenue Strategies for iHeartMedia, Brian has more than 20 years of experience with traditional brands and high growth start-ups. Brian oversees iHeartMedia’s Data practice, Advertising Technology Platforms and Advertising Products, as well as the revenue strategies those solutions enable.


Could you tell us a little bit about your role at iHeartMedia?

I joined iHeart about nine years ago, and originally came in to be the Chief Operating Officer of our digital business. Early on, we were looking at transforming the way we marketed our product to the advertising community and started to do research on who our digital users were. We quickly realized that our digital users were our broadcast users; they are the same people. And in fact, most of our users are motivated to come to the iHeart Digital product by over-the-air personalities and the programming. We had this great set of insights that became a product, powering the sale of broadcast radio with insights that came from digital. This led to a completely new role for me within iHeart, which is this role of transforming and modernizing the way we market audio broadcast radio, using data and insights, and the tactics that we would use in any digital campaign.

iHeartMedia launched an incredible new offering this year. Could you talk a little bit about iHeartLand?

It’s a tremendous innovation. It's a world where you need a glossary for a lot of folks to actually understand what it is you've done. But it really is in keeping with what iHeart's plan has been all along, which is mass-reach media. Our stated goal is to be the companion, the friend, for every single person in this country, to keep them connected, feeling a part of their local communities and part of a larger collective as well. To do that, we need to be wherever the consumer is, wherever and however they want to listen; we have to be there for them. That's our mission. 

There's a sense of style, connection, entertainment, and music that we bring over the radio that makes sense to be there. This was a natural choice for us. It was a virtual world where we could build an entertainment venue. The artists include everybody from Charlie Puth to people who produce local podcasts. We built these spaces, this “iHeartLand,” which would remind people very much of going to a music festival, only doing it in a virtual world and have made those virtual experiences feel very connected to the universe that we built them in. 

Keeping with your goal of connecting people, how do you measure the engagement and connection people form in such online events?

Well, while it’s safe to say that the physical and the virtual world vastly differ, there are still some rules that apply to both—like how many people attended the event, how long did they stay, and what was the engagement like. We have put in place some fun things like digital objects, activities, and mini games for people to participate in, which is one way to assess engagement and interest. Additionally, we conduct research on the logistics of the audience and their attendance, and then secondary research to gather thoughts on what people are interested in and how they thought the event was. This feedback then helps us shape experiences for our audience and create a compelling dynamic for them. 

Can you share things that surprised you with the launch of iHeartLand and any takeaway lessons you learned along the way that other companies can learn from? 

Something that surprised us was the number of adults that fell outside of the demographics we would normally associate with virtual communities like Roblox or Fortnite. As I mentioned, we wanted to create a multi-generational presence on our platform and so we took an innovative approach on how to promote our events in a way that would bridge the gap between adults and children. For example, we would promote a certain concert on the radio, which is taking place in Fortnite, which parents would go ask their children about and attend together. Or even vice versa—children would inform their parents about events, and our research shows that families would attend together, which was our goal.  

As for takeaway lessons, while iHeartMedia is a unique company, I’d say that a takeaway lesson is that innovation and new environments are things that need to be experimented with. 

More importantly, as a company, you need to hold true to your core value propositions along the way. 


With your focus on data, how do you think about data monetization more broadly?

I don't think about the concept of data monetization. I think about the best ways to package up my audiences for advertisers, and I use data to create those audience packages. We don't sell data as a starting point. When we do share data with third parties, we do it under our terms of service, and people can opt in and opt out. We do it essentially for ad effectiveness in attribution, not for reuse and retargeting campaigns somewhere. I think what data tells us is a tremendous amount about the consumer, about their interests. 

There is still some skepticism around the metaverse. What is your perspective as it relates to the skeptics that are out there? 

Personally, I am not skeptical about the metaverse at all. If anything, I think the idea of “virtual worlds” has been around for a while, more from a science fiction perspective. This goes on to show that people do want an outside experience. People want to separate themselves from reality in a fun and entertaining way where they can choose to be whoever they want. 

People sometimes confuse crypto and the metaverse, and while they may be related, they are not the same thing. However, given that people want to be more experiential and connected in virtual worlds, they will continue to grow. The question up in the air is what will power these worlds: crypto, NFTs, blockchain, or something else.  

Brian, a question that we like to ask all of our guests is: what does being digital mean to you?

That's a great question. I think being digital is an extension of who we are, of being. I have a digital life, and I have a life that's not digital. So quiet moments, sitting downstairs in my kitchen, having lunch with my wife because I happen to be working from home today—that's not a digital experience. Now, here we are. You’re in Chicago, I'm in Vermont, and it's still very intimate. We're having a conversation that's face-to-face and then I also have a digital profile, right? You can go to LinkedIn and you can learn a little bit about me. I have Facebook, I have Instagram.

I do think that your digital persona and your real-life persona, while they are related to each other, I don't know that they're the same thing. I think it's an extension of our personalities, but it's not definitive.

This is Digital

West Monroe's team of experts and guests pull back the curtain on how to build digital throughout an organization. Through real-world examples, you will learn how to spot digital transformation in real life, and how to make small decisions every day that make a big impact on growth.

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