Wednesday, July 05, 2000

Web service offers music with news


Everstream adds to newspaper sites

By M.R. Kropko
The Associated Press

        SOLON, Ohio — As newspapers expand their presence on the Internet, a new company is betting Web surfers will want rock, pop and jazz with their news, sports and business.

        Entrepreneur Stephen J. McHale and his partners founded Everstream in this Cleveland suburb last year with an initial investment of $1.3 million.

        The company is trying to get papers interested in marrying music with the printed word to keep visitors at their sites longer. So far, they've signed up about 150 papers in the United States and the Jerusalem Post overseas. The nonprofit Newspaper Association of America says more than 950 papers in North America have online services.

        “The basic idea is just to listen to music while you browse a newspaper's Web page” said Steve Meachem, an Everstream liaison to the company's clients. “It's really very basic.”

        The privately owned company, which has 40 employees and is based in a nondescript red brick office building, landed its first two affiliates last November. On May 10, the Knight Ridder newspaper group chose Everstream for its 36 Web sites.

        The service is free to the affiliates and their users. Everstream makes its money through revenue sharing when products and services are sold through ads on what becomes each Web site's own radio station.

        Mr. McHale, Everstream's 38-year-old chairman and chief executive officer, says the company chose to target newspaper Web sites because they get heavy traffic and have local sales forces.

        “There's a lot of opportunity in this advertising. A lot,” Mr. McHale said. “Our target is to be profitable next year. I think that's pretty reasonable.”

        Mr. McHale said Everstream makes itself attractive to clients by building each newspaper Web site's brand, rather than its own.

        Each affiliate gives a name to the online music service on its Web site — making the service seem unique. Go to the New York Times and you can find NEWYORKtoday Radio; at The (Toledo) Blade, it's Toledo Music Zone, and the Boston Herald on the Net has Boston Beat.

        Bernie Milan, product development manager for the Times' Web site, said the industry can't yet measure the effect of a serv ice like Everstream's.

        “It definitely increases our reach,” Mr. Milan said. “It's a way to connect with our users, since they can keep the radio part on even if they do something else on the Web.”

        At each site, more than 40 music formats are available, ranging from top hits to vintage jazz. Each format is put together at the Everstream studio.

        “If we do our job right, we become more of a partner to the publishers, especially as people become more accustomed to having what they want served up when they want it,” Mr. McHale said. “We refresh the content every day.”

        He said a Web site's own music “exactly targets the readership that's been on a decline, the 18-to-30 group.”

        Everstream allows for insertion of local advertising, as well as national ads it gets for its network of affiliates. The service also lets listeners buy online the CDs of the music being played.

        A couple of sites are testing local newscasts. They can send a digital sound file with an announcer highlighting the news displayed on the Web site, and Everstream will insert it into the audio feed. Or they can send a script to Everstream that can be turned to speech through a computer-generated voice.

        One of the first Everstream affiliates was Ohio.com, the Web home of the Akron Beacon Journal.

        “This becomes a part of Ohio.com, and it stays on even if you click off and go somewhere else,” said Mike Needs, Ohio.com's director. “I'd say it's got a small but growing audience, an intense audience. Once you get used to it, it sort of becomes a habit.”

        Everstream doesn't try to compete with Internet streaming audio providers, who offer music downloads or attract users through links from other sites. But even though its niche is narrow, there is competition.

        “It's hot now, and it's heating up,” said Chris Albano, president of Boston-based competitor Soundsbig, a provider of streaming audio for newspaper Web sites and other locations.

        In Boston, Soundsbig has landed on the Boston Globe's Web site, while Everstream has the Boston Herald.

        “Broadcast services (on the Internet) are just now starting to be recognized as being valuable,” Mr. Albano said. “We're going to be out there vying for listeners.”

       



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