Howard Stern, Digital Media Pioneer

Adam Carolla may be able to attract 400,000 podcast downloads and not make money, but Howard Stern can.

Sirius Satellite Radio listeners who have to lumber through the negotiating period running up to every Stern contract expiration are used to the game.

Talk that Stern will not be back.

That he’ll return to terrestrial radio (not likely).

Just do three days a week at Sirius for the same money and on and on.

Howard Stern is one figure who could make it in digital app-dom if he wanted to do it.

But stop!

I have not lost my mind. I’m betting he will be back with Sirius and a deal will be cut and all will be fine. However…

What makes Howard Stern an ideal candidate to marshal his audience and direct them to the digital space is his ability to create unique, compelling and addictive programming unlike other talkers of his ilk.

Stern is too smart to do a radio show online. At least I hope he is.

Stern understands that the best way for him to make the switch is to offer his bits in separate units that can be accessed as needed or wanted on mobile devices. He was born to be on iPads and there will be over 20 million more of them sold by the end of 2011.

Wise enough to smell money from event marketing, merchandising and other non-traditional ways.

Don’t rule out subscriptions. As you know I’m betting that pay is an alternative to free going forward for compelling content. Stern could get paid subscribers for a reasonable rate. If the NFL can get over $400 for its online football package – and it does – Stern can get a dollar or two a month from his loyal fans.

Self-promotion? Who is better?

If he thought he was free to speak and act on Sirius, imagine what the Internet would mean? There could be archives where his entire career of bits can be broken down into segments that can be accessed on-demand.

What’s more, Stern is likely to be the beneficiary of viral marketing. That is, how easy would it be for a happy Stern fan to give a seven-day trial to a friend (over 21) and get them hooked?

Stern may come away with a way to do his Sirius show for a while longer, but he would be wise to get the rights to what he does, chop his past programs up and then do separate material made for mobile listening for his paid subscribers.

Do the math, 400,000 listeners times $1 a month is $400,000. Or almost $5 million from that alone for a year not counting events, merch and so on. But I think he could get more than $1 a month. He could also do commercials, but I am not a big believer in radio commercials as a revenue tool for the digital world.

Howard Stern would also have to make everything he does from now on a video podcast – let the consumer choose whether to listen or watch.

And heavily employ social networking in everything he does and I'm not just talking about Twitter and Facebook.

I can see Stern on an iPad live once a day taking messages and texts from fans in real time and collecting valuable contact information. Then making the content available always and forever to paid subscribers.

This concept will work for anyone.

Just find your market and decide whether you will do free or paid.

If the content is unique, compelling and addictive, then you can consider charging a price that the market can bear.

Digital content delivered as a list of choices not a “show” can work for small audiences or large ones. Coin collectors could appreciate an expert on that topic with all the elements we’ve just described as available to Howard Stern.

Music is problematic until royalty issues can be revisited – that may be a long time. Imagine what you can deliver to people anxious for music discovery. In fact, the labels could be in that business. But they don't have a clue about the digital future. They just keep replacing execs who are just as out of touch as the ones exiting.

Howard Stern is big enough, bad enough and smart enough to pioneer one more thing before he hangs up his headset – paid on-demand digital marketing done right for his legion of fans to support.

This is the new broadcasting that will partner with terrestrial radio. Smart media execs will pursue it.

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