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December 16, 2017

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iHeartRadio Music Festival: Not just another concert


Tom Donoghue/

Lady Gaga, shown here performing in March at MGM Grand Garden Arena, returns to Las Vegas this weekend for the two-day iHeartRadio Music Festival.

Organizers are calling the iHeartRadio Music Festival the largest live concert event in radio history. Tickets sold out in 10 minutes and are going for quadruple their original price on auction and broker websites. Thousands of people across the country have called radio stations in hopes of scoring free tickets.

Plenty of buzz is circulating about iHeartRadio’s two-night festival, being held at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday and Saturday. On the surface it might appear to be just another concert or festival. What is the event really about? Why should you care?

Here are some things to consider:

    • Jay-Z and Ciara
      Photo by Erik Kabik/ RETNA

      The lineup

      When it was announced this summer, organizers promised an unprecedented lineup from different genres, and they have delivered some big-name acts in pop, rock and country music.

      On Friday, Jay-Z, Coldplay, Alicia Keys, The Black Eyed Peas, Carrie Underwood, Bruno Mars, Kelly Clarkson and Jane’s Addiction will perform. Saturday brings to the stage Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler, Kenny Chesney, Nicki Minaj, Rascal Flatts, David Guetta and Sublime with Rome. Usher, Sting, Jeff Beck and DJ Pauly D are also scheduled to make special guest appearances.

      John Mayer was scheduled to appear but was forced to cancel after being diagnosed with granuloma, a serious throat condition. Nicole Scherzinger, of Pussycat Dolls and “Dancing With the Stars” fame, has been added to the lineup.

    • MGM Grand
      Photo by Justin M. Bowen

      The show

      In order to handle the loaded lineup, the arena will use a rotating stage equipped to handle two acts. So while one act performs, another will set up behind the scenes. This lazy-Susan setup should cut down on the time between sets. Tom Poleman, president of National Programming Platforms at Clear Channel, estimates the wait will be only five minutes.

    • The reach

      The arena will be packed with tens of thousands of people, however the potential audience for the iHeartRadio Music Festival is much, much larger.

      Across the country, iHeartRadio owners Clear Channel will air the festival live on one of their stations in each radio market. (In Las Vegas, that station is 93.1-FM, KPLV.) Meanwhile, those with an Xbox Live account will be able to stream live HD video through their gaming devices, and anybody with the Internet can watch the festival live at or 93.1’s website.

      The reason

      The iHeartRadio Music Festival is not about making money for owners Clear Channel, at least not in the short term. The festival is a promotion for the relaunch of iHeartRadio as a viable competitor against Pandora, the dominant online radio service.

      Pandora allows users to create personalized radio stations by starting with an artist or song they like and tailoring the station using ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ ratings of suggested songs. In its previous form, iHeartRadio only allowed the streaming of terrestrial stations. Now, with the revamping, iHeartRadio allows user-controlled stations in addition to streaming traditional stations. Poleman claims iHeartRadio offers 10 times the songs as Pandora, and he touts its social media tie-in features as superior.

      Currently, just 3 percent of radio listeners are listening online, but that number is large enough to get Clear Channel’s attention. “We know that number is growing,” Poleman says.

      Clear Channel’s public and costly focus on iHeartRadio is a bold step, meant to prevent what happened to Blockbuster after Netflix arrived on the scene (ie, bankruptcy) from happening to terrestrial radio station owners.

      “A lot of broadcasters are fearful of Internet radio,” Poleman says. “We have taken the opposite approach. We need to be everywhere the listeners are.”

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