iHeartRadio 5.0: new app, focus on personalization

Clear Channel updated its iHeartRadio app, overhauling the design with a more compact and usable presentation, while adding a level of instant personalization for new users.

iHeart For You 225wOne new feature makes an appearance in iHeartRadio 5.0: “For You,” a panel of listening recommendations based on past history (for existing users), and music-genre preferences which are solicited from new users who register in the new app. We tested the upgrade in its Android version, which was released slightly before the iOS version for Apple devices.

For You presents a mix of broadcast stations, artist-based stations, and Internet-only programs hosted by iHeart. That blend of sources is a powerful differentiator for iHeart. Pandora, TuneIn, and iTunes Radio each offers one or two of those sources, but not all three.

We logged into the app with an account which has a long usage history, and found the For You section to be useful, if a bit perplexing. We didn’t know why radio stations from Pittsburgh, Dallas-Fort Worth, Seattle, and Washington D.C., each in a different programming category, appeared. But in a testing account, it is possible that the algorithm picked up long-forgotten past usage.

Darren Davis text promo 225wOne reason for our trusting attidue is general excellent experience with iHeart’s recommendations. Brian Lakamp, head of digital for Clear Channel and product owner of iHeartRadio, told RAIN that the app’s music intelligence has become sophisticated. “As our users have grown, and as our own data science has evolved, along with data from our research team, and other third-party data — we have a robust and extensive model. It’s all highly proprietary. We’re proud of the sophisticated alogorithm that we bring to bear.”

We tried the Improve Recommendation button (located at the bottom of the For You panel). Doing so enables existing users to contribute preferences, as new users are prompted to do straight off. We chose four genres, and the For You screen immediately refreshed, much improved. It suddenly became an excellent, reasonably customized starting point for lean-back listening. (That pesky Seattle station remained, holding on for dear life against every relevancy indicator we could figure out.)

iHeart new menu 225wLong-time users will appreciate the tightened, more intelligent design choices in the new app. The navigation menu packages all choices without swiping. Icons are smaller, enabling greater selection at a glance. Some structural quirk remain: Why are our saved comedy channels stashed under Music?

iHeartRadio 5.0 is seems to have a dual targeting strategy: attracting new users, and improving the experience for existing audience. It’s a big audience: 345-million app downloads and 50-million registered users. In Edison Research’s The Infinite Dial 2014 research study, iHeart enjoyed the second-most recognized status in the Internet radio category, after Pandora.

In a recent report, Clear Channel president Bot Pittman was quoted saying that iHeart’s annual revenue was “hundreds of millions.” Brian Lakamp characterized iHeart as “Clear Channel’s national consumer brand,” in a phone call with RAIN.

Brad Hill