(By Editor-in-Chief Ed Ryan) This story appeared in the December 18 issue of Radio Ink Magazine. Skyview Networks was launched by Ken Thiele and Dave Chamberlain during the 1995-1996 NBA season. Working in conjunction with longtime Phoenix Suns broadcaster Al McCoy, the goal was to get the games broadcast to markets outside Phoenix. They’ve come a long way since that idea was launched over 20 years ago.
McCoy was distributing the games via phone coupler and wanted someone to help him with satellite distribution. Thiele and Chamberlain had just sold their traffic company to Metro Networks. They didn’t know much about satellite delivery, but set out to learn everything they could to address McCoy’s needs. Sixty days later, they were delivering a Suns game via satellite uplink.
The company was small, just a handful of employees early on, including Jeanne-Marie Condo, who was hired on to lead the sales effort as the company expanded more and more into the world of delivering national sports franchises via satellite. Today, Skyview Networks is one of the largest distribution and inventory management providers in North America, with a national sales effort that is second to none, 90 employees, and corporate offices in Scottsdale, AZ. The company also has offices in New York, Louisville, Miami, Atlanta, and Los Angeles.
Radio Ink: Ken, How did you get started in the business?
Thiele: In September of 1985, my late business partner, Dave Chamberlain, and I got a small-business loan for $250,000 to buy a helicopter and broadcast equipment. We were an upstart traffic service providing six Phoenix radio stations with traffic reports, funded by barter. Advertisers received a 10-second commercial on the end of the traffic report. We built that to 28 stations in Phoenix by year two and then expanded into Tucson, Las Vegas, Nashville, Louisville, Memphis, and more.
In 1995, we were acquired by David Saperstein at Metro Networks. In the acquisition, Metro was not interested in our satellite uplink, which we were using to distribute the Phoenix Suns. Al McCoy had given us a call in 1995 and explained that he was distributing the Phoenix Suns via phone coupler. He wanted to know if we had technology that could do better. We are problem solvers; this is who we are at our core. If we don’t have the answer today, we will have the solution for you tomorrow.
So when Al asked, we hopped on a flight to Washington, DC for a satellite conference, determined to find a solution. We found a vendor, and when we told him we needed an uplink in October, he asked us, “For what year?” Sixty days later, we had the uplink in place and were able to broadcast our first Phoenix Suns game that year. Then Al talked to Chick Hearn over at the Lakers, and then the Lakers talked to Ken Pries up in Oakland with the A’s, and it was word-of-mouth growth from there.
Our clients have always been our best marketing, and today, domestically, Skyview is the largest provider of distribution and inventory management in professional sports, and we partner with two of the biggest names in news, ABC Radio and CBS News Radio.
Radio Ink: Jeanne-Marie, same question.
Condo: I’ve really had two jobs in the last almost 30 years. The first was at KTAR, which is the News/Talk/Sports giant in Phoenix. I cut my teeth there in sales. I worked there for 10 years, and by the fifth year I had the honor and privilege to be named sports marketing director.
This was at a time when pivotal sports franchise changes were occurring in Phoenix. Jerry Colangelo was bringing in the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Phoenix Coyotes (now the Arizona Coyotes). It was the same time Michael Bidwell was bringing over the Phoenix Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals). It was at this time I had the opportunity to work with them, specializing in sports sales at KTAR.
In my 10th year, Ken and his business partner approached me with the Skyview venture. Their initial concept for the Skyview business model was to provide technology services to the teams, such as network distribution of their broadcasts, in exchange for inventory. From there, my job beginning day one was to take charge of all revenue for the company, selling that inventory.
It started out small, with just three teams; it grew from the Suns to the Rockets to the Lakers. Believe it or not, we started with only outline network inventory — we didn’t even have flagship metro market inventory. We were very focused, walking strategically and creatively through every step. Over the years our efforts have paid off, magnifying into many, many, more teams.
Radio Ink: Ken, how did the company start to grow, and how did you hire Jeanne-Marie?
Thiele: When we decided to leave Metro Networks, we needed a sports seller. Our good friend Jim Taszarek said we had to approach Jeanne-Marie Condo. I still remember the meeting we had with Jeanne-Marie. She was gainfully employed and doing very well. I asked what it was going to take to bring her on board, and this is probably the biggest frustration in her life: She gave me a large six-figure number and I said, “Done!” I didn’t give her the challenge of a negotiation — I knew she would be the one to command our sales.
Now we are going on 23 years together in business, and we have never looked back. It has been a very strong relationship we have built together through trials and successes that have occurred.
Radio Ink: Did you think when you first launched this would become as big as it has?
Thiele: If we had known back then where we would be today, there would’ve been a lot of course and direction changes over the last 32 years, but what is and will always be the same is our mission to be a good partner, which stems from being a good listener.
We really took off when Colangelo was awarded the Arizona Diamondbacks franchise and his staff of people invited us in to develop a tailored inventory-management system for Major League Baseball. Before our software, sports teams only used Excel spreadsheets to manage their millions of dollars’ worth of broadcast inventory. Our advantage was being able to recognize the opportunity and leverage our team of software developers. Our technology group was able to create and code an inventory-management application that would help Colangelo to maximize and monetize his play-by-play broadcasts.
Think of all the pitching changes, extra innings, rain delays, and other spontaneous moments that occur in a live game. It’s nothing like linear radio or TV. We had to build a system that could take advantage of those unexpected game parts so they could be packaged, sold, and billed by the franchise to maximize their revenue.
This software is called AdView and can be scaled to run one broadcast, or work for a client like Learfield, across nearly 80 university athletic broadcasts, out of one consolidated system. All those broadcasts run through our software platform and are all scheduled out of Jefferson City, MO, which is responsible for the management of hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue.
Radio Ink: Tell us exactly what you mean by “run through your software.”
Thiele: Learfield Sports owns the sports radio rights to a number of universities across the country, and each of those universities, for example, has a men’s football broadcast. With AdView, they can sell to a national advertiser like Allstate a commercial message right after every touchdown, in each game played that week by the nearly 80 universities.
AdView provides the ability to schedule this fixed position in the broadcast for all the schools, so when that event should occur, that specific message will be aired. It can even drill down to schedule individual messaging school by school, meaning one advertiser can air nearly 80 unique versions of its messaging in that same 30-second spot. Our software provides our partners the ability to manage a tremendous amount of inventory with very little effort, and the added benefit of being able to customize and maximize inventory for the advertiser.
Radio Ink: Jeanne-Marie, how big has the sports department of the company become?
Condo: It is a national network now. Touching on an earlier comment Ken made, I truly believe the foundation of Skyview, and the catalyst for our tremendous growth, is listening very carefully to our clients. Ken has been on the road constantly over the last 22 years presenting technical solutions to the sports teams, and I’ve been on the road every week for the last 22 years presenting network inventory opportunities, both of us listening to the clients, dissecting their needs.
The sports franchises share their pain points on the broadcast side with Ken, while I listen to all the agencies to get a grass-roots understanding of what kind of inventory is beneficial to them.
At the end of the process, we regroup to produce custom solutions tailored for our respective clients. Over the course of the years we grew to have a relationship with every single team in America; every baseball, basketball, football, and hockey franchise works with Skyview. On a network basis, we were then able to deliver the entire league in an unwired network, which became very precious because the only competitor was a game of the week, which was blacked out in its home market.
In general terms, nationally, it is very different when you can take a network unit through the actual professional broadcast. We serve the professional teams, and we move their inventory. Our infrastructure kept building every year to this dynamic level, resulting in Skyview’s being able to have a different conversation with advertisers; automotive aftermarket, big box retailers, all different kinds of clients could now tap into the passion of our sports audience, the hometown fan.
If you can imagine a network where the Dodger fan is connected to the Cub fan, to the St. Louis Cardinal fan, to the Tampa Bay Ray fan; all the way through, it resonated and grew strong. Then we noticed a shift, back in ’13 and ’14. By being on the street as much as I was with my sales team, and being in so many client offices, we could hear what we were missing: the female skew. Buys were shifting to a female demographic. We won the ABC business in ’14, and knew we could design a sales network exactly in a way that was attractive to the buyers. Ken’s side had the huge infrastructure to know exactly how to lift it up technically.
Radio Ink: So the reason you were losing business was because you didn’t have enough female audience. How did the partnership with ABC Radio help?
Condo: Someone in my job wants to win every single piece of business. No seller wants to hear they did not win a buy. However, the process allowed us to see pivotal changes in the industry. We have had double-digit growth consistently through the majority of the years. What was happening in ’13 and ’14 was you saw a shift in buyer strategy; industry-wide, you started to see a sweeping change of male audience dollars shifting towards female skew.
What happened quite brilliantly with ABC Radio was we moved all the news into one block of inventory and took all their FMs and all their music into a different lineup, which gave them new female-focused networks. ABC Radio did a really great job of acquiring the right audience, while helping us build customized branded solutions for advertisers. With ABC Radio added to our advertising offering, which already included sports, we now had a dynamic suite of products allowing us to reach male and female consumers. The strategy has created tremendous momentum that continues.
Thiele: People oftentimes know the big success you have, but there are events leading up to that big success. We started talking with Radio Disney about our services in 2013. After consulting with Radio Disney, we were later introduced to Kevin Plumb and the team over at ESPN. We started that year working with them to advise their transition to stand on their own from Cumulus, their distribution partner at the time, in which they were very successful.
It was January of 2014 when Kevin asked me to come to Las Vegas for CES, and he said, “I have someone I would like you to meet.” I went for the conversation and was introduced to Steve Jones of ABC News Radio. The relationship grew at a tremendous pace between January and August of 2014, when we signed the deal to be their exclusive distribution, sales, and inventory-management partner. That gave us five months to come up with an architecture and strategy to transition over 1,000 radio stations from their existing home at Westwood One to Skyview.
It is often said that this is one of the largest moves in the history of radio. The business has grown, with 1,650-plus affiliates that they serve in one form or fashion with news content or show prep. It was a huge lift for us. We were uniquely positioned as a one-stop shop, and this was why Steve Jones made the decision to align with Skyview. We are vertically integrated in the sense that we perform the distribution, manage the inventory, and provide what I consider the best national sales department, led by Jeanne-Marie. With services in one location, he was able to focus on what he does best, which is creating award-winning content.
It was one year from meeting Steve Jones to launching our partnership, New Year’s Eve 2015. We had a full staff in our operations department manning the phones, but we only took a total of three calls that night.
Radio Ink: You were sitting by the phone in case affiliates had problems?
Condo: Exactly. It was so quiet and went so extremely well that Steve picked up a Field & Stream magazine. It was an incredible moment to take in. Now you look at 2017, and in these three short years, our growth has been amazing.
Radio Ink: Talk about how the CBS deal came together.
Thiele: First thing that occurred before the CBS News Radio deal is we signed an extension with ABC Radio, taking us through 2026. Because of our strong relationships with ABC, we had transparent conversations with Steve Jones that we had an opportunity to partner with CBS News Radio. They were going through the same situation ABC Radio experienced years earlier. The parallels are uncanny.
After working closely with Charlie Pavlounis, senior vice president and CFO of CBS News, and his dedicated team, we are keenly prepared to transition the CBS affiliate network on New Year’s Eve 2017. We were able to do a very extensive rollout during the upfront season and have received tremendous feedback from the advertising community.
Condo: The marketplace is thrilled with the expanding branded opportunities with Skyview. There has been great demand for our news inventory and content opportunities; they have been running very hot, very sold-out. I think our team is doing a lot of things right. We are being careful about rate and respectful about cost per point and not increasing those dramatically with the demand. We have been taking care of those who have taken care of us.
The ingenuity inside the integrations — real, original content with ABC that clients have been able to tie into, especially with the TV platform — bring an exciting dynamic to our audio platform. As an example, Shark Tank’s success is driving the network to heavy, heavy sellouts. It’s very hard to get on the network now. So, because of that sellout, ABC Radio was understanding that we were in a position of needing to grow.
We worked with Craig Swagler, the general manager of CBS News Radio. He’s been by my side every minute of the design, and Charlie Pavlounis has overseen it. The two of them, along with Amy Bolton, manager of affiliate sales, together we have been designing and retooling the CBS News Radio platform into what we know the buyers want.
Again, listening carefully, and working hand-in-hand with CBS News Radio, we’ve designed brand opportunities, from their news to their female music-oriented lineups. We’re focused on short-form; CBS News Radio has a lot of catalogued content as well as long-form programming. ABC Radio has been very supportive in understanding that the growth means market share, ultimately allowing us to bring more to the table for the agencies, which in the end is a win for everyone.
Radio Ink: Tell us about your Hispanic division.
Condo: It’s going really well. I have to tip my hat to Ken; he is the one who found this incredible director who I now have by my side. Blanche Joesten is fantastic. She runs the Hispanic division. Skyview en Español is all play-by-play sports, primarily MLB, NBA, and NFL. It’s identical to Skyview’s English counterpart: it’s an unwired network connecting all the fans through the broadcast.
Blanche is our leader, and the platform has very promising strength. Through her leadership we have experienced growth in the division. She has been on board a year now, and it is moving very quickly in its prominence inside the company.
Radio Ink: You mentioned you are out listening to clients. Give us an example of something you heard that you created a solution for.
Condo: A pivotal conversation that occurs in the buyers’ offices is that they are really tired of the same ideas over and over again. There’s a perception that some sellers are just changing logos and the name of the idea pitched in the past, not presenting fresh, smart integrations.
For example, Dove Men’s is looking for ways they can tie into the business community in ways that would be interesting to the listener. So we pull Shark Tank tips and integrate those into a Dove Men’s campaign. We have the resources to draw from popular TV personalities and shows to provide meaningful integrations.
For American Express, which is attracting women opening businesses, we utilize Rebecca Jarvis, ABC News’ chief business, technology, and economics correspondent, and also host and managing editor of the No Limits podcast. We pull content from her interviews with very prestigious female business owners and blend it into an American Express campaign.
I have dozens of examples where we are able to pull in content: ABC World News Tonight anchor David Muir has a segment called “Made in America” that we draw content out of into an Advanced Auto Parts campaign. You are also getting the association of really premier talent.
Another example is Kabbage, a loan company. If you wanted to start a company tomorrow and needed capital, Kabbage wants you to think of them. We were able to get Laurie Greiner to come in and be an integral part of that campaign, from the commercials to the actual media integration.
We’ve also created some pretty dynamic programming on the holidays that we have been able to bring our clients. With Sherwin Williams, we have a celebrity campaign of “Color My World”: What are their favorite colors, and what triggers it for them in the world of color?
Radio Ink: When you are in front of advertisers, what is their perception of radio?
Condo: Radio is gaining momentum. Success comes from maximizing it as a vehicle — the schedules are running correctly, the integrations are dynamic, all of which gets clients excited. There have been dramatic, pivotal changes with big blue chip advertisers moving between agencies in 2017. These big blue chip accounts are at new agencies, and the move worked in radio’s favor because they were all listening. So you could bring ideas, and the new agencies want to try them. Those new ideas are working, and that generates excitement.
To clarify, I am hearing in this upfront season that there are cutbacks; budgets are being pulled back in a variety of clients in network radio. That’s a fact. How we respond will continue to separate us. We look forward to the challenge.
Radio Ink: Where do you want to take this company? What’s next?
Thiele: There’s still tremendous opportunity. We originally started out with Al McCoy and his 20 radio stations handling the Phoenix Suns, to where we are now nationally. The scale and capability we have in servicing our clients, plus the premier brand partnerships we have with ABC and CBS, with professional and collegiate sports, lends itself to so many opportunities to expand.
With technology, we have a clear road map as to where this is going to take us. We have some opportunities in the short term that we will evaluate as a team and ultimately see if it makes sense to bring them on board. If you take a look at the customers we service, they really are the who’s who inside the broadcast community, and we are not going to stray from that strategy.
We want to be known as a company that does an excellent job servicing premium brands inside the industry. If it meets all those criteria, then it’s a green light for us to enter into a partnership.
Condo: ABC and CBS are all in, and they are working very hard to create additional avenues of potential network design, very actively driving what tomorrow looks like. We’re experiencing tremendous growth, and there is a lot of opportunity knocking on the door right now. We’re going through each situation, methodically analyzing what it means for 2018 and beyond. We’re on pace to do an incredible job with all of our brands and lift them to the highest levels. Everything is firing on all cylinders, and we need to keep that momentum going forward.
Radio Ink: What do you want the radio industry to know about Skyview it may not know?
Condo: That we care about the industry. We care about its integrity and growth. We are all in on making this an incredible industry and getting it into a positive future. There has been a lot of negative press about some tough financial situations in the industry. We have zero debt. We are 100 percent stable. We are actively contributing to the industry’s healthy direction. We are here to make this a positive experience, from the network side to the client side.
Thiele: We are in an exciting time in radio. Skyview has a real passion for radio in general. We see it and believe if it is done correctly, in good alignment with your target audience, it’s one of the most effective vehicles for advertisers. No question about that. We love the idea of what we are going to see from Entercom CEO David Field and the merger with CBS Radio. Listening to David and his enthusiasm for radio, I see this as a time of revitalization of radio. It has been long overdue, and we hope to be a significant player in making that a success.
And a word from Steve Jones…
I first met Skyview President Ken Thiele at CES in January 2014. Soon Ken, EVP/GM Jeanne-Marie Condo, and I were working with our teams to relaunch the ABC Radio business. It was an enormous task, creating a distribution structure and developing a sales strategy that would bring the iconic ABC Radio brand back into the marketplace as a self-syndicator.
We launched with 1,000-plus affiliates on January 1, 2015, and today, with Skyview, we are providing news and entertainment programming to more than 1,650 stations. Our revenues have grown steadily, and this summer we extended our exclusive sales and distribution partnership to 2026.
I work very closely with Ken and Jeanne-Marie, and I can’t speak highly enough about their integrity and commitment to excellence. We work hard, but we also make a point of laughing often and having fun. Now we are poised for even greater growth as we’re actively assessing new programming for distribution. Recently, we welcomed our colleagues from the storied CBS News Radio brand, as they are following our model and separating from their current syndicator this January.
Skyview’s growth has been great for ABC and positive for the overall network radio business. Congratulations to the Skyview executive team of Ken, Jeanne-Marie, Diana Chamberlain, Dave Dickson, and the entire Skyview staff on your extraordinary success!