With 23 million weekly listeners, digital radio platform Jelli partners with Entercom to supercharge distribution

By Erin Griffith , written on February 28, 2013

From The News Desk

Online radio has a handful of issues that will take awhile to get sorted out. (Among them monetization, bandwidth, and scale -- see previously for more of a discussion.) Until that happens, radio startup Jelli Networks is working within the terrestrial radio network to build a large on-demand streaming service.

Jelli's radio streaming service is cleverly delivered via a server it has installed in local radio stations' broadcast towers. It broadcasts music on new radio stations and programming is determined by user voting. It requires no DJ, infrastructure, ad sales team or royalty issues. Similar to Aereo's TV broadcasting chips, it's a bizarre loophole that allows a new digital business to grow within the esoteric confines of old media infrastructure.

It has worked. A whopping 23.5 million unique listeners tune into Jelli stations weekly. This shows huge growth over the company's 650,000 listeners last May. Perhaps more importantly, the platform is serving a yearly run rate of 1.7 billion radio ad impressions. This shows that programmatic buying done in an old-school radio format is much easier to scale the very difficult task Pandora is undertaking. Pandora, which has more listeners than it has ads to serve them, has hired armies of traditional radio sales execs to educate old school radio ad buyers on their new digital platform. It is, and will continue to be, an uphill slog.

For its part, Jelli raised $9 million last year to expand its network (just after launching its realtime ad platform to monetize that network. Today, the company hit a large growth milestone with its partnership with Entercom. With it, Jelli is available in 175 radio stations in 50 markets.

CEO Mike Dougherty says the company is positioning itself to become the "OpenTable for radio spots." The only other company that is tackling the small but fast-growing digital audio advertising market is a New York startup called TargetSpot. But, and pardon the metaphors, TargetSpot is more of a Google Adwords for audio ads -- the company partners with inventory owners and serves as an advertising marketplace for buyers and sellers to connect rather than own the inventory in the way that Jelli (or Pandora, or Spotify) does.

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