Charging Subscriptions for Website and Streaming Content

You and your team work hard to generate great content for your radio station website.  You have listeners coming back day after day and you have the stats to show it.  You may think to yourself, “Why don’t we lock down some or all of this content and charge a subscription for access to it?”

When a website blocks access to its content and asks you to get a paid subscription, that’s called a paywall. Many online news publishers use paywalls including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Entrepreneur.com.

Website Content Subscriptions

While it is possible to make money by charging visitors to access the content on your website, the bad news is that it’s very difficult.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is anyone else providing the same, or similar, content? Are they charging for it? No one is going to pay you for something they can get free elsewhere.
  • Are you already giving your content away? Charging for content you once provided for free is a great way to drive away fans.
  • How many current and potential visitors would pay for your content? Whatever number you think it is, it’s probably less.
  • How much will these visitors pay for your content? Whatever you think the number is, it’s probably less.
  • Is it likely that a current or future competitor could provide the same content for free?

You must provide something truly extraordinary that no one else is providing now or likely to provide in the future. Even then, you may have to set your price point low to keep your visitors interested.

Then, the content you’re offering must be premium.  By its very nature, “premium” means the information is better and more valuable and compelling than other content available.

Regular town news is not compelling content that people will be clamoring to pay for.  If so, your local newspaper would still be thriving with its online subscription business.  Some newspapers are doing good at this and that’s great, but the chances are more likely that your local town paper isn’t doing well with it.

So, your radio station would need some content that isn’t being served anywhere else, is premium in nature, consistently fresh, and compelling to a percentage of people that would make the effort profitable (at a low-cost point).  See, I told you it would be difficult.

Subscriptions for Streaming

To combat streaming providers like Pandora, Spotify, and others, some radio stations are looking to charge their listeners for audio streams that contain little or no commercials.  There are some though that aim to charge listeners to hear their stream even with commercials.

Ask yourself the same questions as before:

  • Is anyone else providing the same, or similar, content? Are they charging for it?
  • Are you already giving your content away? Charging for content that you once provided for free is a great way to drive away fans.
  • How many current and potential visitors would pay for your content? Whatever number you think it is, it’s probably less.
  • How much will these listeners pay for your content? Whatever you think the number is, it’s probably less.
  • Is it likely that a current or future competitor could provide the same content for free?

Charging for a station stream is likely going to be more difficult than locking down website content.  Most people will not mind the occasional commercial stop set.  That’s what we tell our advertisers, right?  So, be prepared for advertisers to come at you with serious questions of their own if you’re going to offer listeners a commercial-free option.

Then, you’re going to need to offer subscribers something they cannot get on the over-the-air station to make the subscription more appealing.  What is this additional content they cannot get anywhere else?

Online Content that Could Subscription-Based

Here are a few ideas of content that might be subscription-based for your radio station.

  • Podcasts: If you have a popular local show that has lots of engagement then a commercial-free version with more of the same content might be possible. Your local show may do more bits, more contests, and more outlandish stuff for the premium subscribers than the regular over-the-air listeners would receive.  Plus, access to previous shows, and other subscriber-only bonuses.
  • Sports: You may already broadcast local games over the air and run commercials throughout. A premium online subscription may include access to previously aired games that are commercial-free, additional locker-room interviews, commercial-free live broadcasts, and the ability to chat live with the broadcasters.
  • Pay-Per-View/Listen: If you have a high-profile sporting event or concert that you are organizing, consider adding a pay-per-view/listen component. This is where subscribers pay for access to listen to or watch the event when they cannot attend.
  • Seasonal Events: If you have recreational seasons in your area, this could be an opportunity for you to create valuable content for that. For example, here in the south, we have several hunting seasons throughout the year.  Premium subscription content could be created for each season or all seasons for a higher fee.  The subscription might provide access to online articles as well as interviews and insight to make the season more beneficial to the subscriber.  com has a similar subscription service in place with their video content: https://app.myoutdoortv.com/viewplans.

Wrapping Up

There are possibilities out there for your station to generate additional revenue from subscription-based content.  But do some serious homework first.  Ask serious questions to determine if the possible income will outweigh the necessary resources involved.

Weigh how many subscribers you could have if the content was free, but you inserted banner ads and commercials versus how many subscribers you would have by leaving the paid content out and charging a subscription fee.

It seems that everyone has learned from radio by giving the content away and then adding sponsored content to it.  And now that other spaces are doing, we are wanting to change.  Let’s not be the next ones to follow the newspaper.

Unless you have a particular niche or super-premium content that warrants a subscription, then the traditional way of inserting commercials might generate more revenue for your station and be easier on your visitors and followers.  Perhaps, you can find a way to do both in some capacity.

We do not offer the option for subscriptions on our Skyrocket Radio websites, but the subscription-based podcasts and other premium content is especially interesting to us.  There are several services out there that you can use to embed all kinds of subscription-based premium content that doesn’t reside on your website at all.

If you need help with your radio station website, we’re here to help.  Reach out to us.

Jim Sherwood serves as the chief creative, brand strategist, lead developer, meticulous project manager, and station collaborator for all Skyrocket Radio sites and projects. Jim is a 30-year radio veteran with a resume spanning several small, medium, and large markets including roles as Digital Content Director, Program Director, Production Manager, and Morning Show Host.