iHeartMedia CEO on Coronavirus: "In Times of Need," People "Are Hanging Out With Us More"

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iHeartMedia chairman and CEO Bob Pittman

As consumers "run out of time for their eyes," podcasting is also a growth area, Bob Pittman also says.

Radio and audio entertainment powerhouse iHeartMedia hasn't seen any negative coronavirus impact and may actually see listeners feeling a closer connection with the company's services due to the virus, chairman and CEO Bob Pittman said Tuesday.

He, along with president, COO and CFO Rich Bressler, spoke at Deutsche Bank’s 28th Annual Media, Internet & Telecom Conference, which was set to take place in Palm Beach, Fla., but was changed to a virtual event amid coronavirus fears.

"We haven’t seen an impact yet," Pittman said when asked about the virus, highlighting that iHeartMedia is only active in the U.S. and therefore has no exposure to international markets where there has been "much more of an impact." He added that the company was watching the situation "very closely," though. Addressing any potential fallout for iHeartRadio, the CEO said: "We are a business that is about companionship, so in times of need like this, [people] are hanging out with us more, and they are looking to us for information. We are not in the business of providing entertainment programs. We are in the business of providing companionship. We keep people company." 

The iHeartMedia executives were also asked about the company's push into podcasting. "We think about it as an extension of radio. It is another form of companionship," Pittman said. "The consumers run out of time for their eyes; [it is] hard to add more video," but podcasts and other audio can be consumed while cooking, driving, working around the house and the like. He added that the company sees podcasting as another audio platform like AM radio, FM radio and digital.

Pittman argued that iHeartMedia's "distinct advantage" amid the podcasting boom, which has led to the creation of around 1 million podcasts in the U.S., is that it can promote its podcasts via unsold advertising inventory on its radio stations. And he highlighted that ad rates for podcasts are more like online video than radio. Bressler added that unlike for other companies, "podcasting is profitable for us."

John Malone’s Liberty Media, via audio entertainment giant SiriusXM, owns a 4.8 percent stake in iHeartMedia.