There’s been a lot of debate about the impact Artificial Intelligence will have in the music industry in areas like songwriting and production, record deals and the sync business.
Some prominent voices have argued that AI is nothing for the music business to be scared of – and that it should be embraced.
This might seem a rather unconvincing point of view today if you’re a radio DJ employed by US broadcast giant iHeartMedia.
Or, more accurately, a radio DJ who used to be employed by iHeartMedia, after roles held by dozens of jocks were “dislocated” (iHeart’s word, not ours) by the company this week – due to a major restructure that “takes advantage of the significant investments [we have] made in technology and Artificial Intelligence”.
According to All Access, these AI-led changes have come at a cost for human staff at iHeart, with no less than 57 named employees – mainly on-air talent – now left looking for new work in the first month of 2020.
These 57 DJs/execs carry decades of experience working on a range of genres in US radio, covering specialisms such as Rock, ‘Urban’, Country, Top 40, Hits and other categories. (Update: According to one source quoted in this Rolling Stone piece, total cuts at iHeart as a result of the restructure may number as high as 850.)
In a statement regarding these “dislocated” DJs, iHeart said: “We are modernizing our company to take advantage of the significant investments we have made in new technology and aligning our operating structure to match the technology-powered businesses we are now in.”
“we recognize that the loss of any job is significant; we take that responsibility seriously and have been thoughtful in the process.”
The firm added: “During a transition like this it’s reasonable to expect that there will be some shifts in jobs – some by location and some by function – but the number is relatively small given our overall employee base of 12,500.
“That said, we recognize that the loss of any job is significant; we take that responsibility seriously and have been thoughtful in the process.”
According to All Access, a memo sent to iHeart employees by CEO & Chairman Bob Pittman (pictured) plus Rich Bressler (President, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer) stated that the staff cuts were the “unfortunate price we pay to modernize the company”.
The memo added: “We have had to make some tough decisions, and in the process some employees have been affected. Please know we were thoughtful in this process and have provided enhanced severance benefits as well as outplacement assistance for any impacted employees, and we want to thank them for the valuable contributions they have made.”
It’s no coincidence that news of the iHeart layoffs arrives just as the firm publicly announces an AI-focused restructuring.
In a press release issued yesterday (January 14) iHeart confirmed a new structure for its Markets Group that it said would “modernize the company to take advantage of the significant investments [we have] made in technology and artificial intelligence (AI) and [our] unique scale and leadership position in the audio marketplace”.
The PR added: “The new structure will enable the company to maximize the performance of each of its markets – and the company overall — with its unique scale and multiple platforms; leadership in audio; and its expertise in consumers, monetization and data, and enhance iHeartMedia’s position as the number one audio company in America, continue its successful transformation as a technology- and data-powered 21st century media company, and accelerate the development of new platforms and services.”
Part of this restructure, said iHeart, would see the launch of new ‘AI-enabled Centers of Excellence’ which “consolidate functional areas of expertise in specific locations to deliver the highest quality products and services – for every market”.
More broadly, iHeart is now grouping its markets into three divisions: The Region Division, The Metro Division and The Community Division.
It says it’s doing so “to make sharing of resources and experiences easier and more targeted”.
The company is also creating a further division, the Multi-Market Partnerships (MMP) Division, headed by Julie Donohue, who is elevated to President of MMP with responsibility for this business.
According to iHeart, its ‘Centers of Excellence’ are the result of “great strides the company has made in improving its technology backbone” and the “hundreds of millions of dollars in investment” it has funnelled towards building out its core infrastructure, in addition to its acquisitions of the likes of Jelli, RadioJar and Stuff Media.
“We are now using our considerable investments in technology to modernize our operations and infrastructure, further setting us apart from traditional media companies.”
Bob Pittman, iHeartMedia (pictured)
The Markets Group will continue to be led by Greg Ashlock, President of the iHeartMedia Markets Group.
Bob Pittman, Chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia stated: “iHeart is the rare example of a major traditional media company that has made the successful transformation into a 21st century media company – one with unparalleled scale, reaching 91% of Americans each month with our broadcast assets alone, more than any other media company.
“We are now using our considerable investments in technology to modernize our operations and infrastructure, further setting us apart from traditional media companies; improving our services to our consumers and advertising partners; and enhancing the work environment for our employees.”
This last time last year, iHeart reported that it was on the road to recovery following its financial troubles in 2018.
With a quarter of a billion monthly listeners in the US, iHeartMedia claims to have a greater reach than any other media company in the market.
The firm runs over 850 live broadcast stations, while its iHeartRadio digital service is available across more than 250 platforms and 2,000 devices.Music Business Worldwide