Now Hear This

Dallas’ AudioNet is making broadcast news on the Internet.

EULESS IS LISTENING IN on Ethiopian talk radio, London is rooting for the Longhorns, and Paris, France, is two-stepping to country tunes from Paris, Texas. The instrument of all this aural globe-trotting? AudioNet, a Dallas company that puts dozens of live radio programs from around the world—talk shows, concerts, sporting events, and more—on the Internet. Less than a year old, AudioNet has a homepage ( http://www.audionet.com)* that can already handle more simultaneous users than any other audio site on the Net, but the company’s thirtysomething co-founders, Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner, want to be more than big. They want to be the first online broadcast moguls: the Ted Turners of cyberspace.

It’s a tall order considering that their first station, Dallas’ KLIF-AM, only went on the Net last September. But eight months later, AudioNet carries 25 broadcasts, including college rock from San Francisco’s KUSF-FM and sports talk from Chicago’s WMVP-AM. It also has a “jukebox” of more than a hundred CDs, mostly on independent labels. And it has considerable sports coverage: AudioNet airs Los Angeles Kings hockey games as well as the basketball and football games of forty powerhouse schools across the country, including the University of Kentucky, Notre Dame University, and Indiana University. Last January the company broadcast Super Bowl XXX—attracting 32,000 listeners—as well as the National Hockey League’s all-star game.

Such a litany of programming may bring to mind the recent talk of five hundred cable TV channels, but broadcasting on the Net is different. For one thing, while radio and television broadcasters have to pay for programming, AudioNet gets paid, through free ads, to carry a station’s signal. (In the case of the Super Bowl, the NFL approached AudioNet: The league wanted to put the game on the Net for the first time but didn’t have the technology or expertise, so AudioNet agreed to carry the feed for free, hoping to gain in exposure what it lost in expenses.) The company makes money by selling ads on its Web site and by airing Net-only events; in February Playboy shelled out more than $5,000 to air a live “Girls of the Internet” party. With no government regulation, no limit on the number of Net channels, and no charge for listening (all you need is software that’s downloadable for free through AudioNet’s site), Net-casting seems pretty promising. “We’re in a gold rush right now,” Wagner says. “The gold is sitting out on the rocks, and you can just scoop it up.”

Maybe, but all that’s gold doesn’t glitter. Sound quality on the Net can be dicey, especially when high traffic bogs down file transfers. Also, why would people listen to the Super Bowl on a computer when they can watch it on TV? Not surprisingly, Cuban and Wagner have an answer: Telecasts and cybercasts don’t necessarily compete with each other for audiences. “They are complementary,” Cuban says. “At the Super Bowl we broadcast the press-box feed. People watched on TV and had their computers plugged in to their stereos. They listened to both.”

* The URL http://www.audionet.com is no longer active (2005-12-06).

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