On the heels of organizing a two-day concert in Las Vegas that kicked off Clear Channel's iHeart Radio online radio service, media veteran Bob Pittman was named Sunday as chief executive of its parent company, CC Media Holdings Inc.
Pittman, 57, is an expert at boosting brands. He is the former CEO of MTV Networks and was COO of America Online Inc. before its ill-fated merger with Time Warner Inc.
He joined the company last November with a $5 million investment and the job of chairman of media and entertainment platforms. He is betting the company can turn itself around, although ad agencies expect radio advertising to grow less quickly over the next few years than Internet ad spending.
Pittman says radio's often-untapped power was demonstrated a week ago, when Clear Channel's network of stations and billboards helped sell out a 12,500-capacity arena with top acts like Jay-Z, Lady Gaga and Sting. The end of September is not usually a time for big arena shows especially for tickets that cost $45 and up.
"I think it was a game changer, and that's what every marketer looks for," Pittman said in an interview. "The proof is in the pudding. We used it ourselves."
Pittman is the first Clear Channel head who is not a member of the founding Mays family. The privately held media empire began in 1972 when investment banker L. Lowry Mays bought his first radio station in San Antonio, Texas. His son Mark Mays stepped down as CEO in March.
Clear Channel, based in San Antonio, now owns 850 stations nationwide.
The company is struggling under the huge load of about $20 billion in debt -- amassed when it was taken private in 2008 by funds Thomas H. Lee Partners and Bain Capital. In the quarter through June, company cut its net loss by more than 90 percent to $13.3 million on $1.6 billion in revenue, but the company continues to pay more in interest than it makes through operations.
Pittman acknowledged that turning around the company will take a lot more than just creating a rival to Pandora's customized online radio service, which is struggling to increase online ad revenue and turn a profit itself.
He said the main opportunity is using Clear Channel's stations, which hit 237 million listeners every month, to sell nationwide ads as most of its ads are now booked in local spots.
He speaks about the network's reach in the same breath as social media giant Facebook and search leader Google Inc.
"There's a whole new player out there for national (ads). It's called Clear Channel," he said.