Clear Channel taps John Sykes

Exec, who helped create MTV, to new role as president

Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman said the giant radio company’s ambitious expansion into media and entertainment could include partnering on TV shows and it’s in talks with broadcast and cable networks about possible deals.

“Will we be looking to do TV stuff, can we do TV stuff? Absolutely,” Pittman told Variety “The issue in TV is that with lower ratings at all the networks, it’s hard to promote a new show on their air. We have the ability to promote a new TV show. We are looking at it. We are in talks” for promotional and equity partnerships, he said.

Clear Channel’s 850-plus group of radio stations already reaches a giant audience – the biggest in the country Clear Channel says. It has 238 million monthly broadcast radio listeners. It also logs more than 75 million monthly listening hours for its digital properties. And its outdoor advertising biz reaches 141 million people in the U.S. and 374 million overseas.

“We’ve got these fabulous assets. How do you use these assets in new and different ways?” Pittman said.

He’s vigorously re-branding. Last week, the company yanked the word ‘radio’ from its name and now is called Clear Channel Media and Entertainment.

On Tuesday, it named entertainment exec John Sykes, who helped create MTV and spent over two decades at the storied network and its parent Viacom, to the newly created role of president, Clear Channel Entertainment Enterprises. He’ll report to Pittman, a longtime friend and colleague.

The move follows the hiring several months ago of former investment banker Steven Cutler as senior VP of Business Development and Corporate Strategy, also a new role.

MTV co-founder Pittman as well as Sykes and Cutler all worked together at Pittman’s New York private investment firm Pilot Group. Sykes had been a consultant with Clear Channel for the past year.

Pittman has held a number of top jobs in major media companies including as chief operating officer of the former AOL Time Warner. But he started out in radio — at age 15 as an announcer at WCHK in his hometown Brookhaven, Mississippi, later moving to Chicago and New York. Now he’s circled back to the medium, aiming to capture the prestige and clout the industry has always sought. He’s quick to note that Clear Channel is already a radio and a digital company with streaming and through its iHeartRadio and active presence on Facebook and other social media.

Radio, he said, reaches 93% of the U.S population, just below 95% for television and 89% for the Internet. He called TV “America’s hobby” and radio “America’s companion.” New services like Pandora, he said, compete with only a sliver of Clear Channel’s business.

The ongoing transformation seeks to capitalize on that footprint. An application unveiled earlier this month made iHeart’s features – including live broadcast stations, digital stations, customized stations and social media integration — available to third-party developers and a much wider range of listeners and viewers as the company ventures into video.

Sykes’ mandate is to develop new businesses across a range of media, including TV and live events. His new group will work closely with Clear Channel Media and Entertainment CEO John Hogan and his team as well as Clear Channel Outdoor, both in the U.S. and internationally.

Besides being a core member — with Pittman — of the original team that created MTV, Sykes has been president of VH1, president of Network Development for MTV Networks, CEO of Infinity Broadcasting (now CBS Radio), president of Champion Entertainment, president of Chrysalis Records and an agent at the Creative Artists Agency.

“John’s experience and relationships in so many sectors of the entertainment and media business make him the perfect choice to lead this new initiative,” said Pittman.

Sykes said “Clear Channel has a unique relationship with our audiences, who have a deep loyalty to our brands and trust us to bring them innovative and creative media and entertainment experiences.”

One focus will be creating more events like the iHeartRadio festival last in Las Vegal put on to mark the service’s launch and featuring Lady Gaga, Cold Play and Jay-Z. The event was also streamed on the web and carried on VH1. In general the execs will be pushing concerts, live events and contests in partnership with a range of other media.

Besides its stations, Clear Channel’s Premiere Networks syndicates 90 radio shows and services to more than 5,000 radio affiliates reaching over 190 million listeners weekly. Personalities include Rush Limbaugh, Ryan Seacrest, Glenn Beck, Steve Harvey and Sean Hannity.

It also owns Katz Media, a major media representation company with 4,000 radio and 500 television clients.

Clear Channel was acquired in 2008 by private equity firms Bain Capital Thomas H. Lee Partners and still carries about $20 billion of debt from the transaction.

Pittman says he’s a fan of the leveraged buyout and has put his own cash in Clear Channel. “I am a believer. I invested my own money in the common equity of the company, behind all that debt.”