Does America really need another music awards show? Maybe not, but as the success of the inaugural iHeartRadio Music Awards showed last year, there’s plenty of room in the kudosphere regardless.
Now entering its second year with a broadcast on March 29, the ceremony is the prime showcase for radio giant iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel), and whatever it may lack in novelty it seeks to make up for in enthusiasm and populism.
“It’s an award show where people will hopefully feel good about the winner,” says iHeartMedia president of national programming platforms Tom Poleman. “(The winners) sync up well with what consumers told us were the hits throughout the year, so it’s not a secret society picking the records, it’s the people who are making them hits.”
Indeed, if the Grammys have taken heat of late for straying from the mainstream of their industry’s consumer base, iHeartMedia seeks to offer a corrective. Presenting 11 trophies, the kudocast will disburse awards in general categories determined by iHeartMedia’s airplay and social-engagement measurements, as well as more subjective categories (best lyrics, best fan army) voted on by fans. Scheduled performers include Rihanna, Madonna, Sam Smith and Snoop Dogg, while Justin Timberlake will receive a non-competitive Innovator Award.
The show’s inaugural iteration — which, like the second, was directed by Hamish Hamilton at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium to air on NBC — accrued some impressive figures, with 5.5 million viewers and 8.5 billion social impressions. And perhaps that’s not surprising, considering it was the brainchild of iHeartMedia president of entertainment enterprises John Sykes, who helped create the MTV Video Music Awards back in the cabler’s infancy.
“The closest thing you could probably compare us to is the early VMAs,” Sykes says. “Someone might ask, ‘Why should you have an award show?’ And I would say, this is the music we program and the artists we work with every day, so we of all entities should have a show where we honor the artists who are putting out the music that the audiences are embracing.”
In addition to striving for a freewheeling vibe (“music shouldn’t be stuffy, or pretentious, or filled with decorum,” Poleman says), the producers also aim to introduce narrative arcs to break up the award-performance-award monotony. Last year saw vignettes of honorees discussing their initial experiences of Los Angeles; this year’s broadcast will feature the theme “My Journey,” which Sykes calls “chronological emotional stories about how artists make it to the top.”
The kudocast is also part of a larger effort on iHeartMedia’s part to expand its brand beyond terrestrial radio and digital music platforms. The flagship Las Vegas-set iHeartRadio Music Festival bowed in September 2011, followed in 2014 by the iHeartRadio Fiesta Latina. Per Poleman, this sort of synergy is key to making the awards appointment television.
“One thing that is unique about this show is the connectivity between what we’re talking about on the radio and what happens on TV,” Poleman notes. “We have 850 radio stations that are talking about this for two months leading up to the show. All of our personalities are activating in the audience, and they’ve been creating a storyline that crosses the finish line at the award ceremony itself. So it makes it much more of a moment, where you have to hear the end of the story.”