How Howard Stern Became 'King Of All Media'

Media consultant Ben Grossman — who shares my deep respect and affection for Howard Stern — told me about a visit he had not too long ago with his seven-year-old niece. Grossman, who was my successor as editor in chief of Broadcasting & Cable, had a grip-and-grin photo of himself with Stern on his desk. “Oh my God, you know Howard Stern!” his niece squealed.

For a second, Grossman was “mortified” at the thought that his niece was listening to a radio show infamous for its sex-toy-riding strippers, Wack Packers and hardcore parodies about co-host Robin Quivers. “Then it dawned on me,” Grossman said. “My niece knew nothing of the radio show. To her, Howard was the cool, funny judge on ‘America's Got Talent .’”

That anecdote illustrates one of the most successful rebranding stories ever. Through a savvy use of TV, social media, online video — and, of course, satellite radio — Howard Stern has become a cross-generational mainstream powerhouse. His long-time self-coronation as “King of All Media” holds more truth than ever before.

Yes, I know the conventional media trope that Stern ceased being an A-List media force once he left terrestrial radio for a king's ransom in 2006 to join the sleepy Sirius with only 600,000 subscribers.  The truth is, Stern has a wider audience than ever before. Post-merger, Sirius XM today has more than 25 million subscribers, and it has been estimated that as much as 60% of those subscribers tune in to Stern. Millions more stream his celebrity interviews posted online. A recent interview with Madonna garnered more than 250,000 views on YouTube alone. Online video from Howard Stern’s “60th Birthday Special” was watched by hundreds of thousands more.

Decades of live radio and meticulous research — in addition to years of psychotherapy — have made Stern the best celebrity interviewer around. While there's no shortage of R-rated humor, what's mostly on display is a still-hilarious, but wiser, Howard Stern. He's a vocal advocate for gay marriage, LGBT issues — and, along with wife Beth, has become the kind of animal rights advocate he might once have mocked.

His move to “America's Got Talent” in 2012 was part of a Stern blueprint to build on his core audience and become part of the mainstream. Three seasons in with Stern, the series is a solid summer hit for NBC, unusual for a show in its 10th season. Last week, it was the top-rated non-sports show on network TV.

Stern spends plenty of air time promoting “AGT” on his radio show, and uses his social media might to lure in viewers. His Twitter account, @HowardStern, has 1.62 million followers alone, aided and abetted by the hundreds of thousands who follow his sidekick Robin Quivers and the various other members of his radio crew.

As he always does, Stern is making noise about leaving Sirius when his contract is up at year's end. He moans about being stressed out by the demands of “AGT.”

Keenly aware that he's successfully repositioned himself, Stern can truly design a wide-reaching next act. He could decide on a move a la Jerry Seinfeld's successful Crackle series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” or go with an interview show on Netflix or Amazon Prime -- all places that need him, and where he could have complete artistic freedom. Likewise a series with a premium network such as HBO or Showtime would hold the same creative freedom.

My bet is that the King of All Media will go with a “have-my- cake-and-eat-it-too” strategy. Whether he sticks with his current suite of outlets or cuts deals elsewhere, plan on a next act that on one platform is fine for you to watch with your seven-year-old niece — and one that's best enjoyed by grown-ups only.

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5 comments about "How Howard Stern Became 'King Of All Media'".
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  1. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, June 17, 2015 at 12:06 p.m.

    June 17, 2015

    Dear J. Max Robins,

    I am excited by the prospects for this colum under your direction.

    In the spirit of candor, which I can already see marks your editorial contributions,
    I must tell you and the readers of this inaugural edition that I find Howard Stern
    obnoxious, repugnant and detestable.  I think that those who listen to him and watch his so-called performances are soiled as one would be in rubbung up against a muddy car wearing a white jacket in the middle of a dark winter.  In sum, he is a Hellion and life would be better if ... . ("Who am I to judge?" PF)

    Now that I have cleansed and purged ...

    We are in an age of TV (or Video) Everywhere now. I live it (and love it) for professional and personal reasons.  And I am glad that "TV," not"Video," "Everywhere" is the name of this column.

    Video seems so cold, so digital, so technical in nature.  Video could be anything you see.

    But TV...that is a place, a showcase, a theater of the eye, a playground for the head and heart, and an exciting feat of art and science every time the picture lights up the dark screen.
    TV is full of promise. Imagine: Promise Everywhere! 

    And that's what I see for this column...So much promise!

    All the best!  The time has come for the TV EVERYWHERE of J. Max Robins and MediaPost!

    Thank you very much for listening and writing.  You will be read far and wide.

    Onwards and upwards!

    Sincerely,
    Nicholas P. Schiavone

    PS I never want to read the name "Howard Stern" in any of your columns ever again, unless it is to report that Howard Stern has joned a Holy Order in Israel and is spending the rest of his life atoning for cultural pollution and so much worse.  Shalom!

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 17, 2015 at 7:29 p.m.

    What about his ex wife and kids ? That's right. It is all about him and kept them out of the media circus as best as anyone who is so immediately recognizable. They may have a chance for a life unlike other notorious characters. You want to call him trash ? Fine. He'll take the trash and your trash. Bet his loads of curly black hair is more bought than grown for a 60+ man. So there. As much I do not think he is that funny but rather gross on a radio show I tried a couple of times a long time ago, I was shocked  as anyone at his transition with AGT. The article is about what is.

  3. larry towers from nyu, June 18, 2015 at 3:08 p.m.

    Howard Stern is more aptly described as the King of all mediocrity; A shining beacon to the half wits and half talents that are attracted as much, if not more, to the sophomoric personality success story than to whatever passes for content. He's a hero and role model who hit his stride just as the long tail democratization of media has taken hold. It is no coincidence that his rise coincided with the rise in reality programming, YouTube etc. Mindless reactionary or pacification entertainment that requires nothing of its viewers but eyeballs or ears. Perfect for advertisers that prefer audiences incapable of critical thought.

  4. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, June 18, 2015 at 5:08 p.m.

    If this TV EVERYWHERE is about 'AGT," Paula, then it must have been written in a language that only you understand.  

    Actually, it sounds as if Howard Stern winds you up.  Relax.  If Howard Stern is the "The King of All Media," then the only media [or pipeline (Check etymology)] of which Stern is king is sewer systems, literal and figurative.

    But this column is not your responsibility, Ms. Lynn.  This new feature was a waste of electronic ink, if there ever was one and J. Max Robins wrote it.  

    I expected better.  Robins is capable of better.  TV EVERYWHERE is a vital, important topic for media, business, culture and society, but the writing exercise above is no proof!

    Onwards & upwards.




  5. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, June 25, 2015 at 6:52 p.m.

    Prayers answered in one week!

     


    Thank you, TV EVERYWHERE & J. Max Robins and MediaPost


    ____________________________________


    Variety


    Howard Stern Says He’s Leaving ‘America’s Got Talent’


    BY ALEX STEDMAN | JUNE 24, 2015


    It looks like Howard Stern is leaving “America’s Got Talent” — or, at least he says he is. The judge of the NBC competition show revealed the news on his radio show Wednesday morning that he would…