by Brian Stelter, CNNMoney.com
August 2, 2016: 11:02 AM ET
A digital comeback for radio?
Rush Limbaugh, America’s best-known conservative talk radio host, has renewed his contract with radio distributor iHeartMedia.
The company called it a “long-term, multi-platform agreement,” but declined to comment on the length or value of the contract.
That’s a big change from 2008, when Limbaugh signed an eight-year deal worth about $400 million — huge dollar figures that were trumpeted at the time.
No matter what the terms of the new deal are, Limbaugh is “still the one,” conservative news site The Drudge Report proclaimed with a banner headline on Tuesday.
“The Rush Limbaugh Show,” live from noon until 3 p.m. Eastern (9-noon Pacific), is the #1 political talk show syndicated by Premiere Radio Networks, a division of iHeartMedia.
Limbaugh reaches tens of millions of listeners through radio stations across the country and web streams. On Monday, he celebrated his 28th anniversary as a nationally syndicated broadcaster.
“After 28 fulfilling years, I seriously considered moving on to something else, but Rich and Bob were very persuasive,” Limbaugh said in a statement. “I’m thrilled to be continuing. And I really want to be on the air if the Russians find Hillary’s emails.”
His statement referenced Rich Pressler, the iHeartMedia president, and Bob Pittman, the chairman and CEO.
Pittman said in a recent interview with CNNMoney that Limbaugh is “bigger than ever” and “doing really well.”
But some observers have doubts about that.
Limbaugh is “as influential as ever, but his business model is on shaky ground,” Politico Magazine said in May.
The writer, Ethan Epstein, said on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” that Limbaugh is “still the marquee name in talk radio,” but that looming contract negotiations would lead to a pay cut.
“The fact is, they simply will not be able to afford the same salary that they gave him” last time, Epstein said.
That’s because Premiere has suffered from an advertiser boycott of Limbaugh’s show that started back in 2012. Liberal activists and other Limbaugh critics persuaded scores of advertisers to shun the show after Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke, a law student and supporter of Obama administration contraception policy.
The sponsors “never came back, for the most part, and that has had a seriously deleterious effect on his business.”
More broadly, radio profits are not what they used to be. Digital forms of distribution have overtaken the analog radio world, forcing talk shows like “The Rush Limbaugh Show” to adapt or fade away.
Radio industry expert Michael Harrison, the publisher of Talkers magazine, said Tuesday that Limbaugh surely did take a pay cut, but said it’s irrelevant: “Everybody in the broadcasting business has taken a hit since their last deal, except maybe some of the CEOs on their way out.”
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