WBEZ reveals plans for ‘robust digital experiences’

Chicago Public Media

Chicago Public Media

Chicago Public Media has announced the hiring of a new chief digital officer to lead the company’s wide-ranging plans to build a “transformative digital experience” for listeners.

Named to the newly created post Monday was Michel Ballard, who most recently was senior vice president of consumer health and wellness for Everyday Health, a digital media company that owns websites and produces content on health and wellness.

Michel Ballard

Michel Ballard

Ballard joins the parent company of WBEZ FM 91.5 weeks after the public radio station accepted a $2 million grant from the Pritzker Foundation — the largest donation in the station’s history — earmarked for its digital expansion of news and programming services.

The move will reunite Ballard with Goli Sheikholeslami, who had been chief product officer and executive vice president of business operations for Everyday Health before she was named president and CEO of Chicago Public Media last year.

“The explosive growth of mobile devices has significantly shifted how audiences consume media,” Sheikholeslami said in a statement. “To continue to fulfill our public service mission, Chicago Public Media must introduce the technological advances that allow us to reach our listeners in new ways. Such robust digital experiences will help us to reach and attract a younger, more diverse audience.”

In what it promises will be “a transformative digital experience unlike anything that exists in public media today,” the company said it will focus on three major trends — smartphone adoption, time-shifted listening and the connected car — over the next 12 to 18 months.

According to the announcement, the new digital products will allow listeners to:

  • Access programming on iPhones and iPads, Android phones and tablets, desktops, mobile browsers, and through emerging technologies such as wearables (Apple Watch) and in-dash entertainment systems.
  • Choose between live streaming and on-demand experience.
  • Play, skip and scroll through content.
  • Quickly locate and play content through editorially curated lists, by topic or by program.
  • Playback and save content.
  • Receive recommendations and notifications based on usage behavior.
  • Share content easily through compelling social features.
  • Donate in new ways and become a station member using innovative donation functions.

Ballard, a Houston native and graduate of Wellesley College with an MBA from New York University, is a former investment banking analyst in the technology, media and telecom group at J.P. Morgan. In 2008, she joined Everyday Health, where she served in a variety of roles and directed the company’s largest strategic partnerships with AOL and YouTube.

The $2 million Pritzker Foundation grant, first reported last month by Crain’s Chicago Business, launches the funding of a $5 million strategic initiative to build new digital products and allow WBEZ to track usage and listening behavior.