10/9/13: BBC introduces Playlister, a not-quite-music-service

Brad Hill
October 9, 2013 - 10:45am

The marketing is impressive, the collateral design is dazzling, and the product itself is … slightly baffling, at first. BBC Playlister is a new feature woven throughout the BBC online music experience. The top layer is a tagging function, whereby users select songs for addition to a personal playlist. The resulting list is not a playlist in the usual sense -- specifically, you can’t play it. For that, the list must be exported to a real music service. Playlister has launched with three inaugural partners: Spotify, YouTube, and Deezer.

Confusing? Possibly, and the first question might be: Why bother? Spotify itself has been available to the BBC’s primary U.K. audience since 2009. YouTube and Deezer, likewise no problem in the U.K. Is the purpose to indoctrinate American music-lovers to the unique music discoveries of BBC programmers? There is a hint of that strategy in the BBC’s introductory video: “The U.K. is world-renowned for its music. And for 80 years, the BBC has been its beating heart.”

But the reality, as of today, is more mundane. Playlister on the BBC website surfaces the same global hits that all other music services are featuring this morning: Lorde, Katy Perry, et al. Why would any user build an unlistenable playlist, then export it to another platform, when that other platform is performing the same music promotion with native playlisting?

The answer might gain more nuance when the BBC presenters (show hosts) get into Playlister, which they are not as of now. If the BBC is a uniquely astute music curator, it’s the programmers who will deliver brand value to Playlister. (Oddly, the video shows a BBC programmer sitting on the floor surrounded by vinyl LPs, 1970s-style.)

Operationally, everything works without a glitch. It’s a well-executed launch. Registering, browsing, and collecting are woven into an attractive and painless product experience. Exporting to YouTube results in a video playlist, as one would hope for -- and that, at least, is a piece of unique value right from the start. The Playlister app within Spotify (web only for now; mobile promised for later) is ready to go as well, and works fine -- even if, again, carrying a playlist into Spotify from outside seems futile.

Drilling into Spotify’s Playlister app reveals a discovery environment demonstrably superior to the BBC’s website, for listening to BBC channels and programs. It is easier to find shows and presenters without wading through non-music options, losing the navigation menu to promotions, and other distractions foisted by the BBC’s own domain. The Spotify app keeps the experienced focused on listening. Playlister is not woven into the channel and presenter options, though, either in Spotify or on BBC.

BBC Playlister is not exactly a music service in a modern sense. Is BBC missing the boat, or cagily sidestepping the need to build one? From a business perspective, all the stakeholders win: distribution for the BBC, content acquisition for Spotify, and new ad inventory for Google-owned YouTube. More power to each of them. Not much power to the user, yet, but Playlister is worth keeping an eye on. Watch this space for new developments.

Brad Hill
October 9, 2013 - 10:45am

Two days ago we noted that iTunes Radio would probably expand its (currently U.S.-only) listening service to Canada, based on a viral spotting of a job listing. Now, Bloomberg reports on discussions with unnamed sources which clarify Apple’s roadmap in early 2014.

According to those talks, Canada is indeed on the map, along with the U.K. Those two territories are important because Pandora, generally considered to be Apple’s target competitor, does not do business in either of those countries. Pandora has overseas music licensing rights in Australia and New Zealand, where it serves music but not yet advertisements, according to RAIN’s conversation with Steve Kritzman, Pandora’s SVP of sales.

Bloomberg reports that Apple is also pushing iTunes Radio into those two markets next year. When it comes to geographic expansion generally, Apple has an advantage over Pandora inasmuch as it negotiates for content rights directly with content owners, while Pandora relies on statutory licenses which vary from country to country.

Apple’s reach into Canada and the U.K., if it plays out as predicted, would execute a triple strategy:

  • Expand audience: success in the Internet radio business is based partly on scale;
  • Grab virgin listeners: while Apple has a steep hill to climb against Pandora in the U.S., where over 72-million people are “active listeners” to Pandora, no such relative positioning exists in Canada and the U.K. In Canada especially, Internet radio users are hungry for choice;
  • Bolster existing businesses: Apple is rolling out the same imperialistic model as it did with its iTunes download business. Furthermore, Apple isn’t primarily in the music business at all -- it is a hardware vendor in the walled-garden ecosystem trade. Its platform services, like streaming music, are intended to retain iPhone and iPad users.

In this context, Pandora clings hard to its hard-earned advantages: the quality of its music selection engine, the loyalty of its active users, and its first-mover position in auto distribution.

Brad Hill
October 9, 2013 - 10:45am

Pureplay of the day spotlights adventures in off-road listening.

The population of Burma (officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar) is about 60-million -- less than Pandora’s base of active listeners. Only one percent of Burma’s population has Internet access, but that’s enough of a market to support 7Online, the country’s first and only Internet radio station.

Started last year, 7Online produces six hours of daily programming, and repurposes that block throughout the 24-hour stream. RAIN, a non-Burmese-speaking organization, bravely downloaded the iOS app for some Southeast Asian pureplay groove. The interface is attractive, clean, and dead-simple with its giant Play button.

According to Irrawaddy, a Burmese news publication, the six friends who started 7Online bypassed government radio regulations by forgoing news coverage in station programming. 7Online reportedly has 10,000 global listeners.

Make that 10,001 -- RAIN’s editorial office is rocking to 7Online’s heady mix of synth-pop ballads, Asian rap, and ethnic crossover.

Brad Hill
October 9, 2013 - 10:45am

Turntable.fm is an interactive music service, but could more aptly be described as a social network focused on music. Started in 2011, the site formerly allowed users to upload shareable music on the site. Using the DMCA as a licensing tactic is legitimate, but that strategy that comes with endless legal difficulties. Adroitly, Turntable.fm offloaded the DMCA liability (and file-hosting expense) to SoundCloud, an upload-and-share music warehouse.

Searching around for a new hook to attract and retain users, Turntable.fm has lined up a series of concert events that will provide unique listening content and a new revenue model. Bands in the series control the funding for the live stream; tickets for virtual viewing cost three dollars. The signature Turntable.fm social experience holds for the live concerts -- virtual spaces, avatars, cheers, and jeers.

Here is the concert lineup for October.