12/3/13: Rdio gets a new CEO

Brad Hill
December 3, 2013 - 12:40pm

Two weeks after restructuring its costs via workforce downsizing (in other words, layoffs), Rdio has named a new CEO. Anthony Bay, former head of digital video at Amazon, replaces outgoing CEO Drew Larner, who becomes vice-chair of Rdio’s board. Larner announced his resignation five months ago.

Bay has been involved in digital media for nearly 20 years, with stints at MOD Systems, Loudeye, and Microsoft where he was GM of Redmond’s Digital Media Division. He left Amazon in March of this year in an executive shakeup in the company’s digital services department. At Amazon, Bay’s purview included Amazon Prime, the subscription video-streaming service, an operation which parallels Rdio’s business model in some respects.

Rdio is facing a daunting competitive landscape in the U.S. market, with direct competitor Spotify owning a larger user base, and Google All Access enjoying a vast ecosystem placement in front of millions of potential users. Furthermore, newcomers Deezer, YouTube, and Beats Music either rumored or promised to enter the fray in the next few months. All these subscription services compete generally with Internet radio platforms such as Pandora, iTunes Radio, and dozens of smaller players for a broad listening audience which doesn’t necessarily recognize how the brands differ.

Brad Hill
December 3, 2013 - 12:40pm

Frances Moore, CEO of the International Federation of Phonographic Industries, made some waves and splashed some cool water of long-term thinking on the hot debate over artist payouts from streaming music services. Moore spoke at the ARIA Masterclass in Sydney, Australia.

In her remarks (PDF transcript here) about a global recovery of a recording industry disrupted by the digital shake-ups of MP3, piracy, download stores, and streaming music, Moore directly addressed controversy stoked by outspoken musicians David Byrne and Thom Yorke. Byrne and Yorke have objected to Spotify particularly, with product boycotts and sometimes scatalogical language. Moore’s overview on all that: “I do believe their concerns are overstated.”

Moore dove deeper into the IFPI’s perspective on streaming:

“Yes, such services shift us from a world where rights holders receive the bulk of their revenues in the weeks after an album or single’s release to one where they receive micropayments each time their work is played. That can be disconcerting. But the evidence is starting to build up which suggests that, over a period of time; income from streaming services can surpass that from download stores. It is easy to forget that services such as Spotify are just five years old, and it has been present in Australia since May last year. They are still in their infancy. But with time and scale, they can significantly add to industry income and they attract music fans away from pirate services which pay nothing to artists and record labels.”

A secondary argument that has recently entered the “Spotify debate” centers on the contractual terms by which recording artists are paid by their labels for streams of their tracks. Artists aggrieved by micro-royalty checks, the argument goes, should determine whether their labels are paying out the artist share by the old product model (low royalty percentage) or the new access model (higher licensing percentage). That line of reasoning, which applies to artists who don’t own their recorded masters, shifts responsibility from streaming services to record labels -- the constituency represented by Frances Moore and the IFPI.

On a related note, Spotify itself launched an anchor site for musicians and anyone else interested in the business side of streaming music distribution. Called Spotify Artists, the site offers help guides for maximizing exposure, and -- in what will surely be the most scrutinized portion -- a clarifying explanation of how Spotify calculates royalties. 

Brad Hill
December 3, 2013 - 12:40pm

Edison Research and Triton Digital today announced a partnership to produce The Infinite Dial 2014, the 16th year of that influential study. The report’s findings will be presented at RAIN Summit West on April 6 in Las Vegas, as they have been in previous years. (See RAIN’s coverage of The Infinite Dial here.)

The Infinite Dial is a widely-cited study of digital media usage. In past years the report has touched on how consumers use AM/FM, online radio, smartphones, and tablets. The 2014 study promises new information about mobile consumption, and iTunes Radio. According to the press release, “The study will also continue its coverage of podcasting, social media, and other consumer behaviors related to audio and video consumption.” 

The Infinite Dial report has been produced 21 times over 16 years. One of its most valuable aspects is the trended data on media usage. Previous studies have been produced in partnership with Arbitron, which was acquired earlier this year by Nielsen, and rebranded as Nielsen Audio. The Triton relationship replaces the Arbitron partnership.

Jennifer Lane
December 3, 2013 - 12:40pm

This article was originally published in Audio4cast.

The announcement that Winamp would shut down before the end of the year didn’t surprise me given that AOL had already abandoned its online radio platform, but it did make me pause. There have been several times this year that I have stopped and thought that surely this event is one of the signals that online audio has left the “niche” stage of its development and entered the reality of being a full blown mass appeal marketplace. One that a product like Winamp, free downloadable software that began as a tool to enable people to play all those songs they downloaded from Napster, couldn’t survive in.

In fact, I’ve wondered a lot over the years, why AOL kept updating it at all – given that the business model – getting users to pay for an improved upgrade to the player – was so weak. In fact, AOL didn’t just continue to update and distribute Winamp when it purchased Nullsoft in 1999 for $400 million, it also kept Shoutcast running all this time as well. And that was an even stranger conundrum, given that many of the biggest stations on Shoutcast were getting free bandwidth (at least a few years back they were). The deal was, at least back in the early 2000s, that you couldn’t run any ads if you wanted the free bandwidth. I never could figure out why that was. Didn’t that hurt AOL’s own Internet radio platform?

In any event, although Winamp and Shoutcast operated independently at AOL for lots of years, it seems that someone has finally noticed the lack of a business model in that department. Winamp will shut down later this month, although there is word that Microsoft may purchase the intellectual property. The end of an era that also signifies the arrival of a new one – the mature online audio marketplace, where you have to have a business model to compete…

Brad Hill
December 3, 2013 - 12:40pm

Spotify might not have a big-data operation like Wal-Mart or Target. But 24-million users listened to 4.5-billion hours of music in 2013, and have created one-billion playlists on the platform. So there’s a good flow of metrics. Spotify, which has previously demonstrated a taste for showing off its big numbers, has assembled an interactive presentation of how the service was used in 2013.

If you’re interested in music charting, the feature invites you to drill into global stats by artist, album, and song. You can get more geo-specific by country (only those countries where Spotify operates, naturally) and selected cities. Looking at most-streamed songs in different locations is fun, but Spotify raises the funness quotient by showcasing the most popular songs and playlists for various “moments” -- for example, hangovers, road trips, and break-ups.

Spotify reiterates its notorious 5th-birthday statistic: 20 percent of the Spotify library has never been played. That metric runs contrary to the long-tail presumption that there is a little bit of interest in everything. When Spotify first publicized this statistic in October, we suggested creating and promoting an Untouched Tracks playlist to give those dark-matter tracks some love. Whether due to our suggestion (unlikely) or on its own (likely), Spotify is now promoting an #Undiscovered playlist for that purpose. As of this writing, the #Undiscovered playlist is followed by, well, one person. And oddly, the list seems to consist of only spoken-word audio. “Scuba Diving - Frequently Asked Questions”? Well, to each his own on Spotify.