2/13/13: Slacker relaunches with redesigned interface, new features, and an "underdog" ad campaign

Paul Maloney
February 13, 2013 - 12:25pm

Webcaster Slacker today relaunched its service, including new features and new visual design for its web interface and mobile apps. And to promote the relaunch, Slacker today rolls out an online ad-campaign positioning itself against market leader Pandora.

"The idea is that regardless the on-demand offerings of services like Spotify and Rdio, users don't really want to think too hard about listening to music most of the time," news source Gizmodo surmises. "They want radio—and radio in the truest sense, which means you put on a station you like and let a DJ who knows what they're doing take care of the rest."

CEO Jim Cady said, "We’ve quietly built a scaleable business with more than a half-million paying subscribers and more than four million monthly average users. 2013 will be a blockbuster year for Slacker as we ramp up our marketing efforts and take the service to a broader audience."

Gone are the complicated controls and black-and-gold design. The site and apps (the mobile app functionality was clearly built alongside the site, as they mirror each other) are a simple blue and white (with orange), and navigation is cleaner and more intuitive.

But Slacker's showcase features are the "more than 200 expert-curated stations," and its new "Fine Tune" system. Listeners can customize their stream on the fly using either a "word cloud" of song tags, or graphical sliders which adjust what they hear (much like SiriusXM's new MYSXM web stream here). Via the sliders, the listener can vary the amount of "deep cuts," artist recommendations, and new music that comes up.

The New York Times reports that Slacker will begin running its online-only spot Wednesday, in which "a young woman at a coffee shop vexes everyone in earshot when she opens a blue 'Pandora’s box' — labeled 'P,' like Pandora’s app icon — and unleashes a singularly annoying song.

"'It plays that over and over again,' the woman complains to a friend, who blames Pandora’s 'small music library' for the repetition. With Slacker helpfully loaded on her phone, the friend points out that Slacker has 10 times as many songs, and other features, too."

Slacker CMO Craig Rechenmacher told the paper, "We had to be very honest with where we were in the marketplace. We had to be disruptive in the marketplace, and we needed something that targets our competitors and the holes in their service."

Former MOG CEO David Hyman commented, "It costs a lot of money to build a brand if you didn’t hit it luckily through viral channels, like Pandora did."

Gizmodo seemed pleased with the new Slacker. Its reviewer wrote, "Specialty stations like 'Dive Bar Jukebox' that mix up contemporary indie, with soul classics and 80s new wave are just way more fun than anything Pandora, Spotify, or anyone else has to offer."

Slacker is allowing free access to its premium service on Thursday and Friday.

Read more in Engadget here, Gizmodo here, and The New York Times here.

Paul Maloney
February 13, 2013 - 12:25pm

A group representing small business webcasters is in Washington, DC today to visit the offices of 21 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, to advocate support of legislation they say is necessary for their businesses to survive. 

Representatives of independent webcast operations like Prog Palace Radio, WSUI Online, Girls Rock Radio, Pearadio, and Musera travelled to Washington, DC from across the country to request lawmakers' support for the Internet Radio Fairness Act (background in RAIN here).

The IRFA was introduced into both chambers in the last Congress, and expected to be re-introduced this session. It would change the legal standard judges use to determine industry royalties to criteria known as "801(b)," the standard used for other forms of digital radio.

The group also includes Zackary Lewis, CEO of industry streaming and software provider Liquid Compass; Educational Media Foundation (EMF) in-house counsel Brian Gantman, and several independent musicians supporting the efforts of small webcasters.

RAIN publisher and AccuRadio founder Kurt Hanson, also part of today's "hill walk," said, "All we're here asking for is to use the 801(b) standard -- same as cable & satellite (radio) -- and to balance the needs of copyright owners, users, and the public."

We'll cover today's hill walk more extensively tomorrow in RAIN.

Paul Maloney
February 13, 2013 - 12:25pm

Intercollegiate Broadcasting System Inc. (IBS) late last month filed a "petition for writ of certiorari" with the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing it should have been Congress, and not an appeals court, that restructured the law to make CRB judges' appointments constitutional.

The Copyright Royalty Board is the panel of judges that (among other duties) determines the industry "statutory" royalty rate webcasters must pay the owners of copyright sound recordings to peform them publicly.

As news source Law360 reports, IBS is accusing the D.C. Circuit of overstepping its authority when it revised the law to fix issues of the constitutionality of the CRB.

The appeals court in July ruled the Librarian of Congress' appointment of CRB judges violated the U.S. Constitution's appointments clause (see RAIN here), as the law required the judges to be appointed by the president with Senate confirmation. To fix that, the court simply changed language in the law (the Copyright Royalty and Distribution Reform Act) to make CRB judges "inferior officers," which don't require presidential appointment, thus making the Librarian's appointment of the judges constitutional.

IBS, which represents educational and noncommerical broadcasters and webcasters, says the court overstepped its authority by changing the law. The petition also asks the Supreme Court to determine if the newly-revised law is itself constitutional.

Read more in Law360 here.