B Story

Veteran broadcast sales exec reportedly departing for iTunes Radio

Monday, December 2, 2013 - 12:15pm

Tom Taylor’s NOW newsletter reports that Mike Pallad, EVP of Sales at Cumulus Media, is leaving Cumulus for iTunes Radio. Taylor’s blurb cites an internal call to Cumulus managers. As of this writing there is no official announcement or press release, but a RAIN source affirms the news.

Mike Pallad is deeply groomed and accomplished in broadcast, and his reported move to Apple, a giant tech company with a music outlet, is an indication of of the substance, seriousness, and scale of the advertising efforts at the major pureplays.

Pallad’s resume tells a story of executive ascension at Cumulus, Citadel Broadcasting before that, the Katz Media Group, and Emmis Communications. He has held positions ranging from sales manager of WQCD-FM (a New York smooth jazz station), to regional sales management, to head of all sales at Cumulus.

Pureplay of the Day: Web-Radio Christmas

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 - 12:05pm

The Christmas season begins this weekend, and the Christmas-music season along with it. Actually, as we have observed over the past few weeks, holiday music started in early November, on both the broadcast and pureplay sides of the fence. But in our view, three and a half weeks of Christmas music saturation is sufficient.

Saturation is the watchword of today’s POTD. BRS Media, George Bundy’s enterprise, posts an annual roundup of Internet-delivered Christmas music streams, emanating from radio stations as well as Internet-only stations. (The pureplays are separated into their own list.) With nearly 300 streaming options it is lean-back heaven for anyone who doesn’t want to curate a personal playlist -- although this many choices actually requires some degree of leaning in, just to find the perfect mix. Especially since, well, a few of them didn’t work in our testing. But in the spirit of holiday joviality, we’re ignoring glitches.

The pureplay list has an international scope, which adds fun variety. We are settling into KerstRadio from Rotterdam, which seems, at this minute, to be playing a Dutch version of “Winter Wonderland.” Moge de vreugde van het seizoen met u zijn.

NextRadio releases usage metrics

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 - 12:25pm

Emmis-owned TagStation, which produces and distributes the NextRadio broadcast listening app for smartphones, released usage statistics for the program’s first 100 days of live operation. Headline brags are:

  • 75,000-plus app downloads
  • 5,100-plus FM stations tuned from the app
  • 33,000-plus listening hours total

In addition to the usage metrics, distribution is widening. NextRadio was first installed on Sprint phones equipped with FM receiver chips that are necessary for the app to work. That footprint was widened to HTC’s One Max phone a couple of weeks ago. TagStation today pre-announced an upcoming partnership with Boost Mobile in January.

The chip requirement means that NextRadio can only work with participating phone models, and, in fact, is not available at all from the Google Play app store when accessed by unequipped phones. A “stub” version of the app is built into partner phone models, and that stup must be activated before use. The activation accounts for the “download” metric above.

NextRadio is an interesting mobile broadcast play that seeks to leverage radio’s traditional mobility in an increasingly smartphone-dominated world. It also seeks to correct a blank spot that was arguably created by Apple. When Apple introduced the first iPod, it launched into an existing MP3-player market whose devices usually contained AM/FM receivers. Their manufacturers assumed some demand for radio listening along with MP3 mobility.

Apple’s iPods have never included broadcast reception, and as that mobile-player brand took over the market, walk-around FM listening fell off the default spec sheet for handheld music devices. NextRadio puts it back in, but requires special device builds to accomplish it. For that reason, roll-out of the NextRadio app is dramatically slowed.

In addition to competing with non-compatible phones, NextRadio competes with Internet delivery of radio webcasts, especially via aggregating platforms TuneIn and iHeartRadio. That might seem like a crippling disadvantage to user adoption, and OEM adoption. NextRadio's big advantage is that the Internet (and a costly data plan for receiving it) is not necessary. You just have to be in range of local stations.

We like NextRadio in concept, even as we recognize the app’s steep uphill climb. Here in the RAIN editorial office’s gadget museum, we have treasured MP3 players built years ago, with FM receivers still in use. They key to NextRadio success is to demonstrate demand for smartphone-received FM, sufficient to motivate OEMs to put that chip into their handhelds -- like the old days.

Winamp and SHOUTcast likely to expire

Monday, November 25, 2013 - 2:00pm

Venerable music player Winamp is being discontinued by parent company AOL. The announcement marks the end of an era, at least symbolically.

As a follow-up on that news, Internet radio platform SHOUTcast, developed by Winamp and housed under the Nullsoft umbrella brand, will also have its plug pulled. SHOUTcast is an Internet streaming enabler and aggregator. Its slate of about 50,000 pureplay stations is presented as an integrated feature of the Winamp desktop player, and on its own website.

The evolution of any industry has seminal moments. For digital music, one of those moments was the introduction of Winamp in 1997, the venerable desktop audio player. Initially launched as freeware that could play MP3 files, Winamp closed the gap between the existence of compressed music files (MP3) and their usability to most people.

The revolutionary aspect of MP3 was the small size of the files, and consequently their suitability for transmission over the Internet. Peer-to-peer file-sharing was part of the consequence, from Napster to emailing between friends. Another part was streaming audio through the narrow bandwidth pipes of late-1990s home connections.

All well and good, except that an MP3 file by itself did nothing -- to use an old-media analogy, it was like a CD without a CD player. Winamp, built by Justin Frankl (who also unleashed the Gnutella file-sharing protocol ... while he was an AOL employee), was the first popular MP3 desktop player, enabling early adopters to get first listens to music files. It closed a circle, and catalyzed much of what followed: file-sharing, early subscription music services like Rhapsody and eMusic, Internet-delivered music streams generally, portable MP3 players, and even iTunes, which used a different file format and desktop player.

Winamp was acquired by AOL (via Nullsoft) in 1999. That year, Nullsoft created SHOUTcast, a music-streaming protocol and self-serve platform that allowed anyone to webcast from a connected computer. SHOUTcast’s influence was similar to Winamp’s insofar as it introduced a new listening mode to its adopters -- in this case, pureplay streaming audio stations.

Winamp has been rocked by an eventful 15 years. The blockbuster success of iTunes and its proprietary formats shifted attention away from the MP3-oriented desktop player. Even as Winamp adapted to handle emerging file formats, it could not play Apple’s locked-up DRM files during the first five years of the iTunes Music Store’s growth. The smartphone’s rise (thanks again to Apple) migrated listening activity off the desktop, and Winamp adjusted by extending to mobile apps. It also developed a strong European user base in the last few years.

But the rise of streaming services like Spotify and Pandora have further skewered Winamp’s core competency of playing locally stored music files. Access is creeping up on ownership as a means of consuming music, and AOL’s decision verifies a growing sense that Winamp’s days are numbered. AOL announced that program development will be discontinued on December 20.

Of course, existing installations of the freeware version will remain functional. The termination of SHOUTcast has more severe implications, as that service furnishes live programming.

TechCrunch reported a rumor that Microsoft might snap up both Winamp and SHOUTcast. If it plays out that way, it will be second time that recently-discarded AOL Music properties found a new home. In June of this year, several AOL Music blogs (The Boombox, Noisecreep, The Boot) were cast out of the mothership and caught in freefall by TownSquare Media, whose EVP Bill Wilson developed them when he was chief of AOL Media.

Pandora equal to FM in Millennial listener survey

Friday, November 22, 2013 - 8:25am

This week Mark Kassof has been releasing installments of his ListenerThink study, in which Millennial listeners were asked to rank their sentiment toward FM, AM, and a selection of Internet music services. Pandora and FM came through with the rosiest scores. Respondents favored them equally, according to an index score developed by Kassoff.

Survey participants were asked to rank their feelings about each included listening mode as Love, Like, Dislike, Hate, indifference, or unawareness. Kassof breaks out the percentage of each response across the sample, and you can see the results on the kassof.com blog. The top ranking (Love) was bestowed on Pandora by 39 percent of respondents, compared to 37 percent for FM.

We find it interesting to look at Love and Like combined, as a generally favorable Love/Like score. Through that lens, FM dominated the results with 82 percent, Pandora got a strong 65 percent, and iTunes Radio settled at 42 percent. 

That's a distorted view, though, both because it ignores other responses, and because familiarity with FM is higher than any of the Internet platforms. Kassof solves the irregularities with a mean score of all rankings, eliminating respondents who were unfamiliar with the listening mode. In that view, Pandora and FM came through with score

Windy City Weather

Thursday, November 21, 2013 - 12:40pm


When I was a kid who loved listening to radio stations like WOKY and WRIT (where a teenage Bob Pittman was a DJ for a while), and later WCFL and WLS, and even later WDAI and WLUP, I was listening to my favorite stations primarily for the music, but they also served lots of other functions in my life — they were my primary sources of weather forecasts, traffic reports, sports scores, and lots more too.

Someday, it's possible that pureplay, Internet-only, music-oriented webcasters like Pandora, Slacker, and AccuRadio may add local service elements like newscasts, weather, sports, traffic, and maybe community events and/or concert calendars. The insertion of such elements is absolutely possible today using current technology. (Operationally, it might require the addition of one employee per market to record fresh audio elements that could be inserted into listeners' streams as appropriate, although I imagine that traffic would need to be sourced from a third-party service.)

But would this make sense in the context of consumers’ needs in 2014? I'm not so sure.

Read the rest of this blog post HERE.

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