B Story

Nielsen moves toward online listening measurements

Thursday, October 17, 2013 - 12:40pm

In the first methodology change after the acquisition of Arbitron, and its rebranding as Nielsen Audio, Nielsen has announced it will include radio online reruns in its ratings, according to Inside Radio and Audio4cast.

The decision is an inching movement toward measuring webcasts, and will be applied to a specific programming scenario -- when a station provides complete rerun loops online, as is the case with some morning shows. The online component must be unaltered, and include all content and commercials. The measurement will not stand alone, but will be bundled into the broader ratings picture

A 24-hour window applies: listeners who access the online repeat after that period will not be counted. This windowing limitation shares the same principle as Nielsen’s “Same Day” measurement of television viewing on DVRs -- in that measurement the 24-hour viewing day starts at 3:00am. The new radio-stream measurement applies to a different time-shifting opportunity for listeners that doesn’t involve home recording of the content.

Jennifer Lane of Audio4cast notes: “I’m sure this is the first of many changes that Nielsen will make to its measurement of audio.”

NextRadio enjoys “exponential” uptake in Sprint phones

Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - 10:20am

In long-ago days, before the Big Bang of Apple’s entrance into the music-hardware business, portable mp3 players were often equipped with FM receivers. In fact, the RAIN editorial office has one of those vintage devices in its museum, right … over … here. It is a Sandisk Sansa e280, optimized for the Rhapsody music service, and featuring FM reception as a standard listening option.

When Apple introduced the original iPod, the lack of FM reception was one way in which the breakthrough device was inferior to competitors, even as it achieved paramount success in the market. Because of that success, FM radio dropped off the standard spec sheet of mobile music devices. (Sandisk still includes it in recently-built Rhapsody portables. We’ve got one of them, too.)

Today, “mobile” means smartphone, and the smartphone category competes brutally with radio for listening hours. It also accommodates radio neatly by enabling station webcasts, aggregated in countless apps, the highest-profile of which are iHeartRadio and TuneIn. The advantage to webcast radio is the global reach; the disadvantages are data consumption, battery consumption, and compressed audio quality.

Purportedly to solve those disadvantages, but really to encourage local radio tuning and find new pipes for its signal, Emmis-developed NextRadio seeks to put over-the-air listening back into handheld devices. NextRadio is a mobile app that works in specially equipped phones. It launched in two Sprint models this summer (RAIN coverage here).

Last Friday, NextRadio hit the ground running in Sprint’s Galaxy Note 3, the first phone brought to market with the app available from the start. As such, it provides a clean baseline to measure adoption, and the NextRadio blog lauds “exponential” uptake -- which means 40,000 app downloads, and 12,000 listening hours spread across 4,000 FM stations. 

A few weeks ago, David Pogue, the New York Times tech columnist, hosted a panel during Advertising Week during which he called Next Radio “the dumbest idea ever.” In a modern context, with the easy availability of global webcasts and celestial jukeboxes comprising 30-million tracks, it’s easy to understand the sentiment. Massive adoption is difficult to imagine, but we’re glad to see the return of over-the-air FM to the interactive listening menu, if only for old time’s sake.

David Byrne contributes to the Spotify dialog with unusual balance

Tuesday, October 15, 2013 - 9:55am

David Byrne (Talking Heads) is getting a lot of media attention for his OpEd in The Guardian, in which he contributes the latest high-profile artist opinion about Spotify, and streaming music generally. Much of the commentary on the column attempts to feed the fire of controversy: note the Digital Journal’s inaccurate headline: “David Byrne lambasts music streaming.”

In fact, Byrne provides the most balanced, sober, high-altitude opinion recently published -- a refreshing antidote to slashing rhetoric unleashed by Thom Yorke, Nigel Godrich, and others. Opinions center on artist payouts from Spotify and other services, and the truth is that sentiment falls liberally on both sides of the fence. Spotify, as a proxy for the streaming distribution model, can be, and is, viewed as both an extraordinary exposure platform and an agent of devaluing music product. 

Byrne properly notes that the benefit or deficit inherent in streaming depends largely on the artist’s career stage. Exposure at any cost is more important in early stages than later, when monetization of a growing fan base takes priority. 

There are times in Byrne’s 2,200-word disquisition when he seems disconcertingly like a Spotify newbie, or unfamiliar with essential aspects of the service. “There is also, I’m told, a way to see what your ‘friends’ have on their playlists,” he writes with unnerving cluelessness about Spotify’s industry-leading social connectivity. But Byrne’s above-it-all perspective does give him a solid grip on the major levers which shape the streaming business for tech companies, record labels, and recording artists.

It is the end of Byrne’s skeptical prospectus which lends the most credence: he has no answer to the inevitability of streaming music, and he avoids demonizing. More than that, he short-circuits quick conclusions by backpedalling from his own misgivings: “Were recording artists simply spoiled for a few decades and now those days are gone? Even Wagner was always in debt and slept with rich women to get funding -- so nothing’s new, right?”

But you know there’s another rhetorical shoe to drop, and Byrne lets it go by extending his thinking beyond music to all Internet-delivered media. This is the quotable quote: “It seems to me that the whole model is unsustainable as a means of supporting creative work of any kind. Not just music. The inevitable result would seem to be that the internet will suck the creative content out of the whole world until nothing is left.”

An apocalyptic view to be sure. But Byrne’s column is must-read for its intelligence and scope of thinking -- and as a tutorial to flame-throwing artists who scorch the earth with simplistic indictments of streaming music.

Sirius XM offers cheap re-subs and continues to climb

Monday, October 14, 2013 - 11:25am

It's a rising tide. While Pandora, iTunes Radio, and other IP-delivered music services build momentum, Sirius XM continues to disrupt AM/FM’s automotive presence, with enviable subscriber numbers. As Tom Taylor notes in his NOW newsletter this morning, “Sirius XM recently passed the 25-million subscriber mark, and its stock hasn’t traded this high since early 2006.”

Distribution is the key driver. Satellite radio was developed specifically for the car, where Sirius XM now enjoys a widespread installed base -- nearly seven out of 10 new cars have Sirius XM on board, according to Seeking Alpha. The company also furnishes an online component, in a reversal of the distribution order of Internet pureplays like Pandora, which started online and pushed its way into cars secondarily. (Sirius XM also offers stand-alone receivers.) Many new-car buyers discover SiriusXM’s diverse and star-studded programming with free introductory trials that last for months. An impressive 45 percent of those buyers convert to paying subscribers. (Pureplays take note: it can take MONTHS to habituate new users to a listening service … not days.)

To capture subs that have fallen off the grid, Taylor notes that Sirius XM is offering a six-month re-subscription for $25, total. Normal subscriptions cost between fourteen and eighteen bucks a month. 

That’s smart business, but the smartest part of satellite’s success has been hitching its fate to the car. Internet pureplays are not oblivious, and they are all scrambling for position in the connected dashboard. When they get there, they find competition from two staunch legacy forces: broadcast and satellite.

Pureplay of the Day: DI Radio

Friday, October 11, 2013 - 11:45am

Connoisseurs of electronica find no better pool in which to dive deeply and slake their unquenchable thirst than DI (Digitally Imported) Radio. (www.di.fm) Started in 1999, when founder Ari Shohat began streaming his favorite music from a college dorm room, DI now presents 55 channels of finely categorized, human-curated electronic music. No selection algorithms are crawling around DI. An emphasis on refined quality is reflected not only in the listening music streams, but also in the darkly atmospheric product design (web and most mobile systems), and the sonic level of its high-bitrate streams. 

The streaming is rock-solid in our listening experience. It’s easy to become immersed in the channel menu, anchored by mainstays like Ambient, Dubstep, House, Trance, et al. Music discovery is furthered with niche specialties such as Russian Clubhits, Cosmic Downtempo, and a delicious favorite in the RAIN editorial office: Vocal Chillout.

Don't expect interactive candy that is standard in the big brands, like song skipping, voting, or artist-seeded stations. This is pure, radio-style, push-button, lean-back listening. Trust the programming.

Ads: yes. House promotions are mixed with national audio campaigns (The Home Depot is in rotation today). DI Premium silences the ads for five bucks a month or 50 per year -- an attractive proposition when you’re focusing on intensely atmospheric mood music where commercial interruption is sharply discordant. Sound fidelity goes up in Premium, too, from 64k AAC to 128k AAC. A nifty audio demonstration tries to convince you how happy your auditory neurons will be if you upgrade.

DeliRadio, streaming and concert listing service, scores $9.35M funding

Thursday, October 10, 2013 - 11:00am

In an increasingly crowded field of general streaming platforms hosting immense catalogs of music to serve the long tail of listening demand, two trends are emerging.

First, services whose relationship to their catalog artists is keyed to non-financial values. For example, Earbits (whose iOS launch is covered in RAIN here) compensates its participating musicians with more intensive promotional tools than afforded by the big tech-music companies.

Second, services that furnish a function more specific than simple jukeboxing. DeliRadio is making splashes in this arena, by connecting its music selections to local appearances by the musicians. As such, it is difficult to decide whether it’s an artist-promotion service, or a user listening platform -- and that is a refreshing balance.

DeliRadio is in the news because the 23-person company received its first major venture funding since its founding in January, 2011 -- 9.35-million dollars kicked in by a small group of firms.

The DeliRadio experience is filtered primarily by the user’s location, and refined by genre and time period. Listening selections are shaped around artists scheduled to appear in local venues during the the near future. Locations with few performance spots will show slim pickings. Conversely, changing location to a hotbed of music activity, like the East Village of New York (try it: zip code 10003), pops up a wealth of listening and music discovery.

Acting as a reverse lookup for what’s going on tonight, or over the weekend, solves the typical problem of local outlet listings, when you don’t know what the listed bands sound like, and must rummage in YouTube, Spotify, or Bandcamp to piece together a night of musical bar-hopping. DeliRadio makes concert planning a music-first experience.

DeliRadio also works as a straight-ahead listening service, and encourages that user behavior with favoriting and playlisting. Many artists supply entire albums for free streaming, providing a more concentrated artist-discovery experience than Pandora or iTunes Radio.

Spotify has recently added concert listings to its app, so the investment in DeliRadio is well-timed to push its advantage as a dedicated concert-info solution.

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