B Story

Triton’s August Top-20 Ranker shows broad webcast gains

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 - 12:35pm

Triton Digital released its August Top-20 scoresheet of webcast metrics yesterday afternoon, revealing marginal change in the ranking lineup, and nearly unanimous upward movement in both Average Active Sessions and Session Starts. Half of the top-20 webcast leaders also showed gains in Average Time Spent Listening.

The table below shows July and August metrics sorted by Average Active Sessions, and indicating changes in ranking order. (All tables below reflect the 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daypart.) Pandora remained the webcast leader, and Beasley Broadcasting entered the list in the 20th spot for August.

Sorting the August ranking by Month-over-Month (MoM) gains in Average Active Sessions, the following table shows double-digit webcast gains for five broadcast groups, and strong or relatively stable performance for the entire list:

Rearranging the list from the vantage of gain/loss in Average Time Spent Listening, the greatest increase in stickiness applied to pureplays Slacker and Idobi Radio.

Streamza angles into quasi-Internet radio via BitTorrent file-sharing

Monday, September 30, 2013 - 12:10pm

There are two big differences between Napster-style file-sharing and subscription music streaming like Rhapsody and Spotify. The first is that unauthorized file-sharing is, you know, unauthorized. Ad hoc sharing on peer-to-peer platforms infringes copyright, harms musicians to some degree (to an extent argued over the last 15 years), and can get you sued by media owners (although not as likely as it used to be). The second difference is that file-sharing hooks into the desire to own units of music, as opposed to accessing libraries of music. Local storage is losing ground to cloud availability as subscription platforms gain traction.

Streamza, a startup built on the BitTorrent file-sharing backbone, attempts to merge the two consumer priorities in a loop-closing service that locates, downloads, and streams music and video content. Technology like this is not entirely new, and has been built into some BitTorrent clients in the past -- those are the programs which pop up to negotiate the peer relationships needed to grab pieces of a file from the collective of sharing computers, and stitch them together on the downloading computer. During the grab-and-stitch, they start streaming the content to the impatient person tapping his fingers waiting for the file to arrive.

But Streamza differentiates by creating a platform-agnostic service that integrates the BitTorrent process in a way that emphasizes the streaming part, shoving the download handshaking into the background, and putting out an experience that resembles a streaming music subscription. Streamza aims to distribute on all the usual operating systems -- currently on the web, as a Chrome app, and purportedly in iOS (although a search for Streamza in Apple’s app store this morning came up empty).

BitTorrent is merely a technology -- neutral in all ways and perfectly legal, like mp3. But a first-timer to the Streamza web site can discern immediately that this is an unauthorized service, thanks to the “DMCA Requests” link at the bottom of the home page. That's like a badge that says, "Hey, don't blame us." An infringement-free application of Streamza technology could conceivably be applied to BitTorrent.com, a fully authorized walled garden that offers innovative distribution opportunites for content owners who want the efficiency of peer-to-peer distribution. As it sits now, Streamza is offering a broadly accessible way of enhancing the file-sharing experience, bringing faster gratification to the unregulated P2P realm.

Slacker's new "My Vibe" steps into concierge-style programming

Friday, September 27, 2013 - 12:45pm

Creative curation is Internet radio’s latest programming vogue. Songza, for which “life moment” playlists are the cornerstone of the service’s “Concierge” programming strategy, emblemizes the approach of serving the user in action, furnishing a music stream that matches daypart, activity, and mood. This tactic, more than simple genre or decade playlists, seeks to make the service exquisitely responsive to the listener’s transient state of mind. Songza attempts to soundtrack the changeable here-and-now.

It is an appealing service paradigm, one that can be optimized by granular song tagging on the back end, refined by user customization actions (likes, skips, shares) on the front end. Slacker, a competing platform which has long specialized in creative in-house playlists, recently co-opted Songza’s playbook and established a new aspect of its listening app. Called “My Vibe,” Slacker’s day/do/mood associations are clearly modeled on Songza’s leadership. Slacker introduced the mobile version with an iOS app specifically designed around iOS 7 (it is gorgeous), and its new Android experience dropped into Google Play yesterday (it is serviceably attractive).

If you choose the “My Vibe” path through Slacker’s new apps, you are presented with a greeting which calls out the current daypart ("Pick some music for a Friday afternoon") and requests a couple of choices -- just as Songza does. If there is a key differentiator in Slacker’s favor, it is how the interface is packaged on a smartphone screen. The user makes two choices on one screen to get the music started. On Songza, the user is pulled through three decisions on three screens. A tiny detail? Yes, but convenience resides in details, and the lean-back listening market seeks the best, most personalized music with the least effort. On this point, it’s a win for Slacker.

The two services also differ in how user choices are described. Songza requires more knowledge of music sub-genres -- a nice hook for people who do understand, for example, psybient electronica. Slacker, in contrast, uses evocative station titles like Yoga Flow -- attractive to listeners who catalog music by its effect rather than genre designation.

If Slacker’s My Vibe stations seem familiar to its users, there is a reason: the stations are existing Slacker playlists repurposed for the My Vibe environment. The new interface appears to be accomplished through tagging of existing assets (“Handcrafted stations”) to the day/activity layout (“Music for every moment”). If that is comprehensively true, Slacker has leaped into Songza’s space without any additional handcrafting.

It will be interesting to see whether other platforms bite into the music-for-now space, and -- futuristically -- how this programming tactic might be extended by new mobile technology. Imagine a smart watch which feeds you workout music when it discerns that you are exercising, or lullabies when you are in bed. Or consider Google Glass, which wouldn’t need to ask what you’re doing -- it can see for itself. My Vibe? Or, My Every Move Tracked By Technology?

INTERVIEW: Steven Kritzman of Pandora on Internet radio adoption in the U.S.

Thursday, September 26, 2013 - 11:55am

Steven Kritzman, SVP of Sales for Pandora, was on this week's Advertising Week panel which presented new survey research titled “The New MainStream,” a study measuring adoption of Internet radio among Americans who are online. (As a side point, see the new Pew study examining the portion of the American population which does not use the Internet.)

Pandora, along with TuneIn and Spotify, comprise the Streaming Media Task Force, which co-presented the Edison study.

RAIN spoke with Steven Kritzman about the Task Force, the reduction of AM/FM listening implied in the new research, car listening, and aspects of Pandora’s general advertising strategy. Following are excerpts of the conversation, lightly edited for readability.

RAIN: Can you talk a bit about the Task Force?

SK: We got into a conversation 6 or 8 months ago, in which we thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could do a deeper dive, and start to show people the behavior and document trends that are happening in the internet radio space, and to some degree paint a picture on the consumer shift that’s happening. While people understand that something is happening, they don’t really know to what degree. As you know from the results, it’s pretty dramatic. Half the [online] people in the United States are listening now. So it’s not only a niche thing; it’s a reach play as well as a frequency opportunity. That was the baseline for the discussion six months ago. Then we really wanted to say, Hey, we’d love to create something that we could push out as an industry, without a specific publisher agenda, on an annual basis, to show the incremental moves in time spent, and the behavioral changes.

RAIN: The headline point of the research package is the 53 percent. But another interesting research point is the extent to which new listening is displacing broadcast listening, and the extent to which it represents added listening during the day. The survey indicates that 44% of internet listening is replacing AM/FM. Do you have a perspective on how much displacement is part of what’s going on?

SK: I think a ton. The terrestrial radio industry has done a great job to mask the time-spent migration. Radio has always been a frequency medium -- at least, when I sold it for 15 years. [Kritzman is the former Director of Sales for Clear Channel Radio.] And now, over the last five years it has been re-packaged as a reach medium, that 92 percent of all Americans listen to radio every week. That is true, and radio is still incredibly relevant, and marketers should be planning for it. But, if you go to the RAB website, and you look at time spent with radio since 2007, it’s down 25 percent. That’s the number that is captured in that 44% [metric]. I think that’s where the majority of listening to Internet radio is coming from. I think there is a 1+1=3 [aspect]. I think people are spending a lot more time with audio, because of the portability -- you can listen to it in so many more places than you ever could [before smartphones]. However, there’s going to be some cannibalization.

RAIN: The car is one place where there is still a big disparity. Do you agree that internet radio has a long way to go before catching up to AM/FM in the car?

SK: I do and I don’t. 50% of our mobile listeners say that they listen in the car. We’ve got over 50M mobile listeners, and they say they listen in the car. As we look to the future, we see the car as one of our biggest opportunities for growth moving forward. One in three cars sold this year will have Pandora in it. That will increase over time. Over the next three or four years, I expect you’ll see our place in the car rise tremendously.

RAIN: Tim Westergren said this week that Pandora’s commercial load will never approach that of broadcast radio. Free users of Pandora see many display ads, and hear 2-4 minutes of audio commercials per hour. Will that increase, and if so, where do you think it will land in the future?

SK: It’s really hard to say what the ideal mix is. Our users will determine that. We’re always testing, and we’re always sensitive to the user experience. A lot of that will come from what our users’ palate is for the ads, and what types of ads they are. Because of the size of our platform, we can take a small percent of our audience, and test different ad types, so users will help us determine what’s most effective. That, in turn, becomes the most effective for our advertisers.

RAIN: When it comes to the balance of local and national advertising. How do you deploy sales resources between national and local?

SK: Both are important pieces of our business. With the scale we have now, north of 70M people nationally every month, we are a national branding opportunity. It’s a huge piece of our business. In the last two years, our scale has gotten to a point at the local level where we are, from an audience perspective, as large as many of the biggest radio stations in any individual market. We’ve been deploying resources in the top 28 market this year, and we’ll build that out next year. We’re getting as exciting responses locally as we did nationally. Looking a couple of years down the road, our local/national advertising mix will look pretty similar to most major media companies.

RAIN: Do you break out that revenue mix now?

SK: No.

RAIN: What about Australia and New Zealand? [Pandora's only non-U.S. countries.]

SK: We’re not live with advertising [now], and are growing the audience. I’m not directly involved, but the audience growth has been terrific, and we’re going to look to get ad support in the next year.

RAIN: Pandora is well represented on measurement systems along with broadcast. Does this research about internet radio help you gain presence for the sales effort generally, or are you past that point?

SK: I think anytime you provide research that is educational, it’s going to be helpful. The [internet radio] space is at a tipping point. We’ve got to do our job in the industry to educate on how much it should be allocated. Six percent of all time-spent on media is spent on print, and they still get 23 percent of the ad budget. Mobile represents 12% of time spent, and they get three percent of the budget. Radio represents 14% of time spent, and they get 10% of the budget. From my perspective there’s a huge paradigm shift that has to happen via education to marketers, to say that things have changed dramatically over the last five years. Studies like "The New MainStream" are one step in that direction.

Tim Westergren: Pandora's goal is to supplant broadcast

Wednesday, September 25, 2013 - 11:40am

Pandora founder and Chief Strategy Officer Tim Westergren was spotlighted in a hosted Q&A session at the Goldman Sachs “Communacopia” conference yesterday. (Transcript here; elaborate registration required.) In a wide-ranging discussion, Westergren elaborated on Pandora’s business priorities, the state of music rights management globally, the company’s ad sales efforts, competition from Apple, the Nielsen/Arbitron merger, and several other topics.

“Our goal is to supplant the existing broadcasts of formal radio, becoming much more pleasing to consumers,” Westergren remarked at the start. Throughout the interview he emphasized Pandora’s main differentiator being the quality of its music experience (“We build better playlists”), and a stay-the-course roadmap absent of reinvention.

Pandora is a two-tier Internet radio platform that offers free listening supported by advertising, and ad-free subscription membership. Westergren clearly articulated how the two programs, with their respective costs and revenues, are balanced. Business growth efforts are concentrated on the ad side, with the premium membership portion considered supplementary. Subscriptions account for 20 percent of revenue. “We’re not a premium business [...] the real name of the game for us is delivering on the ad-supported business [...] that’s really where the home run is.”

Accordingly, the free-listening cap applied during this past summer was not a ploy to drive subscriptions, Westergren said, although it did motivate some users to sign up. The cap’s purpose was to solve under-monetization of a portion of non-paying mobile listeners. When that loss was corrected (no specifics there from Westergren), the cap was removed.

When it comes to supplanting broadcast radio, distribution is paramount. The Pandora founder talked about capturing market share in cars and in homes (neatly corresponding to survey results released yesterday by Edison Research showing car and home as AM/FM strongholds), and a strategy of ubiquity. A significant portion of Pandora’s engineering force is dedicated to embedding the service in all kinds of devices, from dashboards to in-car CD players to refrigerators.

If device distribution is proceeding quickly, geographic expansion is stalled. According to Westergren, the problem is music rights negotiations. It’s no secret that Pandora is struggling with content costs. “Rights administration is just not a very healthy part of the music business [...] rights are granted country by country, territory by territory.” Pandora was able to open in Australia and New Zealand because of favorable royalty setups, but has been thwarted in other regions because of licensing obstacles. “As we think about deploying in new countries, right now we can’t even begin to do it.”

A few other points:

  • Pandora is embedded in over 1,000 devices.
  • The service’s recommendation engine, built on the Music Genome Project, is enhanced by over 36-billion up/down votes by users.
  • Westergren has been aggressively hiring local sales specialists, region by region according to market share.
  • There is no immediate, specific plan for recently-raised capital. Acquisitions are possible, but nothing on the horizon.
  • Pandora’s audio ad load will never approach that of broadcast radio. It is possible to achieve a “fantastic business” with fewer commercials.
  • Westergren likes the Nielsen/Arbitron merger for the usual “common currency” reasons.
  • The competitive impact of iTunes Radio will be “modest.” Pandora has faced many large competitors, and its share has grown.
  • Pandora is the third-largest generator of mobile revenue.

Taco Bell and Samsung among first on new Songza "native advertising" platform

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - 12:10pm

Webcaster Songza has launched a "native advertising" solution it says is already producing benefits for advertisers in engaging potential customers.

Songza is the webcaster known for its Music Concierge, which offers curated playlists suited to listeners' activities and moods (and has been replicated by services no less than iHeartRadio and Slacker). Native advertising means incorporating brands and ad messages into the actual content of a service -- in this case, Songza's musical experience.

Co-founder and CCO Eric Davich described the benefits of the platform, named "Sponsored Moments," to the SoundCTRL blog. According to Davich, the program is about tapping "into the personal, trusted connection we have with our users in order to provide contextually relevant experiences."

Songza has worked with brands like Taco Bell and Samsung and created song collections like "Getting Hyped" and "Going Back to College" that fit those brands.

"We work closely with brands to tell their story with the personality," Davich said. Brands "need to contextualize their message in a way that relates to the consumer's context," he continued, "not just who they are and where they're from, but also what they're actually doing at that very moment."

Songza recently completed it latest round of financing of $4.7 million (investors include Lady GaGa's and Justin Bieber's managers), and took home the FlashFWD award for "Best in Discovery."

Read more in SoundCTRL here.

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