C Story

Pandora sparks its Pandora Presents series with Celine Dion

Tuesday, October 15, 2013 - 9:55am

Pandora’s fledgling concert presentation division, called Pandora Presents, has shot into greater public awareness with the announcement that Celine Dion will perform a Pandora-hosted, Pandora-branded album pre-release concert.

The event is scheduled for October 29 in New York. The fact that another Pandora Presents concert is slotted for the 26th (Bridgit Mendler), but the series has not substantially been in the news until now, speaks to the obvious awareness advantage of celebrity.

Getting Pandora in the news is one reason to rope in a big name. (Although P doesn’t exactly starve for attention.) Brand reputation is another motivator, especially for a successful Internet radio service that struggles with controversy around its artist royalty concerns. (See this interview with Pandora’s CFO Mike Herring.) In the wake of scalding criticism from Thom Yorke and others, collaborating with Celine Dion takes angles for the same artist-support cred as Napster sponsoring Limp Bizkit’s summer tour in 2000.

The Pandora Presents concert series also folds into a “360-degree programming” strategy spearheaded by Spotify (Spotify Landmark) and Clear Channel (iHeartRadio Festival and Theaters). There is a service engagement lift as well, in the Celine concert -- one of the criteria for earning a free ticket is creating a Celine Dion station.

Mazda’s connected dash climbs into the HD Radio Total Traffic network

Monday, October 14, 2013 - 11:25am

The 2014 Mazda3 (which we must say, although we are not in the automotive reporting business, is the most drop-dead beautiful economy car around) has entered showrooms as the first Mazda model equipped with Clear Channel’s Total Traffic HD Network on the HD Radio platform. Other Mazda cars (CX-5, CX-9, and Mazda5) are equipped with HD Radio. iBiquity is the technology partner for this launch.

The Total Traffic Network is a hybrid digital-broadcast/Internet information network that seeks to deliver real-time traffic information and maps. HD Radio generally provides listeners with more interactivity than traditional lean-back AM/FM, though not the extreme degree of customization afforded by music-discovery platforms like Spotify, Rdio, or Rhapsody -- all of which are pushing onto the digital dashboard, inch by inch. Internet radio leader Pandora owns first-mover advantage in the automobile, among Internet pureplays.

This bit of HD Radio news fits into the mad scramble for positioning on digital dashboards, and provides an interesting counterpoint to SiriusXM’s escalated push for in-car listening (see the previous story in today's newsletter, or click here). According to HDradio.com, HD Radio is distributed by 33 car companies, across 167 models, with Toyota being the most bought-in (16 models). Nearly 30 percent of 2013 car models shipped with HD Radio. HDradio.com claims that in 2014, every American car dealer will have at least one HD-equipped car on the lot. 

Spotify has streamed over a million years of music

Friday, October 11, 2013 - 11:45am

To celebrate its fifth birthday this week, Spotify posted an infographic of intriguing usage statistics. A million years of streaming in five years of operation -- 200,000 years per year, 17,000 years per month -- is fun to ponder. One user has created over 90,000 playlists, which is frighteningly organized even for the most avid lean-in listener. President Obama is on Spotify.

Eighty percent of Spotify’s 20-million song catalog has been streamed. The flip side is that 20 percent has not been touched, presumably even by the indie artists who distributed their stuff there. Twenty percent seems like a surprisingly large portion of Spotify’s long tail to go untouched. 

Here is our recommendation to Spotify: Create an “Untouched Tracks” playlist, which auto-updates with each new addition, and removes tracks the moment they are first streamed from the playlist. Award honor points to users who get first-streamer bragging rights, and an Adventurous Listener award every month to the user who has first-listened to the most music. Promote it adequately, and that 20 percent unstreamed statistic will shrink in no time.

Pureplay of the Day: Radio Paradise

Thursday, October 10, 2013 - 11:00am

A venerable Internet radio station, Radio Paradise (www.radioparadise.com) is a perfect example of trusted human curation in the independent music streaming space. Operated as a cottage business since 2000 by Bill and Rebecca Goldsmith, the Radio Paradise studio is located in their home, in -- where else? -- Paradise, California. The Goldsmith’s have built a listener-supported business on a bedrock value of great musical taste.

The station’s ad-free playlist is not genre-limited, featuring instead a fairly adventurous, but never inaccessible blend of rock, world, and electronic tracks. The overall musical tenor is on the gentle side, reminiscent of alt-Starbucks in its variety and non-aggression. (But far more pleasing in our opinion.) There is a community element, as listeners can leave discussion comments about current and recently played songs. Streams are available in several formats and bit rates.

Radio Paradise offers a mobile app for iOS and Android, but web-desktop listening is a better experience, with a more complete social scene and, in our experience, more reliable streaming. Radio Paradise is an outstanding soundtrack for work or casual daily activities, and -- best of all -- recommending it to friends bestows music-taste cred.

Pureplay of the Day: 7Online (Burma)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013 - 10:45am

Pureplay of the day spotlights adventures in off-road listening.

The population of Burma (officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar) is about 60-million -- less than Pandora’s base of active listeners. Only one percent of Burma’s population has Internet access, but that’s enough of a market to support 7Online, the country’s first and only Internet radio station.

Started last year, 7Online produces six hours of daily programming, and repurposes that block throughout the 24-hour stream. RAIN, a non-Burmese-speaking organization, bravely downloaded the iOS app for some Southeast Asian pureplay groove. The interface is attractive, clean, and dead-simple with its giant Play button.

According to Irrawaddy, a Burmese news publication, the six friends who started 7Online bypassed government radio regulations by forgoing news coverage in station programming. 7Online reportedly has 10,000 global listeners.

Make that 10,001 -- RAIN’s editorial office is rocking to 7Online’s heady mix of synth-pop ballads, Asian rap, and ethnic crossover.

Google received 21-million copyright takedown requests in the past month

Tuesday, October 8, 2013 - 7:10am

Does Internet radio solve piracy? Let’s be clear about the question.

By “Internet radio” we mean all forms of interactive listening that reflect the consumer trend to access as a new form of ownership. In other words, reaching for the celestial jukebox instead of hoarding song files in local storage, whether or not those files are obtained illicitly.

By “piracy” we mean any music consumption unauthorized by music owners, regardless of whether that behavior displaces legal downloading or listening. (Displacement has been a much-argued question for 15 years.)

Now that we’ve clarified the terms, let’s admit that the answer is unknowable. There is logic to the idea that streaming music, and music subscriptions, offer an easier, safer, and more satisfying path to soundtracking one’s life than unauthorized methods. If Spotify had existed in 1998, during Napster’s heyday, it is possible that the novel delights of file-sharing would have been substantially undermined.

Enough speculation. Here are some numbers. Google reports receiving 21.5-million copyright removal requests in the past month, and nearly 6-million in the past week. The accelerating pace of those requests is breathtaking (see the graphic), and likely due to increased surveillance as much as it is due to supply or demand for unauthorized music.

What is a copyright removal request to a search engine? Google is not a peer-to-peer file-sharing network, but it does serve as a directory that points to file-sharing platforms. As such, it must respond to DMCA-compliant takedown requests. These requests emanate in the greatest volume from industry groups like the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and its British counterpart, the BPI (British Phonographic Industry). Those two alone are responsible for about 10-million takedown requests in the last month, nearly half the total. Another top-three request source is Degban, a technology provider that uncovers unauthorized services. Microsoft gets into the act, too.

All these groups, and others, want search results removed from Google. Google complies with 97 percent of requests.

The meaning of all this is debatable. It is wrong to imagine that 21.5-million new file-sharing networks popped up in a one-month period. Most takedown links point to individual files on a P2P platform. There could be a million requests related to one underground service. As to actual use, Google’s disclosure does not hint at clickthrough, or offer any measurement of how popular unauthorized file-sharing is. The ongoing request-and-removal process has become systematized through technology, and functions as a tamping-down method of keeping illegitimate music distribution partly hidden.

Music streaming and music piracy live side-by-side. We’ll take streaming any day.

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