C Story

Internet radio distribution news: Google Music and iTunes Radio

Monday, October 7, 2013 - 10:15am

Crossing ecosystem boundaries can be as difficult as traveling across national borders.

Google Music (both the download store and the All Access streaming-music app) is soon venturing into hostile fanboy territory by distributing its service to Apple mobile users. Engadget reports that Google will produce an iOS app later this month. It will be interesting to track uptake. One clear loyalty point in Apple’s ecosystem is the iTunes network of buying, streaming, and listening. But ubiquity is a good strategy as users cross boundaries more than media brands want them to. People who like Android phones, for example, but prefer Apple’s iPad for a tablet experience, want to carry their music with them across devices.

Will Apple reciprocate with an app in the Android storeSorry, that wasn’t a serious question.

But Apple is venturing geographically, if you believe sightings of a job listing for an iTunes Radio music programmer in Canada. The listing (which has disappeared after first sighting) calls for a cross-genre music expert with knowledge of the local music scene. No matter when it happens, Apple’s global expansion of iTunes Radio is only a matter of time.

INTERVIEW: Fred Jacobs and the DASH conference

Friday, October 4, 2013 - 10:30am

The connected car, built with a digital dashboard and Internet-delivered audio, is an increasingly vital touchstone for both broadcast radio and Internet radio. With that in mind, research and consulting firm Jacobs Media is hosting DASH: The Connected Car AudioTainment(™) Conference, scheduled for October 23 and 24 in Detroit, where the company is located. (See the DASH site here; the conference agenda is here.)

DASH is a deep dive -- a day-and-a-half conference devoted to the present and future of infotainment in the car. The event seeks to bring together many sectors which are converging in the space for a comprehensive discussion of how different influencers are shaping the future of car radio.

RAIN spoke with Jacobs Media president Fred Jacobs, to discuss the vision of his DASH conference.

RAIN: How did the DASH conference come to be?

FJ: The idea was to put together a mash-up of constituencies that are critically important to the conversation -- OEMs, tier-1s, advertising agencies in the automotive space, and car dealers. And of course radio people. There are a lot of moving parts. The challenge was to put together a conference that touches on all these different flavors.

To us, it’s simple. When you think about the role the car plays in the overall health and welfare of the radio business, it comes down to two things. First, the lion’s share of listening to broadcast radio takes place behind the wheel. Second, automotive is the largest category of revenue generation for most radio stations. So we thought: Let’s design a conference solely dedicated to the connected car.

Another genesis of this was the Consumer Electronics Show. A few years ago, Alan Mulally of Ford presented one of the keynotes. The automakers are excited about the [connected car] space. At many of [the tech-oriented conferences], radio is MIA. Pandora is there, satellite is there. We felt that radio needed to figure out that this space is critically important, and radio needs to be there.

RAIN: Radio has the most to lose in a big disruption taking place in the car. If radio is behind the curve, what do you think is the future of AM/FM in the car?

FJ: AM/FM is always going to be there. But broadcast radio outlets have to rethink their strategic position. For the most part, radio stations have been in competition with other stations down the dial for ratings and revenue. Part of what DASH is all about is to help open up their points of view to begin to see that they’re competing on a much grander scale.

You might think, ‘We have time.’ I think that would be a mistake. The radio industry needs to engage with the space, we need to get involved, deepen our relationships with the car companies -- they really do represent a large part of our future. We need to engage with them and let them know that broadcast radio always has been, and always needs to be, an important element of what is rolling off these assembly lines. We’re hoping that this event really helps deepen the relationship.

RAIN: In your “Connected Car” Super Session at the Radio Show in Orlando last month, you and Roger Lanctot showed videos of prospective car buyers grappling with the challenge of turning on the radio in digital dashboards. You also predicted that by 2017, all cars would be knob-free. Are those videos a warning to car companies?

FJ: They are. It’s very Wild West out there. The car companies are all moving in different directions. None of these systems talk to each other. The OEMs feel that what they’re developing is the right way for them. It’s every company for itself. They’re all doing extensive research to figure out what the consumer wants, but it’s still pretty embryonic. Those videos really show that.

Of course, they also showed people who hadn’t had any orientation. But there’s some logic there. If we handed somebody an iPhone, who had never seen one before, chances are pretty good that, after playing with it for a couple of minutes, they’d be able to make a phone call or send a text. And that is typically not the case in [the digital dashboard] space. So [the car companies] have a long way to go here.

RAIN: One of the sessions at DASH represents car dealers.

FJ: I’m really excited about the car dealer session. They’re the ones who are charged with training customers to figure out how this works. It’s the local car dealer you go to when you’re having a problem with your system. They’re hiring specialists, they’re doing classes on Saturday -- it really has changed the nature of the dealership.

The other piece is the way car dealers and their ad agencies are looking to buy local media to build their brands. There is change happening at the dealership level. We think it’s important that DASH represent the car dealer.

RAIN: If AM/FM has the most to lose, pureplays have the most to gain.

FJ: Absolutely right. It’s important that they be there. Pandora jumped right in. We’ve got TuneIn and iHeart. I like the idea of bringing in lots of different players and turning them loose. You’re going to meet people and talk to people that you don’t normally see at conferences. At last count we’ve got 45 speakers -- paneling, moderating, keynoting, participating onstage. It’s a 360-degree view of the connected car. Our feeling is that our attendees will return from this conference with a much deeper understanding of what’s going on.

RAIN: What do you hope will be advanced during the DASH conference?

FJ: The goal is to bring these segments together at one conference, let people work together, talk to each other. The auto companies all understand the value of broadcast radio. They don’t need to be convinced that it’s viable. Broadcast radio needs to show that we care, are engaged, and understand the importance of the space.

What we also hope comes out of this conference is a greater realization of what broadcast radio’s true value is, as content providers. When you talk to automotive people about what broadcast brings to the table, they talk about local, they talk about personality, they talk about community. Yet, at times, [radio] has gotten away from those values. When it comes to the connected car, broadcast radio needs to redefine its value proposition, in an environment where there is increased competition, and commit to its unique differentiating elements. That is long overdue. We believe a conference like this can help accelerate that thinking.

I really think that no matter what your place in radio is, there is absolutely going to be something here for you. Personally, I hope that I have an opportunity to catch my breath, sit in the seats, and take some notes!

Internet radio changes the meaning of “album release”

Wednesday, October 2, 2013 - 12:30pm

Eddy Cue, Apple’s head of Internet Software and Services, and chief of iTunes and iTunes Radio, indicated in a recent interview that streaming Justin Timberlake’s new album a week before its release won’t be the last promotion of its kind. Without revealing any numbers, Cue said it was a perfect application of iTunes Radio. The iTunes Music Store has streamed preview albums in the past, but (as noted by Cue), the Radio environment is a more natural setting for long-form listening than a store.

Using radio to preview not-yet-released music is not new. Singles have received weeks of broadcast airplay to build demand. But mp3 eroded the efficacy of that, as P2P file-sharing, then the iTunes store (which opened in 2003) blurred the line between unreleased and released. Building demand started to feel like artificial friction in a marketplace where instant availability crossed back and forth between legal and illegal realms. Copyright infringement is a nuance that escapes many consumers, but digital availability has become an obvious and compelling fact of life

David Joseph, CEO of Universal Music U.K. and Ireland, noted in 2011 an interesting observation: "What we were finding under the old system was the searches for songs on Google or iTunes were peaking two weeks before they actually became available to buy, meaning that the public was bored of – or had already pirated – new singles.”

When the radio station is owned by the record store (as in Apple’s case), and both pay royalties to the labels, synchronizing release windows to consumer demand is solved. Release is a wave, not a particle. To many users, especially those invested in access-as-ownership, Justin Timberlake’s album was “released” on the first day of the preview stream. The download side of Apple’s merchandising benefited not only from preview build-up, but also from providing universal review access, which resulted in pre-sale reviews published in MTV, L.A. Times, New York Daily News, Washington Post, Variety, SPIN, Vulture, and dozens of other outlets. (Some of those skewering diatribes probably hurt iTunes download sales.) 

Whole-album Internet radio promotion is an intriguing experiment for all stakeholders. It solves piracy to some extent, and also hints at reviving albums from the fragmenting single-song marketplace. When you spend a week luxuriously accustoming listeners to a packaged collection, with no revenue damage, you encourage packaged buying down the funnel. At this writing, Timberlake’s album sits at #1 in the iTunes Store Albums chart, while the Songs chart doesn’t show his name until #31. Darn right Eddie Cue is going to repeat this experiment.

WiMP offers hi-fi streaming in Europe

Wednesday, October 2, 2013 - 12:45pm

In what could be characterized as a noble attempt to bridge the mass market’s preference for convenience over quality, and the audiophile’s choice of pristine audio over mobility, a Scandinavian streaming music service called WiMP has introduced lossless streaming. Lossless audio files are derived from the original source (such as a master recording) without suffering the sound-degrading compression which is applied to create an mp3 or AAC file. The value of compressed files is their smaller, more portable size -- you can fit more of them into a mobile device, and they stream more fluidly in mobile bandwidth situations. In a market governed by smartphone listening through cheap earbuds with severely constrained frequency response, audiophile demand is always niche.

WiMP does not force the high-quality solution on its users, but does offer it as one of several quality options. The company also re-sourced its library, replacing so-called lossy originals with lossless versions. That enabled WiMP to control the compression schemes from top to bottom.

WiMP is currently available in Denmark, Germany, Norway, Poland, and Sweden.

QUICK HITS: Foursquare and Songza; Pandora app revenues; iTunes Radio ads

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 - 12:35pm

Songza partners with Foursquare: As part of its real-life focus, Internet streamer Songza has partnered with social site Foursquare. Songza users who “check in” at certain locations receive rewards -- badges, access to special playlists, and temporary no-charge access to Songza’s premium subscription level. The match-up seems a bit artificial, but could increase Songza’s brand recognition and attract new users.

Pandora tops app revenue list: For the fifth consecutive month, the Pandora mobile app was the highest revenue generator (excluding gaming apps) in Apple’s app store during August, according to the App Annie Index. The Pandora app itself is a free download, but subscribing to the streamer’s ad-free service is what brings the revenue. Tracking app downloads, Pandora does not appear in the index top-10.

iTunes smart ads: In continued listening tests of iTunes Radio, the latest and most highly-publicized Internet radio launch, we have noticed smooth integration of contextual audio/banner ads in the artist-based streams. Apple is concentrating some effort at driving downloads with ads for iTunes Music Store albums, contextualized to the current stream. In a classical station based on the Berlin Philharmonic, Apple advertised a recording by the world’s hottest conductor, Gustavo Dudamel. In a blues-oriented station, an ad for the Nissan Versa Note played, highlighting the music-listening features of its dashboard system. (“Your door to more music.”) iTunes Radio might not compare well to the intelligence of Pandora’s Music Genome Project, but early indications show the advertising to be much smarter.

PRX shifts from intermediary to primary distributor with Remix app

Monday, September 30, 2013 - 12:10pm

PRX, the Public Radio Exchange, is a nonprofit open market for public radio programming. Open to any producer, the PRX catalog represents any length, production value, and nearly any topicality. Stations can license programs and series for use, with the PRX clearinghouse acting as a commission-based agent.

As such, PRX has fulfilled a secondary distribution role, helping producers gain programming slots in radio schedules. For most listeners, exposure to public radio content is skewed similarly to the music star system -- they enjoy the hits (e.g. Radiolab, WaitWait Don’t Tell Me, Fresh Air) are are unaware of the longer tail. PRX is moving to change both those issues, increasing attention to its own role as a publishing platform while giving listeners are better sense of available options. The vehicle for accomplishing this is PRX Remix, a straight-to-consumer app featuring PRX shows that you probably haven’t heard on your local NPR station.

Unmodestly, PRX Remix calls itself, “The greatest radio station of all time.” Hyperbole aside, the emulation of radio playing is the app’s drawback. There is no interactivity or searching. There is a play button … that’s it. (Testing for this write-up transpired in the Android version.) the playlist is curated, not arbitrary, with short introductions of each programming piece. As such, PRX Remix proves to be a passable discovery environment, but the hope here is to evolve the app into a directory of PRX programs. Letting users create their own playlists would probably increase time spent with the app, and certainly would expose more long-tail productions.

(First seen in Paul Kamp's Backbone Newsletter.)

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