C Story

QUICK HITS: Pink Floyd, Rhapsody, Lefsetz, Rdio

Friday, September 27, 2013 - 12:45pm

Pink Floyd drummer uncharacteristically praises music streaming. The iconic rock band has been a staunch and excoriating opponent of Pandora in the past, criticising the leading Internet radio platform for seeking lower royalty payouts. Speaking independently of the band, drummer Nick Mason granted an interview with the Wall Street Journal (“Streaming Is the Future”). Pandora wasn’t mentioned, but Spotify was, a lot. “Spotify for us was a success.” Mason seems to be basking in an epiphany: “Now it’s becoming clear that streaming is not another form of piracy.”

 

Rhapsody will add BandPage profiles. Music subscription service Rhapsody, which recently transitioned its leadership and suffered a deep-cut staff layoff, is adding a dimension to its programming through a partnership with BandPage. BandPage offer fan engagements and monetization opportunities to artists, who can craft experiences ranging from meet-and-greets to song critiques. Rhapsody will bundle BandPage experiences into its platform, synchronized with listener searches for participating bands. The partnership could be a pioneering way of inserting high-touch artist experiences into low-pay music streaming, increasing revenue for the band and engagement for the user.

Lefsetz on change. Bob Lefstez’s editorial rampages (see The Lefsetz Letter) are always entertaining, if not always on the money. The recent rant about iOS 7 was a lot of whine for the dime. Today’s disquisition (distractingly titled “Porn”) examines shifting consumer demands and the devaluation of legacy music assets and business models. “Change is constant. The key is to see the opportunities as opposed to mourning the loss.”

Rdio adds a feature. Lean-forward listening platform Rdio is encouraging lean-back use with its new Recommendations segment, fueled by Rdio’s ongoing relationship with The Echo Nest. The new feature surfaces albums, stations, and playlists based on usage history. It’s available on desktop now. Mobile-first evangelists would say that nothing is launched which isn’t a phone app, and presumably Rdio will roll out Recommendations to iOS and Android. (See Rdio’s blog announcement.)

Is Amazon inching toward a streaming music service?

Thursday, September 26, 2013 - 11:55am

Amazon caused a media ripple yesterday when it connected its previously independent Amazon Cloud Player with its MP3 Store. The Cloud Player is an online music locker where customers can store their owned tracks (whether purchased from Amazon or not), and play them from any device which can run an Amazon Cloud Player app (pretty much any device). People who prefer outright ownership of music, as opposed to the access model which motivates Spotify and Rhapsody, can get the benefits of mobility by maintaining their collections in the cloud, like celestial jukeboxes.

In mashing up the Cloud Player with the MP3 Store, Amazon joins buying, storing, and mobile playing in an agreeably seamless connection. That’s why Hypebot headlined the news: “Amazon Finally Gets Closer to iTunes” -- Apple’s download store is likewise integrated with its iCloud service.

But of course Apple owns the whole three-legged stool of downloading, cloud storage, and internet radio streaming, designed to cozy the user into an embryo of uninterrupted music monetization, at home and on the go. No less for Google, too, by the way, even though nobody’s talking about it during this period of obsessive Apple scrutiny.

Straddling the competitive fence which divides Apple and Google is one of Amazon’s cutting advantages. It has navigated mobile-OS politics by forking Android into a specialized operating system for Kindle Fire tablets, thereby remaining secular amid the tablet holy wars. Amazon apps are distributed to both iOS and Android phones and tablets. Amazon is everywhere, trading rabid fanboyism for the privilege of being despised by nobody.

From what better position to forge the missing link in the triplet chain of music merchandising? Last May, The Verge reported that Amazon was in talks with labels about a music subscription service. This is the ecosystem roadmap: sell the downloads first; provide universal cloud access second; lock in the user with unlimited listening third. If Amazon were to bundle a streaming platform into what is already a packed-with-value Amazon Prime membership, which now provides streaming movies and television, the media-loving consumer sector might undergo some kind of rapture and rise to the heavens.

If not, yesterday’s cloud/download maneuver will have been just another incremental product update. We’ll see.

Global partnership puts Aha streaming radio into Mazda's best-selling model

Wednesday, September 25, 2013 - 11:40am

In-car infotainment platform Aha by Harman announced that the new 2014 Mazda3 (for American and Japanese markets, as well as select other North American and Asian countries) will offer access to Aha's free service of more than 40,000 audio and information stations.

Aha will be Mazda's in-car solution to access podcasts, radio stations, news, entertainment, audiobooks, music, Facebook and Twitter feeds, and personalized location-based services.

Station partners include AccuRadio, CBC, EMF, NPR, CBS's Radio.com, SHOUTcast, Slacker, SomaFM, and others.

Apple shakes the ground with early iTunes Radio usage

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 - 12:10pm

Apple is showing off some dazzling M’s:

  • 200M iOS 7 activations (iOS 7 includes iTunes Radio by default)
  • 9M iPhones sold (combined iPhone 5s and 5c)
  • 11M unique listeners on iTunes Radio

That last item is generating some noise in the media echo chamber, and some misunderstanding. Witness this CNET headline: “At this pace, iTunes Radio beats Pandora in a month.” As baseball enters the scramble of its final pennant races, it should be a reminder that in sports and business, it’s a long season. Predicting Pandora’s defeat after less than a week of Apple competition is like predicting an undefeated season for a pitcher who wins his first game in April.

Furthermore, there is an importance difference between unique users and active users. As anyone in the content business knows, attracting unique users is hard, but converting them to active users who return to the brand is even harder. Pandora has over 200M uniques, and over 70M actives. It is fair to presume that many of Apple's 11M uniques were engaged in experimental listening. The three-month build-up to iOS 7 and iTunes Radio, following Apple’s WWDC announcement in June, naturally created some degree of must-try anticipation. No data are available as to whether Pandora experienced a listening dip over the weekend. But whether it did or not, it is reasonable to assume that Pandora and Apple are sharing uniques. Some of them will probably become unglued from existing Pandora habits. But it’s also reasonable to assume that with Apple’s colossal iOS 7 footprint (e.g. those 200M activations, with more to come), some of the 11M uniques are first-timers dipping their toes into the currents of internet radio for the first time. Those might be users that Pandora will never acquire ... or never would even absent Apple's gravitational field.

Music streaming is not a one-winner business, any more than the mobile ecosystem industry consolidates around a single dominant player. However, carrying through that comparison, major-league internet listening will probably boil down to two, three, or four preeminent platforms, surrounded by a cloud of smaller indies. If that’s how it plays out, it will in retrospect be unsurprising that Apple, with its intense user trust and equity in the music and mobile businesses, took a giant first step.

It might be worth noting that on Monday, Pandora stock (ticker: P) skidded from its Friday close of $26.99 to yesterday’s final price of $24.26, a plunge of just over 10 percent. There can be no certain connection between Apple's strong start and the precipitous one-day decline of P stock, of course. But Wall Street is no less reverberative than the media business.

Beats Music: No involuntary spasmic discharges

Monday, September 23, 2013 - 12:20pm

Precious little information about the upcoming Beats Music streaming service is seeping out from behind the firewall, except that it will use acquired MOG assets, and might be called Daisy. Both those bits are interesting, but potentially not as intriguing as CEO Ian Rogers.

Rogers was head of Yahoo!’s music efforts in a previous corporate incarnation, before heeding the call of the startup and joining Topspin, a label- and artist-services company. He remains on the Topspin board while taking the reins at Beats Music.

If one can divine the character of a yet-to-launch service by the personality of its leader, Rogers’ blog (Fistfulayen) is a must-read. He doesn’t post often, but the updates demonstrate a sharp blend of social network critiques, family business, youthful reminiscences, and (rarely) a Beats Music hint.

Today Rogers let fly an excoriating complaint of music services that auto-share their users’ every listen to Facebook. (His gripe is understandable, though it should be pointed out that most streaming services ask for an opt-in to auto-sharing, albeit one that is embedded in the Facebook registration.) Rogers provides instructions for disconnecting those auto-shares in Pandora, Spotify, Songza, Rdio, and Rhapsody -- plus how to stop Facebook from displaying music-sharing on the receiving end. The man is on a mission.

The Beats Music hint? Here it is: “I promise you Beats Music will not do the ‘barf everything you play on Facebook’ bullshit.” If only Rogers were more plainspoken, we’d have a better understanding of how he feels. But seriously, auto-sharing should be a clear, obvious, separate and explained opt-in step in any platform’s registration process. For the sake of social sanity, we cast our vote with Ian Rogers. Now, let’s have a look at that Beats Music service.

[First spotted on Hypebot]

Farber announces RAB initiative to examine radio streaming

Friday, September 20, 2013 - 9:10am

Radio Advertising Bureau CEO Erica Farber revealed in her address at The Radio Show yesterday her organization has created a "Streaming Initiative Committee" and is "taking a deep dive look into all aspects of streaming — definitions, delivery, metrics, etc." She promised more would be revealed in the coming weeks.

Farber assessed broadcast radio's new tech track record by saying "Unlike some other media, radio has taken an aggressive stand and taken advantage of technology to deliver content."

Of course, many industry observers would say exactly the opposite. Truly, how aggressive can the industry be if the RAB is announcing a fact-finding initiative on streaming technology in the year 2013?

Nonetheless, Farber suggested the ad community is on board, saying, "Advertisers recognize the importance of delivering their ad messages across all of radio’s platforms including radio’s fastest growing segment -— digital."

RadioWorld.com has the transcript of Farber's address here.

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