E Story

RAIN Hotspots: Week of Oct. 21-25

Friday, October 25, 2013 - 11:45am

Here are the top five, most-read articles this week, published at any time. 

Sirius XM apparently drops stations, infuriates users: RAIN noticed that Sirius XM’s Facebook page was exploding with comments from outrages users, over missing stations in the satellite broadcaster’s channel lineup. We never got a response to several requests for comment from Sirius XM. [READ]

Sirius XM will reportedly drop Clear Channel stations soon: Related to the above, from which many readers clicked over for background information. Sirius XM remains in the news, having announced slightly higher subscription prices for 2014. [READ]

Apple announces 20-million iTunes Radio users; fuzzy math abounds: The Apple-vs.-Pandora media tornado got moving when Cupertino announced latest audience metrics for iTunes Radio. Problems arise when you compare apples to oranges. (See what we did there?) [READ]

INTERVIEW: Jim Lucchese, CEO, The Echo Nest: Readers settled into Part 1 of our conversation with the head of a powerful unseen force in music services. [READ] (Part 2 is here.) 

Microsoft’s new Web Playlist dismantles traditional “station” listening: Readers are interested in a unique new feature in Xbox Music that unleashes the hidden musical quality of web pages. [READ]

NPR’s “This American Life” becomes endless on TuneIn

Tuesday, October 22, 2013 - 9:15am

We appreciate TuneIn’s distribution of favorite public radio programs. The ability to timeshift enhances broadcast listening and ensures that nothing is missed.

Speaking of inclusiveness, TuneIn announced the start of a new station devoted to stalwart PRI show “This American Life,” hosted by the endearingly mumbly Ira Glass. The program unlocked its 18-year show archive to create a 24-hour, seven-day stream of endless This American Life. It is available on the web and in both versions of the TuneIn app -- free and Pro. More like a broadcast than a playlist, when you first tune it in, the stream picks up mid-show.

More discriminating fans of the show can sort through old episodes by date or tag at the programs website. (www.thisamericanlife.org)

Interestingly, and only semi-relatedly, it was Ira Glass who publicly criticized the “Car Talk” program's carrier stations for switching into reruns when the show’s hosts retired. (Glass has not retired.) Glass’ point was that the hour should be freed up for rising stars, not fading ones. That worthy sentiment doesn’t apply to the unlimited space of an Internet platform, though, so now the question becomes: Who else? A 24/7 presentation of “Car Talk” seems like a natural -- as does any popular program with a big archive that isn’t hooked to current events. (“Fresh Air,” we’re looking at you.) 

Dave Allen blog-debates David Byrne about Spotify

Monday, October 21, 2013 - 11:00am

The asynchronous debate about Spotify (good or evil?) continues, most recently with Dave Allen (Gang of Four) responding at length to David Byrne’s OpEd last week in The Guardian (RAIN comment here).

If these dueling disquisitions were an endurance contest, for both the writer and reader, Allen would take the lead in his blog post, which runs 2,600 words. In it, he flatly disagrees with Byrne’s thoughtfully considered but apocalyptic conclusion that “...the internet will suck the creative content out of the whole world until nothing is left.”

Dave Allen contrarily reasons that the rise of Spotify is a natural evolution of markets and consumer preferences. He likens the emergence of streaming music, and the erosion of physical music sales, as comparable to the marketplace disruption which caused destruction to Polaroid and BlackBerry. Allen cites the paramount consumer demand when it comes to music, which is to personalize programming. He also incisively brings YouTube into the argument, wondering why musicians don’t protest that service. Along the way Allen questions FM, too, drawing a parallel with Spotify as a no-charge, ad-supported medium.

The weighty blog post wraps up with a double swipe at complainers and the major record labels: “Appearing to be elitist and Luddite is not a good way to win over today’s music fans to one’s cause; let’s leave that to be the historical legacy of the RIAA.”

Google adds the famous “I’m feeling lucky” button to its music service

Friday, October 18, 2013 - 10:25am

Trademark features live long lives. “I’m Feeling Lucky” appeared with the earliest versions of Google Search, giving users a fun roulette experience in search results. In those days, in the dawn of modern web-search intelligence, the “feeling lucky” feature conveyed a fun sense of shining a flashlight into the web’s enormous haystack, searching for a needle.

Google quickly built its reputation on smart and useful results -- no luck necessary. But to this day, the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button remains firmly installed below the keyword search box on Google’s home page. It is a brand identifier.

Now Google has imported the luck experience to its All Access subscription music service, with “I’m feeling lucky radio.” Based on the user’s listening history, the feature doesn’t differ in principle from personalized recommendations found in most jukebox services. It’s the capriciously blind quality which sets it apart, just as in the web search engine. You don’t get a glimpse of the playlist. The function provides a quick, no-thought, lean-back experience when you’re not in the mood to make choices.

RAIN’s test of the feature, which appeared on an update of Google Play’s Android app, has been erratic. At first, the button rotated through locally stored tracks. We turned it off and gave it an hour to settle into its new home. Trying again, it played a radio stream, as the feature promises. We feel reasonably lucky … but, being customization fiends, we’ll abandon the lucky button and resume personal choices before long.

QUICK HITS: Merlin and Pandora execs speak out

Tuesday, October 15, 2013 - 9:55am

Merlin CEO criticizes label deals: In a conversation with Janko Roettgers of GigaOm, Charles Caldas, head of prominent indie-label consortium Merlin, points to a basic aspect of business modeling behind Spotify, iTunes Radio, and other major players. The advance payments to major labels, Caldas warns, sets up an unsustainable situation for small labels that are excluded from broad dealmaking. Caldas expands his thinking beyond Merlin’s constituency; he thinks music services are being set up by for failure by the labels.

Pandora CFO holds forth: In a CNET interview, Pandora CFO Mike Herring delivers crisp C-level talking points about Pandora’s business and ongoing royalty controversies. No breakthrough knowledge to be gleaned, but the interview provides a concise summary of Pandora stance. On royalties: “It’s not about lowering rates -- that’s about creating fair rates across lots of distribution channels.” On Apple’s launch of iTunes Radio related to the cost of doing business in the streaming space: “It took someone, frankly, with a lot of cash in the bank and a big income statement like Apple to finally launch a competing service.” 

Audi rumored to develop replaceable SIM slot for connected dashboards

Thursday, October 10, 2013 - 11:00am

What’s your pleasure, a dashboard that allows you to plug in your personal devices with their data plans for streaming music on the road? Or a self-contained connected dash with its own Internet connectivity and embedded apps? In the first case, you’re bringing your own entertainment dashboard into the car, on your smartphone. In the second case, you can leave your gear at home and still enjoy your playlists while driving.

Fierce Wireless reports that Audi, which is developing its in-car tech along the lines of the second scenario, might announce a replaceable SIM-card slot for its A3 model, at the Consumer Electronics Show next January. Some current Audi models have an SIM card in the dash now, with a factory-installed SIM as the only card which will work with the onboard telematics. The data plan is provided by T-Mobile.

The problem with a one-SIM solution is that the connectivity solution built into the card might become obsolete -- for example, when cell phone networks upgrade their bandwidth capability. Car companies might be glad if trade-in decisions were synched with the development cycles of telecom companies, but that doesn’t necessarily fly with consumers.

Making the card switchable enables drivers to bring their own data plans into the car, to power the car’s connected dash systems. It’s a hybrid of the two scenarios above -- leave your devices at home, bring your own Internet into the vehicle with a SIM, and enjoy the dashboard’s integrated apps and services. 

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