Apple

Apple's iTunes Radio lands tomorrow

Tuesday, September 17, 2013 - 12:00pm

The long-awaited Internet radio play from Apple, iTunes Radio, officially goes public tomorrow with the release of the company's latest mobile operating system, iOS 7.

Never before has the launch of an Internet radio streaming service been so anticipated, and perhaps rightly so. Apple's marketing power and built-in customer base are unparalleled in this space. Apple commands name recognition beyond any in the field, including leader Pandora. And even though the service's inital launch is U.S.-only, since the iTunes Music Store is all over the world, "the potential stage is global," CNet's Paul Sloan wrote.

This point is one that makes radio consultant Mark Ramsey think the fattest chunk of potential audience for iTunes Radio will be those who've never even tried Internet radio.

"The 'everyone else' who listens to music on their iGadgets and Android devices and desktops who may never have bothered with the incremental 'work' required to download and use a specialized app or platform but who nevertheless are iTunes users," he wrote. "This is particularly true in the many corners of the world where Pandora doesn’t exist."

What's more, since it's "baked in" to iTunes, there's no need to specially "acquire" this radio, which replicates broadcast radio's pathway to ubiquity: "Almost nobody ever 'buys' a radio. When you buy the clock, the radio comes along for free. When you buy the car, the radio comes along for free," Ramsey contends. "You own several without buying any, and you use them simply because they’re there and you can."

One very important way in which Apple will take a slightly different path than its predecessors may be the amount of human curation -- the programming -- of the service. Sloan's sources at music labels believe the service will rely on the tastes and insights of people, just like Apple does with the iTunes Music Store.

"Apple now will get an opportunity to recast a decade-old debate about the respective roles of man versus algorithm when it rolls out this new piece of streaming music software. Apple has built a service in its own image that, to a large degree, leans on taste makers as well as mathematics," CNet says.

We've discussed this many times before -- services' growing understanding that no matter how sophisticated their recommendation algorithms, humans still have the edge in creating compelling, unique listening experiences (see: the new Beats Music, Spotify's new "Browse," and the just-announced deal between Rdio and Cumulus).

Read Sloan's article in CNet here, and Ramsey's post for PBS's MediaShift here.

Unanswered questions at Rhapsody

Friday, September 13, 2013 - 11:55am

Being a first-mover can be dangerous.

No music service is more aware of the perils of pioneering than Rhapsody, the subscription listening platform that has been operating since 2001. CEO Jon Irwin, in his RAIN Summit West 2013 keynote, remarked: “We’ve been around for over 11 years. Sometimes that’s a good thing; sometimes that’s a bad thing.”

Rhapsody’s market position seems to be an uneasy thing, at least, if you give credence to this week’s rumors of an executive shakeup underway. Nothing has been substantiated, but Rhapsody’s business realities, combined with whirlwind change in the internet listening landscape, make the rumors plausible.

If nothing else, putting a question mark over Jon Irwin’s bio reflects light on larger unanswered questions about Rhapsody’s service model and future.

Rhapsody was a farsighted startup in 2001. Launching with a small and esoteric music catalog, consisting entirely of classical recordings to start (largely provided by specialty label Naxos), the platform established major-label agreements within about six months. Along with early competitor eMusic, Rhapsody committed to the subscription path -- there is no free listening and no ads. (Google’s All Access service is going down that path, too.)

Many observers believed that Rhapsody’s access-as-ownership model was the future, implying as it did that ownership of a product unit (CD or track) would be rendered unimportant by an always-on celestial jukebox of a vast recorded catalog. That scenario is closer to playing out now, but it took a long time (in internet years) for it to manifest. The iTunes Music Store launched in 2003, giving labels a way of leveraging the album/track paradigm in the online realm, while coaxing consumers into the digital age with a store model they could relate to. iTunes revolutionized music buying by keeping it familiar.

The mobile internet changed consumer demand more radically than Apple’s iPod MP3 player could service with its hard drives of bought and stored songs. Alongside the sea change of mobile, new services introduced free listening, supported by advertising and usability restrictions that most people were (and are) willing to tolerate. While Rhapsody continued to supply a feels-free access to a long tail of music, Spotify and its ilk furnished actually-free listening, discovery, playlisting, and social sharing.

If that didn’t pressure Rhapsody’s steadfast subscription model enough, the big sluggers are now coming to bat -- the ecosystem giants Google, Microsoft, and Apple. These collossal tech/media brands engage in primary businesses (advertising, software, hardware) that can easily float loss-leading divisions that sell music. Apple’s music-specific ambitions are probably the most distinct, and certainly backed by a monumental history of shaping consumer habits, but all three companies (plus Amazon) own immense user bases whose casual exploration of built-in music services can take share from established indies like Rhapsody.

So, whether Jon Irwin remains Rhapsody’s leader or not, the unanswered questions remain the same: Can a subscription-only service provide compelling value against free-listening platforms? For that matter, can any streaming-music business hold its own against content costs?

Investor valuations can soar in certain cases, but nobody is turning a profit quarter after quarter. (Rhapsody’s most recent year-over-year quarter was down eight percent.)

The most visionary music service is rewarded for its far-sightedness by owning the longest track record of profit futility. Hundreds of thousands of dedicated users hope Rhapsody can remain buoyantly afloat in increasingly rough waters.

Labels, publishers hope Apple can be as powerful a force in radio as it's been in music

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 - 9:20am

Yesterday we extensively covered (here) Apple's iPhone event and the company's announcement that iTunes Radio will become available in the U.S. on September 18 (one week from today). While CEO Tim Cook and other presenters focused more on the new iPhones, the presentation (Apple has posted video here) did conclude with a performance by Elvis Costello, who closed with a "proto" version of his early-career classic "Radio, Radio" called "Radio Soul."

Warner Music Group EVP/Digital Strategy Stephen Bryan thinks the launch of iTunes Radio could be a real inflection point for radio's, and music's, future. He told The New York Times, "It’s a huge opportunity on a global basis to accelerate the transition of radio listeners and advertising dollars from terrestrial to digital."

Labels and publishers, writes The Times, are counting on Apple's "immense marketing power" to bring in more advertising money, and thus more royalty revenue, by becoming a leader in Internet radio in the U.S., and eventurally, around the world. (The service will launch in the U.S. only at first, but keep in mind that Apple operates iTunes Music Stores in 119 countries.)

Research firm eMarketer VP Clark Fredricksen doesn't think Apple can simply waltz in and knock Pandora off the throne in the U.S., however. "At this point Pandora is one of the leading recipients of mobile advertising revenue, and is one of the most popular apps, period, across devices," he told the paper. "It’s tough to see it getting killed."

Coverage from The New York Times is here.

Can iTunes Radio be a "Pandora-Killer?" Look to the comments section!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 - 11:10am

Great wisdom and insight often comes from your readers (we're reminded of that almost daily). Today, a Digital Music News commenter very nicely summarized and aggregated seven advantages pundits believe the new Apple iTunes Radio service has over what will likely be its nearest competitor, Pandora.

The comment was posted to the news source's coverage of NPD Group consultant Russ Crupnik's own seven reasons why the new service may truly be a "Pandora-killer." Using the handle "Here Let Me Research It For Yo," the commenter (after a quick shot about "lazy insights") made good on her/his moniker, and offered relevant bits from sources like the Huffington Post, Rolling Stone, Evolver.fm, The Wall Street Journal, and Apple itself.

Most of the points seem to involve how well the service should be integrated within the Apple ecosystem and customer base, but does include a point that "Pandora hasn't continued to innovate..."

See this commenter's round up of "7 Reasons Why Apple's 'Pandora Killer' May Actually Be a 'Pandora Killer'" here.

Apple iPhone event, including iTunes Radio launch, today

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 - 11:10am

from today's early edition:
Today's the big day Apple is expected to launch (in the U.S. only) the long-awaited iTunes Radio webcasting service (at 1pm ET, 10am PT). We'll be following live-blogs from sources like Mashable here and GigaOm here.

While we wait, there are several "what to expect" round-ups out there. Glenn Peoples at Billboard says his sources say to expect an ad every 15 minutes (which is far less than broadcast radio...but it'll be interesting to see how the audience reacts) on the free version.

One unique feature will be the service's integration with Apple's voice-command function, Siri. You can see a cool video demo of that here.

Peoples also mentions "featured stations," and a screenshot that shows options like "If You Like Bruce Springsteen..," "Country Summer Songs," and "Trending on Twitter." There will be over 200 genre stations.

Instead of a "thumbs" rating system to customize the channel, listeners will award songs a "star." There will also be "slider" customizations (for example, adjusting between "Top Hits" and "Discovery" to adjust the amount of unfamiliar music that's played), like Slacker or SiriusXM's mySXM webcast service.

iTunes Radio will also offer some exclusive music and promotional tracks (we learned about this when details emerged about Apple's licensing terms -- see RAIN here).

Read more in Billboard here. See Tom Taylor's coverage in Tom Taylor Now here.

Public gets first crack at iTunes Radio a week from tomorrow, with new iOS 7

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 - 11:10am

Today during its iPhone press event, Apple announced its iTunes Radio webcasting service will go live to the public when the new mobile operating system, iOS 7, becomes available on September 18.

As we've previously reported, iTunes Match customers (who pay $24.99 a year) will access iTunes Radio free with no ads. The service will be free, but with ads, for others (in the U.S.). iTunes Radio will work on iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Apple TV), and iTunes on Mac and PC. Listeners will be able to create their own stations based on songs or artists, and easily purchase music they hear. There will be a number of unique "feature" stations, and over 200 genre-based channels. There will not be any "Spotify-like" on-demand music listening.

"Because we love music," said Apple CEO Tim Cook, a short performance by artist Elvis Costello capped off the hour-long event, which mostly featured Apple's two new iPhone models, the 5S and 5C.

Read our prior coverage of iTunes Radio here.

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