Apple

How would radio and webcasters fare when Google and Apple barrel into streaming?

Friday, May 10, 2013 - 12:45pm

Make way for the big boys.

"Companies like Google, Apple and Facebook are eyeing the streaming and on-demand music business now dominated by smaller niche companies such as Pandora and Spotify. When they do -- and most analysts agree it's really just a matter of time -- they could give nearly everyone the ability to listen to whatever they want, whenever they want -- and mostly for free," wrote San Jose Mercury News' Heather Somerville yesterday.

If true, this brings up a whole host of issues, some of which Somerville explores, like the impact on artists, consumers' relationship with music, and others. But where does it leave Internet radio: both pureplays like Pandora, and music broadcasters who'll rely more and more on digital efforts to grow? Smaller companies will have to become even more creative and agile to offer a value proposition the larger companies can't -- a sort of "boutique" existence, catering to niche and local audiences. 

"There is no doubt that when companies this large enter into the field, it will be disruptive," Jonathan Handel, a media and entertainment attorney, told the paper.

Read more here.

Songza updates iOS app as monthly audience approaches 5 million

Thursday, May 2, 2013 - 12:35pm

Webcaster (and recent Webby winner, see RAIN here) Songza has revealed some impressive usage stats.

Songza says its service -- with the Concierge feature that offes playlists based on time of day and likely listener activities -- now reaches 4.7 million monthly "active users," generating nearly 1.1 million hours of listening each day. They've streamed more than 560 million songs in the last 30 days.

The webcaster has also released a pretty significant update of its mobile app for Apple devices. Its 3.0 version for iOS includes six significant improvements. One is "HQ Audio," powered by technology from Audyssey Laboratories, designed to improve headphone sound quality without requiring higher bitrates (and increased data usage). Other new features include faster ways to find favorite artists, discover new playlists, and -- by shaking the mobile device -- find a playlist to suit your current activity.

Songza says its apps have been installed six million times.

Last month RAIN reported (here) that Songza completed a $3.8 million fund-raising round.

Read more on today's news in Hypebot here.

Industry expert suggests iRadio streaming service will come to protect iTunes download business

Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 1:05pm

A recent piece in GigaOm suggests Apple will launch an Internet radio service not to compete with Pandora, but to bolster its music sales business against competition from on-demand services like Spotify.

As NPD Group's Russ Crupnick explained to the RAIN Summit West audience in Las Vegas, his company's data shows 38% of American consumers still think it's important to "own" music (as opposed to accessing it via on-demand streams). But for users of Pandora and other webcasters, that number rises to 41%. What's more, many of these respondents said they've purchased more new music because of what they hear on these services.

It's logical to assume, as GigaOm contributor Janko Roettgers, that partisans of on-demand services -- since they basically have any music at their fingertips at any time -- aren't nearly as compelled to purchase music downloads.

So, while the Spotify-type services, since they replace music ownership, compete with iTunes download sales, Pandora actually encourages music sales.

Apple's move would simply keep that stream listening "in-house" (and perhaps they can sell some ads) and make it ever-so-slightly easier and quicker to sell a download.

Not that this will be easy. An article from The Street (in MSN Money) reminds observers that even a titan like Apple "cannot overcome Pandora's enormous first-mover advantage."

Two major points here: (1) Pandora has created an extensive sales structure with the goal of capturing traditional radio ad spending. Apple is far behind in this respect; (2) Apple "simply will not be able to do personalization and discovery -- two key components that set Pandora apart from its competition -- at the level necessary to match the quality of Pandora's offering as push-a-button-and-li​sten-wherever-you-ar​e radio." writes The Street.

Regardless, as the NPD data also shows, Apple's share of the download market (while still as dominant 63% in 2012) has been falling in recent years (from 68% in 2011, 69% in 2009).

Roettgers concludes, "That’s why it’s smart for Apple to invest in iRadio. The goal is not to kill Pandora, but to actually bring that type of radio service to more users, and keep them from switching to a full-blown access model."

Read the GigaOm piece here; Reuters on more NPD data here; and The Street in MSN Money here. Finally, listen to NPD Group's Russ Crupnick's presentation from RAIN Summit West here on SoundCloud (press the orange "Play" button when the page loads).

Rumored summer launch for Apple's own streaming radio service

Friday, April 5, 2013 - 11:50pm

New reporting from CNet is possibly giving some shape to Apple's much-anticipated streaming music service.

All of these details are sourced from the ever-insightful "people familiar with the negotiations," so none are official. But according to what CNet has heard, Apple is close to settling with Warner Music and Universal Music groups (not yet Sony, nor publishers) for a summer U.S. launch of a non-interactive (like Pandora, not like Spotify) streaming service.

Allegedly Apple will pay royalties less than the statutory rate, and just half what Pandora pays. But to sweeten the deal, Apple will share ad revenue -- possibly as much as 35%-45% -- from a new class of audio ads (not simply the small iAds displays). And Apple is supposedly "proposing to the labels... a full-on, multinational sales force that would sell audio ads akin to what Pandora serves up for listeners to its free service." Apple also hopes to launch the service in the UK, France, Germany, Australia, and Japan (Pandora is legally available only in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand).

Read more from CNet here.

RAIN ANALYSIS: We'd like to know much more about (a) features that will make Apple's service unique in the marketplace (the CNet article mentions features like "going back to the beginning of the song" and "making it easier to purchase music," which sound mildly interesting, but aren't really anything to hang a service's hat on; and (b) how the music will be "programmed" (i.e. human curation, internal iTunes data, third-party data). An automated, curated radio service based on iTunes data would be something genuinely new in the marketplace, which is currently dominated by only Pandora's Music Genome and services that use The Echo Nest. But would it be noticeably different from a user's perspective? -- MS

Columnists see matter of Pandora viability through very different lenses

Monday, April 1, 2013 - 1:00pm

The Verge columnist Greg Sandoval cites an RIAA report and statements made by SoundExchange (which collects sound recording royalties from licensed webcast services and satellite radio) to report "Pandora contributes about 25% of all the money the labels receive from the access models. (Incidentally, SoundExchange's revenue was up 58% last year.)" ("Access models" is label terminology for licensed streaming services.)

And this, according to Greg Sandoval in The Verge, is precisely why the labels need to play hardball with Pandora and Internet radio.

"Access models" "are our present and our future," RIAA CEO Cary Sherman told The Verge. "[This] underscores how vital it is to protect these increasingly important revenue streams."

In other words, the labels need to avoid destroying these revenue sources -- yet maintain the upwards pressure on royalties because they also need to maximize profit (and these services are labels' only bright spot right now). Rocco Pendola, columnist for TheStreet, says this shows "the music industry needs Pandora just as bad as -- or, dare I say, worse than -- Pandora needs them. Same goes for the rest of Internet radio."

"If access models fail," Sandoval writes, "the labels risk ending up back in a world where a single player like Apple holds all the power." Industry sources told The Verge that Apple and labels are increasingly close to a deals that would pave the way for an Apple "iRadio" streaming service.

In fact, should the record label give Apple royalty rates that are actually more affordable than the statutory streaming rates, Pandora would have "plenty of ammunition to argue on Capitol Hill that web radio is getting screwed."

Despite this, The Motely Fool is warning investors against Pandora. In a posted video, Motley Fool CTO Jeremy Phillips says Pandora is open to competitive disruption because it doesn't own the content it streams, and any deep-pocketed competitor can easily enter the business. In fact, companies like Google, Amazon, or Apple could operate streaming services at a loss to widen the market for their other businesses.

TheStreet's Pendola strongly disagrees, saying Pandora's Music Genome (its proprietary database of human collected characteristics about each song it plays that drives its algorithmic music programming) is a great example of intellectual property that can't easily be duplicated by a competitor. He also points to the fact that Pandora has been assembling both national and local sales forces to compete with broadcast radio, another accomplishment that won't be easy for a competitor to duplicate.

He writes, "Competitor after competitor has come in and done absolutely nothing to slow Pandora's growth. In fact, the growth has never stalled. In terms of listener hours and revenue, particularly on mobile, the company is as healthy as it has ever been. Don't expect that trend to reverse, even if Apple hits the market with an iRadio product."

Read Sandoval in The Verge here, see video from The Motely Fool here, and read Pendola in TheStreet here.

New Twitter iOS app will personalize music stream based on user's "follower graph"

Thursday, March 14, 2013 - 1:10pm

Various news sources (CNet was first) are reporting that Twitter is building a mobile streaming music application for Apple devices, also involving SoundCloud. The new Twitter music app would suggest music to users based on use data it gathers ("based on a user's follower graph -- artists they are following, and artists that other people they follow are following," says CNet), using tech from music discovery service We Are Hunted (which Twitter acquired). The app could be released on iOS by the end of this month.

Meanwhile, following Pandora's announcement of CEO Joseph Kennedy's imminent departure (reported in RAIN here), a Motley Fool blogger says there are rumors of web giants Facebook or Google buying Pandora, and writes that acquiring the Net radio leader could make sense for either company. 

"(Facebook) has... expanded its reach with a new search tool, news feed, gift offering and pay-for-post feature. It continues to try to find ways to keep users engaged and online longer. A tailored radio station would do just that," the post reads. "Meanwhile Google, is always on the prowl and constantly looking to one-up rivals Apple and Facebook. The search giant could tune into Pandora first for no other reason than to keep it from Apple and Facebook."

More on Twitter, Apple, and SoundCloud here; more on Pandora, Facebook, and Google here.

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