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.

Low publishing fees, royalties on "skipped" songs could be sticking points for Apple to get iRadio out the door

Tuesday, May 21, 2013 - 1:45pm

Greg Sandoval at The Verge and Paul Sloan at CNet both report that negotiation snags are delaying Apple's roll-out of its much-anticipated "iRadio" streaming service (Apple reportedly wants to debut this summer at the latest, and possibly by next month's Worldwide Developers Conference).

Part of the problem is apparently that Apple's service will be more like Pandora, and less like Spotify. Sandoval writes, "The record companies and music publishers don't want another web radio service that satisfies a lot of music consumption but doesn't pay them much... The widely held belief by industry leaders is that to stop the slide in music sales, consumers have to be offered unlimited access to deep pools of songs that are supported by either small, monthly subscription fees, or advertising sales."

According to The Verge, it's Sony/ATV -- that's a music publisher, not a label group (and administers copyright song compositions, not recordings) -- that's holding up the negotiations. BMG Rights Management, the fourth largest music publisher, is another hold-out.

But CNet says it's Sony Music (the label group) holding things up for Apple, "over how much Apple would pay for songs that people listen to a fraction of and then skip." Sloan writes, "That skipping has become an issue is frustrating executives at the other labels because they see Apple's free radio service as a potential boon for the music industry overall and are eager to help the company get it launched... While it's unclear what Sony is asking for... if Apple bends for Sony on this issue, it would cause problems with its deals with Warner and Universal."

Read The Verge's coverage here and CNet's coverage here.

A successful Apple Net radio service isn't a certainty, nor necessarily easy, say tech journalists

Friday, October 26, 2012 - 1:35pm

Two noted technology writers today consider the likelihood of Apple launching an Internet radio service, and challenge the notion that it would mean death to competitors like Pandora.

Peter Kafka writes for All Things D, the tech blog of The Wall Street Journal. He suggests that because Apple can create great devices doesn't mean it'll be a slam-dunk for it to own the ad-supported Internet radio space.

"Selling Internet ads turns out to be a difficult, labor-intensive process — maybe even more so for Internet radio ads, which require lots of face time with local buyers," Kafka reminds us. "Pandora has been plodding away at this for years, with some success. But it seems hard to imagine Apple spending the same kind of effort."

Bloomberg's sources report that record labels want a cut of that ad revenue, and even some of the ad inventory itself to promote their artists (read more in our original coverage here). But Greg Sandoval at CNet spoke with other unnamed sources that say the labels aren't yet satisfied with what Apple's offering, which makes an Apple "iRadio" launch (that's the shorthand we've been seeing) anything but a done deal.

"Some decision makers at the big record companies want Apple to sweeten the offer," as Sandoval paraphrases the "music executives" with whom he spoke. "CNET's sources say that some of the sector's leaders don't believe the cut Apple put on the table is big enough."

Part of the problem may be that Apple expects not only relaxed restrictions on how it can use the music (see "sound performance complement" note in our Bloomberg coverage here), but also wants a discount on royalties.

"Sources said Apple has offered to pay a lower royalty rate than Pandora pays even though it wants to provide iTunes users with the ability to do more with the music than Pandora's customers enjoy," wrote Sandoval.

And even if Apple were to launch its own streaming radio, Kafka thinks keeping it within the Apple-verse leaves ample listening opportunities on other platforms for Pandora.

"It’s unlikely that (Apple's) going to make that one available for Android users. Which means Pandora will still have plenty of room to play."

Read Kafka in All Things D here and Sandoval in CNet here.

An interesting footnote: Regarding yesterday's news of the official launch of the Internet Radio Fairness Coalition to support the Internet Radio Fairness Act, Sandoval in CNet says "CNET has learned that the top record companies plan to quietly gather next week to discuss their strategy for fighting the legislation. In addition to the representatives from the top three labels, invitations were sent this week to some of the music industry's top music managers."

CNet: Logitech latest tabletop Wi-Fi radio a great pick, unless you own a smartphone

Tuesday, September 25, 2012 - 1:20pm

Logitech UE Smart RadioBack in August, Logitech released a new line of Internet radio-friendly audio devices, from Bluetooth boomboxes to the UE Smart Radio: a tabletop Wi-Fi radio that succeeds the earlier Squeezebox Radio (more RAIN coverage here).

The UE Smart Radio is definitely a step up over the Squeezebox Radio, says CNet in a new review of the device. "But that doesn't necessarily mean it's the right compact music system for your home." Sure, the UE Smart Radio offers Spotify, Pandora, MOG, Slacker, TuneIn, and more. And its "great sound," compact size and rechargeable battery "make it an attractive compact music system, but you may be better off with a Bluetooth speaker."

CNet explains that with the UE Smart Radio, you're "reliant on Logitech to add support for new streaming-music services, rather than simply using the app already on your phone." Plus most Bluetooth speakers are cheaper than the UE Smart Radio's $180 price tag.

That said, if your life doesn't revolve around a smartphone, "it's a well-designed product and a decent value." Find CNet's full review here.

Roberston discusses's progress with CNet

Friday, March 30, 2012 - 12:15pm

DAR.fmIt's been over a year since enterpeneur Michael Roberston introduced to the world. The service aims to be like a TiVo for radio: it can record specific radio programs for on-demand listening later.

Since the service's debut in February 2011 (RAIN coverage here; VentureBeat coverage here), "has expanded the number of stations it offers listeners access to from 100 to 5,000," writes CNet. The service now offers more than 20,000 radio shows and can stream or download any of them to mobile devices, set-top boxes or PCs.

CNet can't help but ask, "can he [Robertson] do it without getting sued?"

Robertson's answer: "I think so. I've talked to some insiders and they get it. I can help them get their shows on new hardware: smartphones, PCs, and set-top boxes... DVRs have helped TVs. TV viewing has gone up 40% and radio's market share has fallen... they'll realize that it gives their listeners what they want, which is the ability to listen when and where they want."

You can find CNet's article here.

Michael Robertson will be a panelist at this year's RAIN Summit West in Las Vegas discussing "The Streaming Music Landscape." He'll be joined by Rhapsody's Brendan Benzing, Amazing Radio's Paul Campbell, TuneCore's Jamie Purpora and moderator Ted Cohen of TAG Strategic. You can find out more about the Summit here.

CNet: On-demand music service Mog "struggling," looking for a buyer

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 11:35am

MOGCNet reported yesterday that on-demand music streaming service Mog is struggling and for sale.

"Mog's representatives have contacted a varying range of companies about potential interest, according to numerous sources in the digital-music sector," writes Greg Sandoval in CNet.

Mog CEO David Hyman disputed the report to Reuters, saying the company is not struggling and that "we're not actively trying to sell this business."

Though the company -- founded in 2005 -- is not yet profitable, Hyman revealed Mog has more than 500,000 active users (though he did not say how many were paying subscribers). He points to the new integration with Facebook as a new source of growth: Mog attracts nearly 5,000 new users a day.

You can find CNet's report here and Reuters' coverage here.

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