iHeartRadio

iHeartRadio announces new head of programming, and discloses audience metrics

Friday, November 8, 2013 - 11:50am

Clear Channel-owned iHeartRadio announced today that Chris Williams, former VP of Programming for Clear Channel Cincinnati, is joining the New York office as SVP of iHeartRadio programming.

According to the press release, Williams will work on some of iHeart’s most-publicized programming ventures, including the live events that are streamed digitally, such as album release parties and the iHeart Music Festival.

On-site programming has been enhanced recently with features such as iHeartRadio Talk, and a concierge-style playlisting section called “Perfect For.” (RAIN coverage here.)

Today’s announcement also discloses audience metrics. The service has 40-million registered users. Registration is not necessary to listen to iHeart stations, so the actual usage footprint is certainly higher. iHeart claims to have reached the 40-million milestone faster than any other digital service except Instagram.

Music services not boarding the early Christmas train, but maybe they should

Monday, November 4, 2013 - 1:10pm

Tom Taylor notes in his morning newsletter that all-Christmas radio is breaking out early on the broadcast side. Taylor’s interpretation: “Most are an attempt to lay claim to the local market’s Christmas image -- even if it irritates regular listeners.”

Local broadcasters walk on a thin November ledge between pushing Christmas upon listeners too soon, and attracting Black Friday ad dollars before it’s too late. Most online music services don’t have a sufficient local sales effort to worry about that conundrum, Pandora being the exception.

But a close look at activity in several music services this morning offers indications that users might be swinging into the holiday mood sooner than their in-house programming departments. Holiday listening stations don’t usually appear in the genre lists of music services this early in November, and that trend is born out. The following services lack a Christmas or Holiday preset in their “stations” lineups: iTunes Radio, Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio, Slacker (even as a sub-genre of Christian).

Interestingly, user-generated 8tracks.com shows a Christmas tag fairly high up the genre list (Android app), and digging into the details on the website shows over 300 user-created Christmas playlists, dozens of them created in the last few days. Creator comments reveal an eager early-season jubilance: “The jolliest time of year is back!” Some of these playlists were assembled in mid-October, indicating some degree of appetite for the Christmas spirit even sooner than broadcast radio is willing to bet on.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Clear Channel-owned iHeartRadio is displaying a “Holiday” channel preset this morning in the Live Radio section. Some of the listed stations are pureplays, not live, but the interesting point is user comments -- many listeners are happy to find the early dose of Christmas tunes. “Start super-duper early! Why not?”

Note to Apple, Pandora, Rhapsody et al: The Christmas train might be leaving earlier than you think. When you have an unlimited programming slate, it makes sense to claim the space early.

RAIN Weekend Perspective: Week of Oct. 28 - Nov. 1

Friday, November 1, 2013 - 4:30pm

RAIN’s Weekend Perspective summarizes the week’s important events for a weekend catch-up, and revives your blasted synapses for coming week.

PARTNERSHIPS 

The Echo Nest partners with Getty Images: Music services that use The Echo Nest’s intelligence technology will be able to enhance their album art with artist and band photos. [READ]

Spotify partners with Tango Messenger: The alliance lets Tango instant message users to include 30-second Spotify music clips. You might not be familiar with Tango, but it’s a bigger service than Spotify. [READ

MUSIC SERVICES & APPS 

TuneIn reaches 100,000 radio stations: The TuneIn aggregation platform has aggregated up a storm: “The most radio stations ever in one place,” according to the press release. [READ]

Rhapsody introduces new features: RAIN reviews important additions to the Rhapsody music experience. [READ

SoundCloud reaches 250-million listeners: Take that, Pandora, as SoundCloud’s new emphasis on uninterrupted listening is bringing in new users. SoundCloud is now chasing YouTube’s 1-billion users. [READ

Pandora releases Android tablet app: RAIN reviews the essential features that exist in the new version across all devices. [READ

iHeartRadio updates features: The Clear Channel-owned platform gets into concierge-style programming, similar to Songza and Slacker, but with tongue in cheek. [READ

ILLUMINATION 

Edison Research videos show a “barrage of new” in connected cars: Seeking insight to how new-car owners are coping with modern infotainment systems built into digital dashboards, Edison Research produced video interviews with recent car buyers. RAIN interviewed president Larry Rosin. [READ]

Survey/Interview - iTunes Radio little threat to Pandora: Investment firm Canaccord Genuity surveyed Pandora users who have tried iTunes Radio, to get a picture of its existential threat to Pandora. RAIN interviewed the study’s author. [READ]

BIZ / LEGAL 

Swedish musicians threaten to sue labels over Spotify distribution: The musicians' argument is less with Spotify than with labels, and how Spotify revenue is shared with artists by those labels. RAIN untangles it. [READ]

iHeart Radio updates app features, including concierge-style programming

Sunday, November 3, 2013 - 11:35am

We noticed that iHeartRadio put an updated version of its Android app in the Google Play, and were glad to see it brought the Android experience to parity with the Apple app. Trying it out, we see two notable additions.

Unadvertised in the app stores, but added in both the Android and iOS apps, is the “Perfect for” section, which adopts concierge-style programming currently in vogue. Pioneered by Songza’s “life moments” organization of playlists, and later more-or-less copied by Slacker, concierge-style presentation makes it easy for the listener to lean forward briefly, identify a mood, activity, or time of day, then lean back for the curated music experience.

Clearly, iHeart programmers had the RAIN editorial office in mind when packaging this section, as the first choice is Drinking Coffee. Drilling into that selection amusingly yields layers of musical caffeination: Shot of Caffeine, Extra Sugar, Third Cup Jitters, and Espresso Energy. Each is a package of stations. The selections feature a mix of live stations and curated playlists. (One of the streams is co-branded with Dunkin Donuts.) Other “Perfect for” categories are likewise expanded with a tongue-in-cheek wink (e.g. Downward Dog Days in the Yoga group).

iHeart is bragging about another new usability feature: a big plus sign (+) that offers one-touch addition of any programming element onto your Favorites page. That’s good, but not prevalent enough. In our testing, we saw the plus sign only on the Now Playing screen. We found that limitation frustrating when combing through the service adding stations; many times we wanted to fling a station into Favorites for later, without having to boot it up first. Especially when listening to one of the Espresso Energy stations.

INTERVIEW: Jim Lucchese, CEO, The Echo Nest

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 - 11:35am

You might have The Echo Nest to thank for the thing you love most about your favorite music service.

The Echo Nest is a data company that develops music intelligence technology, used by many of the most popular listening services covered by RAIN every day. Through the company’s application programming interfaces (APIs), music services can develop apps and features for their users, such as song recommendations and artist-based stations. The Echo Nest has furnished music intelligence for Spotify, Rdio, MOG, iHeartRadio, Xbox Music, and many others.

RAIN spoke with Jim Lucchese, CEO, about The Echo Nest’s influence over the streaming music experience. This is Part 1 of a two-part interview.

RAIN: It seems The Echo Nest is the hidden lynchpin that informs many people’s experiences with interactive music and music services. Is it fair to say the The Echo Nest is the main determinant of what most people hear in popular music services?

JL: It’s certainly what we’re aspiring to. There’s still a lot of work to be done, first from the standpoint of customer adoption -- we’re not powering every [service], but we’re powering many of the players.

The area where I feel there is still a lot of work to do, is to work with our customers to help make streaming music truly a mainstream experience. In the last 12 months there’s been massive progress in bringing streaming consumption to the mainstream, but we’re still in relatively early days. I see our role as making the cold-start experience for a first-time listener exceptional, and making the personalized experience so intuitive, that when someone tries it they never leave. I think we’ve been very influential, and I think we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.

RAIN: Besides providing technology, how do you do advocate for streaming music?

JL: We drive adoption by enabling the best listener experience. We are obsessive about that.

Another aspect of evangelism -- we’re betting on app developers. They are the architects of how we consume music today. This is one of the most exciting parts about the space.

Think about terrestrial radio: it requires a massive investment, and new market entrants are few and far between. In digital, making changes to the listening experience on a mobile application can come from anywhere. A couple of developers from nowhere can avail themselves of compulsory licenses under the DMCA, build an app, and get it out there. I’m not saying it’s easy to go from there to a whole business.

But we built what I think is the largest music hacker community out there, about 30,000 music hackers building on our API. We’re trying to build a community that our commercial customers are part of, and can tap into. That’s where a lot of the next generation of integration is going to come from. Some of it may come from guys who work here full time. But it’s also going to come from [external] people using our API, building stuff we never thought of.

On the evangelism side we are directly consumer-focused. But bringing together that community and facilitating connections to the larger established media companies is an important goal of ours.

RAIN: That leads to an inevitable question: Will The Echo Nest ever consider launching its own music service?

JL: We sure have considered it, many times. It’s really not in the plans. Our reasoning is largely driven by staying focused on our strengths. We’re a company in Boston run by a lawyer and founded by two PhD’s. We’re not a consumer-facing media company. We’re music data dorks.

When we looked at the data opportunity, we thought the business opportunity was being the dominant player in the intelligence layer between people and their music. It’s a massive opportunity. We looked at our strengths. We’re in a great position to define that market and dominate it.

When you look at what it takes to build a consumer-facing service, there are a lot of core competencies that are outside of our scope. We really felt that there was a huge biz opportunity in being that intelligence layer, enabling lot of innovation and diverse applications.

An additional piece -- we’ve got a nice business here. It would cause us to lose focus, and probably be confusing to the market if we were to take different paths.

RAIN: Speaking of data dorkness and domination, there is the audacious banner on your website. It advertises that you have over 1B data points stretching across 35M songs, recorded by 2.5M artists, on 431 applications. Do you have any meaningful competition?

JL: Sure. When I think about competition, I really think about two things. As digital music and streaming become more mainstream, you see some of the largest technology companies in the world starting to invest more [in that direction]. In those cases, our competition is making a case that working with us is considerably better than in-house development for companies with limitless engineering resources. They don’t ”get” music. There are about 12 people who graduate with advanced degrees in music information retrieval every year.

RAIN: Wait -- there’s a degree for music information retrieval?

JL: Oh yeah, and we’ve got five of them with PHD’s who work here. There is a scarcity of "depth-of-domain" expertise. I think a lot of companies look at this as a data problem, not as a “domain understanding” problem -- understanding content and culture of music. That education process for companies that are strong in data engineering, is one area that I see as competition.

The other area that I worry about is the next Echo Nest. The next group of really smart, completely music success guys, who have the next disruptive idea. Sooner of later they’re going to be coming, as the space continues to grow. Venture capital, on the data side, is easier than it was when we started. At this point, there’s nobody that I put in that ballpark, but that’s what I think about in terms of future competition.

RAIN: When you say “big players,” you probably mean Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Do you work with any of the big ecosystem companies?

Funny you should mention that. Our first peek of a product collaboration with Xbox launched this morning [last week]. The feature is called Web Playlist. It allows you to create playlists when you are on any site that features an artist or band. [See RAIN coverage here.]

RAIN: That seems different.

JL: [Xbox Music engineers] leveraged our artist extract capability. We’re parsing the text on about 10M documents every day. We can look at a block of text and identify the band names -- we analyze much more than band names, but they pulled the band information and matched it to their playlist technology, which automatically builds a playlist based on bands mentioned on a web page. This is something we envisioned, but these guys took it much further.

It’s a pretty cool implementation. We've talked about hackers, people who are pushing the envelope -- well, there’s a crew at Xbox Music that comes from that world. It’s a good example of that working in a commercial context.

Look for Part 2 of RAIN’s interview with Jim Lucchese tomorrow. In it, we ask The Echo Nest CEO to compare his computer-modeled music analysis with Pandora’s Music Genome Project … and also what’s playing every day in The Echo Nest office.

Pureplay of the Day: iHeart’s All Beatles & Stones Radio

Tuesday, October 15, 2013 - 9:55am

Some Boomers will tell you that in the 1960s and early 1970s, everyone identified either with The Beatles or The Rolling Stones -- but not both. The two preeminent recording bands of the era anchored opposite poles of a sprawling rock-pop continuum.

The Beatles: crafted, elite, highly produced, well-fed, boyish, experimental, their drug use in the service of musico-spiritual enlightenment.

The Stones: grounded, jamming, low production values, starving, old before their years, traditional, their drug use in the service of getting stoned.

If these two juggernaut bands divided the audience, iHeartRadio has been trying to capture the whole for over a year with All Beatles & Stones Radio. Presented on the iHeart platform, this unique stream is non-interactive -- no skipping. Start it up and lean back. (All Beatles & Stones was first covered in RAIN here, with legal considerations.)

The station is a link to youth for anyone old enough. For others … well in last season’s American Idol episode devoted to The Beatles, it was obvious (and confessed) that several contestants had never heard a Beatles song. So the iHeart station could be a musical education for some. Either way, it is great, vintage listening.

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