Internet radio

Rhapsody launches new radio features, contributes to conformity

Tuesday, October 8, 2013 - 7:10am

Rhapsody, one of the oldest listening platforms, a subscription-only pureplay, and lately a beleaguered business wracked with internal changes, has brought new features to its Radio product. “Radio” in this context means playlists. Until now, Rhapsody has offered a suite of house-curated genre stations, but no artist-seeded or song-seeded stations in the Spotify and Pandora style.

Customized radio is increasingly desired by users who like to lean in a bit, by choosing a band or single track, then lean back and enjoy a stream of songs related to the band or track. Selections are refined by whatever the service knows about the user’s taste. That interactive model usually includes thumbs-up and thumbs-down arrows, the ability to skip forward, and an option to add any track to a collection of favorites.

It’s a good model, satisfying to use, accommodating of different listening postures, and conducive to music discovery. Rhapsody is late to the game, inasmuch as Pandora, iTunes Radio, Spotify, Rdio, and Google All Access feature the same “radio”-style feature set. This week’s enhancement comes one year after Rhapsody partnered with The Echo Nest, a leading provider of music recommendation technology to listening platforms.

Rhapsody’s new product includes a feature increasingly seen in “radio” setting: a Variety slider that determines how far afield the artist station is allowed to venture from the artist characteristics. iTunes Radio has something similar. It is a calibrating feature that reflects how adventurous the user is feeling.

In our listening tests of Rhapsody’s new Radio, using an account with extensive Rhapsody history, throwing the slider to the far right (more variety) widened the scope of listening noticeably, but not radically. In a blues-rock station fashioned after Eric Gales, the greatest variety setting brought in a harder rock edge. One terrific aspect of the Variety slider is the list of five upcoming tracks. You can jump ahead to any one of them. Moving the slider refreshes the list in real time, giving you an idea of what’s in store at any variety level.

While Rhapsody's new package is a valuable service enhancement, there is a depressing degree of conformity solidifying in this space like drying cement. Artist-based, dynamically created, radio-style playlists all seem to operate in the same way, distinguished only by small usability details. Product development is lacking innovation. Rdio recently launched its “Stations” utility, achieving product parity with Spotify. Slacker introduced “My Vibe” stations, nearly cloning Songza’s “Life Moment” listening scheme. iTunes Radio launched in an overt imitation of Pandora’s successful Internet radio model.

Everybody is reaching parity with everyone else. User choice is based on either interface design, music selection quality, or habit. Pandora is one service with a unique back end, the result of years of R&D into the characteristics of music and the signifiers of music taste. In all cases, including Pandora, quality of music selection is improved by sticking with one system and building up a history of liking, skipping, and saving tracks. In a field marked by elusive profitability, the homogeneity of interactive listening sets the stage for future consolidation.

For now, the venerable Rhapsody, which started in 2000, has joined the pack with a standard feature set for artist-based stations -- it is well implemented for the most part, and sounds good.

Edison Research: Streaming hits the MainStream

Wednesday, September 25, 2013 - 11:40am

Edison Research has released a new study of streaming audio adoption, indicating that over half of the American online population listens to Internet radio. The research package, titled “The New MainStream” (get it?) details survey results of 3,014 connected Americans over 11 years old. The report was formally introduced yesterday at an Advertising Week panel in New York by Edison president Larry Rosin, in collaboration with Edison’s Streaming Audio Task Force partners Pandora (Steven Kritzman), Spotify (Brian Benedik), and TuneIn (Rick Cotton).

The headline stat is this: 53 percent of online Americans listen to Internet radio to some extent. By this study’s definition, “Internet radio” comprises the full spectrum of online listening, divided into three categories:

  • Personalized Radio: Services like Pandora or iTunes Radio which allow creation of personal “stations” based on an artist or song. (39 percent adoption.)
  • Streaming Live: Online webcasts of broadcast stations, not necessarily local to the listener. (27 percent adoption.)
  • On-Demand Music: Services like Spotify and Rhapsody which feature random access of tracks and albums. (18 percent adoption.)

Edison’s survey delineates and prioritizes why people are adopting Internet radio. Choice is the differentiating thread that runs through many responses. Consumer hunger for choice extends to track choice in on-demand services, and station choice in streaming broadcasts. Other responses, such as “Available on device” (44 percent agreement) and “More convenient than a regular radio,” (27 percent agreement) seem pointed at lifestyle customization.

Car and home remain staunch broadcast strongholds, according to Edison results. In both environments, Internet radio is meaningfully present, but running second. The disparity in cars (83% broadcast; 17% Internet) probably indicates the complexity and non-standardization which impede adoption of online audio -- a recurring theme in “connected car” sessions at last week’s RAIN Summit and Radio Show in Orlando. The delay in solving dashboard fragmentation gives broadcast radio a window of opportunity to develop distribution strategies on digital platforms.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the research is an implied expansion of listening hours as IP-delivered solutions insert themselves into formerly unoccupied contexts. From the press release: “The total time spent with audio is clearly expanding as people are now enjoying more audio from more devices in more places.” To whatever extent this premise proves out, it could provide a salve to AM/FM operators who feel threatened by the digital tidal wave.

Yet, the study’s main bullet points (see this infographic) do indicate that the shape of listening growth, and listening recession, imply upside for the Internet and downside for broadcast. Sixty-seven percent of respondents listen to more Internet radio than one year previous, but only 23 percent say the same about AM/FM. On the flip side, only six percent listen to less Internet, and three times that many listen to less AM/FM. (More than half of those surveyed listen to the same amount of broadcast radio year-over-year.)

The “listening expansion” theory is borne out by 26 percent of responses indicating that Internet radio listening transpires in “new time” previously spent without audio. Worth noting also, though, that 44 percent said that online audio replaced AM/FM listening to some extent. The upshot seems to include both realities: New listening time is being created, and some amount of AM/FM erosion is also happening.

Blip.fm- and Fuzz.com founder unveils new service to handle online music licensing

Friday, September 13, 2013 - 11:55am

Entrepreneur Jeff Yasuda -- of Blip.fm and "people-powered" online radio Fuzz fame -- has launched a new company with the aim of taking "all the complication out of music licensing" for webcasters, online retailers, and more. 

Feed.fm (we last reported on Yasuda's Feed Media, parent to Blip.fm and Fuzz.com, here) will handle the regulatory and payment issues for entrepreneurs and site owners looking to license music online, such as Internet radio.

TechCrunch writes that for a monthly fee, Feed.fm will "add the service’s stations to their site or app. They can also build stations from their own personal collections. And Feed.fm offers an analytics dashboard and A/B testing so publishers can quantify that the music is improving engagement and see how their visitors are engaging with the music."

Yasuda told TechCrunch early testing reveals sites that use music from the Feed.fm service got a 20%-400% bump in average time-on-site, and some e-commerce sites saw sales increase as much as 20%.

Read more in TechCrunch here.

FindStream charts include "All-Time Hits"

Friday, August 30, 2013 - 11:40am

Reading Eliot Van Buskirk's Evolver.fm blog earlier this month, we learned about Findstream, a service that creates rankings of the most-played songs on Internet radio.

Owned by an organization called Balakam, Findstream runs a "live stream search & analysis engine that automatically locates all sources of live broadcasting audio and video streams on the web," and tracks over 27-thousand online stations to compile rankings of the hottest music.

It doesn't seem, as Van Buskirk points out, that FindStream can track "personalized" radio streams (like Pandora), only "live" streams (such as broadcaster simulcasts, or webcasters that stream "one-to-many"). Even so, that's still quite a bit of data from which to base charts.

There are four types of charts (New Music, Hot Songs, Top Songs, and All-Time Hits), in five musical genres, plus "overall."

See FindStream here.

New study predicts Pandora will continue to dominate concentrated Internet radio industry over next few years

Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 12:00pm

Research firm IBISWorld has released a paper that reports powerful growth over the past five years in Internet radio listening, driven by the surging number of mobile connections.

However, the firm predicts that growth will slow somewhat in coming years, the industry will remain concentrated and dominated by leading webcaster Pandora, and that the current royalty rates keep significant profits elusive.

The "Internet Radio Broadcasting in the U.S.: Market Research Report" paper reports 53% annualized growth in the number of mobile Internet connections powered 16.5% annualized growth of Internet radio listening beginning in 2009. IBISWorld estimates industry revenue to have grow an annualized 42% to $766.7 million over the five years ending in 2013, including growth of 13% this year alone.

Looking forward, researchers predict growth in Net radio usage will slow as the industry matures. Plus, "without music royalty reform, it will be difficult for the industry to achieve significant profit growth," the company's press release reads.

The researchers predict continued dominance by Pandora in the coming years, as it will be difficult for new competitors to attract audiences away from established players. Apple's forthcoming iTunes Radio will likely have the best shot, but even so, industry concentration will likely remain high.

See more from the report here.

More data shows Net radio's growth as a mobile medium

Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - 12:50pm

This year almost half of all "digital radio" (pureplay webcasters, broadcast simulcasts, and podcasts) listeners will likely use their mobile phones to tune in at some point, according to eMarketer.

The research site has posted new data on the use of mobile phones and music listening. Included in its coverage is a focus on "digital radio" and mobile devices. It estimates that 147 million Internet users will listen to webcasts and podcasts "at least monthly" in 2013 -- roughly six in 10 of all Internet users. Next year, that number should be close to half of the overall population, says eMarketer.

When listening to music downloaded directly to a phone is included, more than 20% of Americans (over 70 million) will have listened on their phones this year. Finally, more than 99% of those who listen on their phone are smartphone owners.

Read more in eMarketer here.

Syndicate content