labels

Playlist says labels forced its move to online radio service

Thursday, July 11, 2013 - 8:05pm

On-demand streaming music service Playlist has switched to an online radio service model -- forced to do so by "the record labels," the company told listeners.

Playlist.com formerly allowed users to create and share streaming playlists simply by typing in song titles or artists. But as of the first of the month, that service is no longer available.

An e-mail to registered Playlist users read, "Sadly on July 1, 2013, the record labels required us to shut down the original Playlist service. We're so sorry; it was our life for over 6 years. We made sure to keep your playlist data safe and hope you'll try our new, approved smart radio service... We are forced to play by internet radio rules but kept your playlists as true as possible."

The new interface resembles the simple Pandora-style search box, in which listeners type a song title, artist, or album and the service generates a dynamic (though not on-demand) station. Once the station begins, there are options for genre-based stations (see image).

Hypebot reports, "By 2008, users had grown to 20 million. But the labels and RIAA objected to pulling content from other online sources, and in 2008 MySpace and Facebook disabled all ProjectPlaylist widgets. Deals in 2009-2010 with the labels, and shift to Playlist.com's slightly more restricted format, gave the company a second chance. But by then, traffic was falling and a messy bankruptcy followed."

Read more in Hypebot here.

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

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."

Apple deal with labels might include sharing ad revenue, inventory for relaxed restrictions in how it uses music

Friday, October 26, 2012 - 1:35pm

Bloomberg News reported late yesterday that Apple's rumored negotiations with record labels (first reported in RAIN here) "have intensified," and that negotiators could reach a settlement by the middle of next month. That would pave the way for Apple's own ad-supported Internet radio service to launch in early 2013.

Early last month, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal broke the story that Apple had been in talks with major record labels for its own webcast service. Following the publication of the Bloomberg story, Pandora's stock price fell 12%, to an all-time low of $7.97 this morning, valuing the company at about $1.3 billion.

The negotiations reportedly involve record labels getting a share of advertising revenues and inventory. "In addition to an upfront fee, record companies are seeking a percentage of ad sales and the ability to insert their own commercials for artists," Bloomberg reports.

In exchange for sharing ad income and space, Apple would presumably be allowed to stream music without the same constraints with which other webcasters do (the technical term for these constraints is the "sound performance complement" of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act). Apple "wants listeners to be able to buy tracks as music streams or revisit what they’ve heard in auto-generated playlists."

"If Apple offers a radio product, it will be far superior to anything else on the market," Rich Greenfield, a New York analyst with BTIG, told Bloomberg. "They’re seeking direct licenses to avoid all the restrictions that come with a compulsory license." 

The story also reported that Apple's Internet radio service would be mobile-focused, "tailored for its iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch" devices. In other words, if sources are correct, the service won’t be focused on delivering music through a Web browser.

Bloomberg attributes all of these details to "people with knowledge of the talks."

Read Bloomberg News here.

Evolver's Van Buskirk says services that pay as people listen will help kill the "one-hit wonder"

Friday, June 8, 2012 - 11:45am

While artists advocates complain about low payouts from streaming services like Spotify, Evolver.fm's Eliot Van Buskirk makes that point that such services may in fact be doing something far more important: helping to improve our shared musical culture.

Here's his argument: The economics of the music business of the past rewarded labels and artists when a record was purchased. Getting the customer to lay down the cash at the record store or the iTunes store was all that mattered. Whether that record became a lifelong favorite of the purchaser -- or they listened to it once and never again -- didn't matter. This reality incentivized the creation of "one-hit-wonders capable of moving product quickly."

But music consumption is moving away from the "upfront payment" of purchasing product, and towards "pay as you use" streaming services (Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, MOG, iHeartRadio, Rdio, Rhapsody). In this world, copyright owners and artists will earn not by creating a product that convinces a listener to take a one-time action (make the purchase), but by creating art that the listener wants to enjoy again and again.

"It’s no longer enough to convince fans to buy a disc once," writes Van Buskirk. "Instead, artists and labels have to turn them into lifelong fans."

More from Van Buskirk: "This new phase of music consumption...is just what music fans who are sick of one-hit wonders and flashy pop hits need. By paying out only when people actually listen instead of suckering fans into buying something only to leave it on the shelf... on-demand unlimited music services build an incentive into the music business to create works of lasting value."

As we've argued the Internet may usher in a new golden age of radio, Van Buskirk wistfully hopes for a return to a time "when labels used to spend years or decades developing an artist instead of releasing whatever they think will sell that week."

Read Van Buskirk in Evolver.fm here.

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