New Spotify "Browse" adds "programmed radio" style experience

Monday, August 5, 2013 - 10:55am

Perhaps acknowledging the importance of "aided discovery" and music programming -- as well as some customers' desire for "lean-back" listening -- Spotify has introduced a new feature called "Browse" to its mobile apps. The feature spotlights expertly-curated playlists designed to accompany specific moods or activities ("romance," "jogging," "commuting") -- similar to both webcaster Songza and iHeartRadio's "Perfect For" streams.

According to CNet (who spoke with Spotify VP of product development Charlie Hellman), a staff of 35 "musicologists," music editors, and writers not only create custom playlists, but monitor usage data for the more than a billion user-created Spotify playlists to find the most popular.

A traditional differentiator between on-demand music subscription services like Spotify and true online radio has been "programming" -- the human-created selection of songs that fit together to create a listening experience.

In the past, Spotify has offered both a "custom radio" feature (a stream of music similar to a listener-supplied artist or song based on data from The Echo Nest) and basic radio genre listening ("Country," "Classic Rock," etc.).

The new "Browse" feature is available on Spotify mobile apps now, and will gradually be introduced to other platforms.

Read more in CNet here.

Is iTunes Radio meant to bolster download sales, or replace them?

Monday, July 22, 2013 - 12:55pm

Nielsen reported last week U.S. music download sales for the first six months of this year are off slightly (2.3%) from what they were at the same point last year. However, streaming music volume is up 24% over the same period, however. (Nielsen's report summary is here.)

Sources like GigaOm say this data indicates a trend, and is exactly why Apple is launching iTunes Radio.

"Attitudes toward music ownership have shifted drastically over the last few years. And (the Nielsen report)... makes it very clear why Apple, which upended the music business a decade ago with its iTunes Music Store, had to start its own streaming music service," wrote GigaOm.

Interestingly, it was GigaOm itself, in an earlier analysis, that suggested Apple's move may be more than just jumping on the streaming bandwagon. We reported in April (here) on GigaOm's suggestion that Apple's iTunes Radio launch isn't necessarily designed to compete with Pandora, but to bolster its music sales business.

Author Janko Roettgers wrote in the earlier GigaOm piece, "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," like Spotify.

This seems to be what Wall St. Cheat Sheet sees as well. Apple's "market dominance bodes well for the success of iTunes Radio since Apple has created a strong link between its music streaming service and the iTunes Store," it wrote.

Read GigaOm here, and Wall St. Cheat Sheet here.

Will Apple be competitive in Internet radio? Experts say: "Depends"

Monday, June 10, 2013 - 12:15pm

Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey told The New York Times that Apple is too "late in the game" to compete in Internet radio on the level of Pandora. That is, unless they unveil a product that significanlty, and noticeably, better than what other services offer.

He said, "It’s going to have to innovate. It can’t just be Pandora with an 'i' in front of it or Spotify with an 'i' in front of it."

Oracle Investment Research chief market strategist Laurence Isaac Balter sees things lots differently. He gives Apple the advantage of Spotify and Pandora owing to "deeper control of the iPhone software and hardware" (in The Times' words), and "more data about its customers... so it can make smarter music recommendations..."

User data and preferences can later be leveraged for a potential Apple television product, Balter told the paper. He said, "There’s so much of a white canvas here for Apple to paint on. It’s refreshing to see them start to think in this area."

Read more in The New York Times here.

Apple Internet radio entry may catch the attention of antitrust regulators, experts tell Washington Post

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 - 12:35pm

Music publishers and labels may not be the only bumps in Apple's road to launching its upcoming Internet radio service.

Some experts, according to The Washington Post, say federal antitrust laws may gum the works for Apple as well.

Apple's share of the music download business with iTunes is above 60%, which reportedly "means regulators are likely to monitor any move into a related business to ensure that the company isn't improperly using its muscle to squeeze out competitors," writes the paper.

The key issue, according to the experts with whom the paper spoke, would be if Apple's licensing deals with labels and publishers took advantage of the company's size and market share to unfairly box-out companies like Pandora or Spotify in the competition for customers.

The company is currently embroiled in antitrust legal proceedings involving e-books.

Read more from The Washington Post here.

Study says 70+% of top streaming services' registered users don't come back

Tuesday, May 14, 2013 - 11:50pm

New research indicates that for streaming music services, 70% or more of registrations are likely abandoned.

Digital Music News reports on research by Midia's Mark Mulligan on services Deezer and Spotify. Mulligan found that 73% and 70%, respectively, of these services' registered listeners sign up, and don't return.

"What the numbers show is that inactive users is a big problem for streaming services, which in actual fact means that churn is a bid problem for streaming services," Mulligan wrote in his blog. "The important point is... that streaming services as a whole have a problem with churn."

Yesterday Clear Channel announced that its iHeartRadio platform has reached 30 million registered users (more here), but gave no indication of what percentage use the service on a regular basis.

Spotify' Daniel Ek identifies that this affects all businesses with a free tier that requires registration. Mulligan indeed points out that this isn't unique to music services. Only roughly 25%-35% of registered users of social networks like Google+ and Twitter use those services regularly (see here). Mulligan's blog entry is here. Digital Music News covers it here.

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.

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