Category Archives: content

Spotify Steps It Up With Original Content

I’ve always known that my friend Sandy Smallens was smart and innovative, so it comes as no surprise that one of the most innovative ideas to come out of Spotify involves him. Smallens is co-producer of the new original content series Spotify Landmark, which is in-depth audio content that provides “the story behind some of the greatest moments in music, told by the people who made them.”

The first series went live in mid-September and tells the back story of the making of Nirvana’s “In Utero” album – to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the making of that album. The series is divided up into short segments, and “each show blends intimate interviews with artists, producers, industry figures and celebrities to create a listening history of legendary albums, concerts and events.”

This is the kind of innovative content that will set a streaming platform apart. Original content can expand that platform’s relationship with listeners as well as artists, benefiting the brand in many ways. It’s also the kind of programming that especially suits Smallens, Spotify’s head of artist marketing and original content and Spotify Landmark’s co-producer, who is both a musician and a natural born marketer with a passion for streaming. I worked with him years back when he was involved in early digital platforms at CBSRadio and then Entercom. It looks like he’s found a great way to spend his time at Spotify…



iHeartRadio: We Need To Talk

iheartradioClear Channel’s iHeartRadio has added an interactive platform for talk radio to its offering. The newly announced iHeartRadio Talk will feature on-demand listener-created talk content alongside popular news, celebrity and entertainment “audiosodes.”

“Listeners who have been accepted into the iHeartRadio Talk library will be able to record and instantly share their perspective on any topic they choose – it’s basically like offering ‘audio Twitter.'” said Brian Lakamp, President of Digital, Clear Channel Media and Entertainment, “We are giving a voice to the everyman, and at the same time are enabling iHeartRadio users to discover and enjoy thousands of ‘audiosodes’ from the best talent around the country.”

Through a partnership with Spreaker, a platform that enables listeners to create personal radio broadcasts, iHeartRadio will also feature user generated content. iHeartRadio Talk will offer “Daily Pulse,” a customizable Talk channel featuring the most up-to-date news and culture highlights, which allows users to add content that is most important to them. The service will also enable listeners to search for their favorite talk programming from ABC News, American Public Media, TMZ, the Wall Street Journal and others, not to mention Clear Channel’s own featured talk show hosts like Ryan Seacrest, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and others. Local news weather and traffic reports can also be integrated into the offerings.

Adding talk programming and user generated content to the iHeartRadio platform greatly expands the offering and is a nod to several popular platforms like Stitcher, SoundCloud, and even NPR, which has a huge talk presence online. It’s a smart move for iHeart that greatly expands their service and probably makes them a more interesting standalone platform for dashboard integration as well – something that I’m sure was part of the plan..

The Key to iTunes’ Success

iTunes now has 500 million users worldwide who spend approximately $40 a year on content, according to analysis produced by Horace Dediu of Asymco. Apple users meanwhile spend about $1 a day per device on content, meaning that each time Apple sells a device they can count on 11% annually from that device/user.

Music download sales from the iTunes store are declining however, while other content – mainly apps, are taking a larger share of user dollars. The main reason for this is that 5 years ago, most folks were just getting their first smartphone, and were actively using a device called an iPod to carry around their music. Remember those days, when you bought music and updated your iPod all the time, plugged it in to your car, listened to it while exercising? Now, you use your smartphone and connect to Pandora instead, right? (Or Spotify, iHeart, or whatever). asymco itunes chart

Yep, no doubt the iPhone had an impact on iPod sales as well as song sales, and very soon iRadio will have further impact. Apple is not afraid to look into the crystal ball, see the future, and cannibalize one product with the next big one. And a few years back they saw the Pandora app take off like wildfire in their very own iTunes app store as every new user downloaded the app onto their phone, and they decided that they had better get into the streaming game. Are you as willing to cannibalize your comfort zone in the face of future trends?

The Twitter Approach To Streaming Songs

While rumors of a streaming music service from Apple and Google have been prevalent lately, few expected the announcement last week that Twitter is developing a mobile music application that will let its users play and share songs. Last year, Twitter acquired the music recommendation website We Are Hunted, a site that charts the 99 most popular songs on a daily basis by tracking what the web has to say. It was a perfect match for Twitter, since it was a music discovery site already built to keep track of what music listeners were talking about and sharing on Twitter and other sources.


The new app, called Twitter Music, could launch by the end of this month. Various reports say that Twitter Music will suggest artists and songs, based at least in part on what a person follows on Twitter. Songs will be streamed via SoundCloud, which seems to be a perfect streaming partner. It’s easy to imagine the success that an application like this can have, given the popularity that lots of recording artists have on Twitter. Artists can offer their music on SoundCloud and spread the word on Twitter directly to followers.

Probably not coincidentally, SoundCloud has revamped its fee structure, making it easier for artists to open accounts and offer their music easily to fans. An enhanced Pro subscription also offers the ability to run ads, which they call “Moving Sounds.” Based in Berlin, SoundCloud has over 180 million users per month. It’s one very interesting streaming platform that is more focused on delivering quick hits – like songs and soundbites, than longer, radio station like experiences. Which is of course, entirely compatible with the way online consumers like it, on Twitter and Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr…

By the way, SoundCloud execs participate often in RAIN Summits, and we’ll be hosting one in Vegas on April 7th, and Brussels on May 23rd.

In A Flatbed Ford

Connected audio in cars may be last year’s news, but the level of interactivity is challenging auto manufacturers to work with developers to create some pretty inventive applications. Enter Gracenote, an independent division of Sony, that collects data points on millions of songs and provides backend services that enable song recommendations to streaming services (for example).

Now Gracenote has found a way to tap into the Control Area Network of a Ford Focus and use the data to create song recommendations based on the way you are driving. For example, when the windshield wipers are on, you might hear a bluesy tune to match the rainy road, but when you’re driving fast down the highway, your playlist may serve up a song like the Beach Boys, and high beams might trigger Ray of Light by Madonna.

More than anything, this puts a whole new meaning on the “connected car” concept. Your car is not just connected to the Internet, it’s connected to the weather, and traffic conditions and the way that you are driving. Really, you have to marvel at the concept (while you kind of wonder about it’s usefulness).

The demo took place at Music Tech Hack Day in SF recently, and I read about it in GigaOm. Here’s a video that demonstrates it:


Taylor Swift’s Break Up With Spotify

An article in the New York Post last week notes that Taylor Swift’s new album Red is not available for on-demand listening on streaming services like Spotify, Rdio and Rhapsody. This is a strategy that other artists have used as well – Adele and Coldplay both held off making their new albums available on similar services. While it’s a leap to say that the strategy was the reason that the album had the best sales in its first weeks of any non-discounted album in the last decade, it’s reasonable to conclude that it didn’t hurt.

Streaming is growing in popularity and record sales are dropping. Some artists and their companies are seeing a relationship between the two and concluding that making their new releases available on these services is bad for song sales. Unfortunately, the amounts that they get paid by the services when listeners listen to their music doesn’t compare.

Ironically, Swift didn’t see fit to hold her album back from airplay on broadcast radio. A deal earlier this year means that she’s actually getting compensated to some degree by some big broadcast companies including Clear Channel when her songs play on the radio. While that probably doesn’t amount to much, it’s forging a new relationship between recording artists and radio.

It’s important to note that it’s the on-demand services that are getting shunned by Swift and others – Pandora has the album, as does iHeartRadio and other services that don’t enable listener to build playlists and request music by song, artist, album, etc.. There’s a growing perception that those services are being used as music collections and replacing song sales.

It may well be that artists, especially the big names, will continue to hold back their albums from services like Spotify for a while as part of their launch strategies. Or the services may find a way to be more relevant to those artists in their early song sales days, by providing data, promotion, sales support, in an effort to get back together again…


WTOP Will Simulcast On-Air and Online

The WTOP logo before WWWT 107.7 was added to t...

This morning’s Inside Radio reports that Hubbard owned WTOP will no longer insert ads in its streams, opting instead to simulcast 100% of its broadcast programming online. This is a decision made earlier this year by small market broadcasting group Saga Communications, who at the time blamed imperfect ad insertion technology for its decision.

The biggest reason that a broadcast company would opt to simulcast 100% of its programming rather than inserting different ads into its stream would be that Arbitron will only measure the online audience and the on-air audience as one if the station simulcasts the exact same thing on the stream as it broadcasts. There’s nothing wrong with Arbitron’s thinking in this regard – it would be flawed for them to represent the two audiences (streamed and broadcast) as one if the programming were not completely identical. That would be misleading to advertisers who might look at the combined audience number and conclude that their commercials achieved that reach when they had not.

WTOP is up front about the reason for its move. Inside Radio quotes SVP/GM Joel Oxley : “Since WTOP is now a simulcast, those listeners can now be added to our Arbitron ratings,” he says. “For WTOP even a slight move up in ratings can mean a significant rise in revenue.” For the top billing radio station in the country, that can make a big difference.

This move by WTOP signals a growing interest by broadcasters in blending their audiences into one to create ratings uniformity. It’s a clear decision to sell the audience as one, rather than two separate audiences. It makes sense in some ways, but there are problems as well. Ads created for over the air listeners often have a call to action like “Call this number” while ads that are streamed should have an online call to action. As well, streaming ads have more targeting and tracking capabilities than broadcast ads do. But times are tough and revenues are down. Broadcasters, like everyone else, are forced to take a hard look at their options and in a case like this prefer the one that promises a more immediate uptick for revenue.

Soundcloud Has 180 Million Users

Are you using Soundcloud? Lots of people are – 180 million users per month in fact. Soundcloud likes to think of itself as the Youtube of audio, it’s a platform that enables users to share, listen, and upload tracks. They recently announced an upgrade that offers social enhancements and an improved user experience.

Users upload ten hours of audio every minute to Soundcloud, according to new stats recently revealed by Eric Wahlforss, Founder and CTO of the Berlin based company. Audio content creators connect directly with their audience and offers social tools that enable sharing and discovery. Users do not need to register to listen, but registered listeners can build playlists, share playlists, and more. It’s an easy way for musicians to share music, radio stations and/or personalities to share programming, and of course, families to share recital performances.

Soundcloud is also making specfic efforts to cultivate content partnerships that would expand their audience. Last summer they hired a producer from WNYC, an NPR affiliate, to pursue partnerships with audio providers. There’s not much info on the revenue model at this point.

The Berlin based company has taken some $63 million in investments, and counts Union Square Ventures, Fred Wilson’s firm, and Kleiner Perkins, Mary Meeker‘s firm, as investors.

soundcloud screenshot

Changing the Streaming Audio Ad Sales Game

Recent moves by Katz360 and Triton Digital indicate that the streaming audio marketplace may be heating up, with new players signing up to have those firms sell their inventory.


E3 Expo 2012 - Microsoft Press Event - Xbox Music

E3 Expo 2012 – Microsoft Press Event – Xbox Music


Triton Digital recently announced a big deal with Microsoft to sell audio ads on their Xbox Music streaming platform. Microsoft intends Xbox Music to be the platform that their customers use to listen to music, calling it a 30 million-song global catalog powered by the one service that integrates your music experiences across your tablet, PC, phone and tv. Triton Digital will sell ads and provide analytics for the service.


Now, this is a big deal for Triton, one that could easily change the focus of their entire sales organization, not to mention the streaming audio marketplace, creating a lot more highly targetable inventory.


At the same time, Katz360 is changing things up as well. First came the announcement that Brian Benedik was leaving, followed by an announcement that Mort Greenberg would be the new President. Greenberg, who was formerly head of sales at Nokia, apparently brought a deal to sell Nokia ad elements, and at least some of his sales team from Nokia, with him to Katz360. According to his Linkedin profile, the plan is to rebuild and rebrand this digital unit (Katz360) as a leading global local & location interactive ad Network and representation firm.


So, a couple of big deals that could have a huge impact on the streaming audio ad marketplace, increasing the inventory, level of targetability, and opportunities for advertisers, not to mention the level of sophistication of the sellers. I’m thinking this is all a very good thing indeed…


A Good Day For Internet Radio

Last week’s debut of RAIN Summit Europe in Berlin was . The event, which was held at the nhow Hotel Berlin, featured a really strong list of speakers, including keynote presenter Jonathan Forster of Spotify. Forster started his talk by saying that Spotify isn’t radio, and I think he was half afraid he might get pelted with rotten tomatoes for saying so. Not so — despite the fact that Spotify isn’t “radio” in the sense that it offers songs and artists on-demand to listeners, it is streaming audio. There’s a joint mission for all forms of streaming audio to attract advertisers, and Spotify is working hard on that and making some really nice progress. Forster spent a lot of time illustrating ad campaigns that they have created for advertisers, and it was very inspiring stuff. 

The quality of the discussions at RAIN Summit Berlin were excellent and featured lots of experts outside of the Internet radio industry who contributed their expertise. There was a great agency roundtable discussion featuring advertising executives from Starcom MediaVest (UK), Pilot (Germany) and Havas (France). A discussion on Connected Dashboards featured an expert from BMW. The founder of Mixcloud joined a panel discussion on personalized streaming.

Whether you are streaming in Europe or not, there was a lot to learn about the marketplace among the folks at RAIN Summit Europe. We had a strong showing from US companies who are either already there or thinking about expanding to Europe with their services. We had far less interest from US based content providers, who declined our invitations to speak, and decided not to come. Which is fine, although I would say they missed out on an opportunity for some fantastic inspiration.

The hotel was beautiful, a hip and trendy setting along the River Spree in Berlin. The room was crowded – we exceeded our expectations, registering over 150 people for the event. And everyone that I spoke with said they learned a lot and were happy to be there. All in all, a good day for Internet radio (and streaming audio)…

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