Last.fm Frees Up the Music

Interesting to hear that Last.fm has just announced that it’s streaming full tracks, on-demand, for free.

It means that any last.fm visitor will be able to stream a track on its system (and it seems to have all the majors signed) up to three times. Money-wise they’re profit-sharing the advertising money with the record companies.

At the same time they’re also planning to introduce a subscription service, which I imagine will mean you’ll be able to stream songs more than three times (perfect for you set up that recording to Audacity), get higher quality, no ads etc.

Whilst last.fm isn’t the first person to do a deal like this, it does fit in nicely with the rest of their streaming radio business, and was probably fairly easy to activate as they have all the songs in their system. It seems they’re positioning themselves quite nicely to be the one-stop shop for a ‘music on-demand’ experience. It also means that they’re probably paying their music licensing costs for the first time!

There’s more detail at paidcontent.org.

DAB Digital Radio Christmas Sales


Image from: salimfadhley

Even before such things as WiFi and DAB appeared, Christmas has always been the time of the year that the largest numbers of radios are sold. I have no real idea why. Whilst i’m sure some are bought for Christmas, they can’t all be, can they? Maybe it’s the present people like to buy themselves. Anyway, Christmas is important for those of us in the DAB business as we can see how many new radios are finding their way into people’s homes.

Well, the DRDB have just released the figures and it turns out in December alone 550,000 DAB Digital Radios were sold (that’s 22% up on last year). This puts cumulative UK sales at 6.45m. Hurrah.

Mahalo

From an uninterested, under-informed observer’s perspective, Dave Winer seems to be raking over old ground with self-publicist extraordinare Jason Calacanis over Jason’s human-powered search-engine Mahalo.

If you haven’t visited Mahalo, they basically take search terms like Guitar Hero III Cheats, New York City Hotels or MacBook Air and instead of creating software that finds lots of pages that mention those terms (like Google does), Mahalo gets a person to research the topic and write-up the best resources.

Jason’s talked about human-powered engines like this being better at deep-linking to the right kind of information than traditional search-engines do and that Mahalo’s here to compete with them. Dave’s not so sure and think that it’s Wikipedia that Mahalo’s got in it sights.

My personal view is that it’s somewhat a hybrid of of that. If you do searches in Google for specific things – people, places etc – you can see that Wikipedia is coming up in the top five. Indeed, 70% of Wikipedia’s traffic comes from search engines and 50% comes from Google. We also know that visitors who arrive at a site from Google are more likely to click adverts than other people.

Surely then, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you can get higher up Google’s rankings for a wide variety of terms (not just the generics that Wikipedia does well for) then you’ll get traffic from ‘searchers’ who are more likely to click on ads that take them to other (similar) places. Indeed, you should probably take the top 50,000 search terms from search engines and build out from there. That’s information that’s not always that easy to get, but hey, by billing yourself as a ‘search engine’ you might start creating your own data set that can help your progress grow.

So, is Mahalo a search engine? No. Is it trying to beat Wikipedia? No. Is it trying to generate as much traffic as possible to make money from contextual ads? Er, Yes.

A Challenge

My friend Martin dropped me an email this week:

I wouldn’t normally e-mail where you might not know the person concerned, but this case is different I think. Please read on in case you feel inspired.

A friend of mine from my old firm in Manchester, Anthony Taylor, has recently started a solo row across the Atlantic Ocean… Yes, that’s right. That’s an estimated 70-100 days at sea, alone, save for the company of his little yellow boat and several hundred packets of boil in the bag food in the hull.

He’s invested a massive amount in making the trip possible and has received sponsorship to help him out, but is also raising money for Christies, the cancer hospital in Manchester, which treated Anthony’s dad for a brain tumour a few years ago.

I urge you to have a look at his website, where you can chart his progress so far in the diary section. It sounds beautiful and terrifying in equal measure so far and is clearly an immense challenge. Here’s the link: www.soloatlantic.co.uk.

The blog is quite something (he set off on 12th Jan if you’re looking), it makes my petty rants seem positively childish. You can also donate money to Anthony’s charity here: http://www.justgiving.com/soloatlantic.

Wi-Fi, Wi-Max and the Radio

Often when I talk about DAB Digital Radio, people bring up the internet and ask “well, won’t it all be over from DAB soon?”.

The things I generally say in response, are:
1. I think it’s quite surprising that even though Broadband has 50% penetration and it’s pretty much standard in offices, radio listening on-line is still amazingly low. And this is with there being a million-odd radio stations and pretty much all of the UK’s analogue stations too. Plus the majority of radio listening is at home and work (not on the move). So, really, it should be doing much better online.
2. People like listening to radio on radio-like devices. Simplicity is one of the key reasons radio has so much consumption. It’s almost like a utility, you open the tap and in it flows. Internet radio is still a bit complicated/a hassle to use.
3. People are overwhelmed by choice. They want to be able to recognise and find the stations that they want to listen to.
4. Mobile internet (at the moment) is still quite expensive/a bit rubbish so listening on the move isn’t a great experience.
5. Internet radio is expensive for operators, the more listeners they have the more money they have to pay – this is something very different to broadcast – where it costs the same if you have one listener or a million.
6. DAB solves most of listeners problems with the radio. It replicates all the places you listen to the radio, it has loads of stations that you know and another medium selection of specialist ones. It has some of the highest appreciation scores of any consumer electronics device.
7. Even with a fraction of broadband penetration it generates over 8% of all UK radio listening.

However, the world is changing, so perhaps internet radio listening figures and use will change.

Devices like the iPhone have user interfaces and internet connectivity that doesn’t penalise data use. The move to WiFi at home means that people are more comfortable having a variety of devices that use the connection. With more sophisticated use of the internet, people are also more comfortable seeking out specific content that interests them. So maybe internet radio’s pathetic 1.8% share of listening (whilst DAB is 8.6%ish) will grow.

There is also the emergence of WiMax. Basically it broadcasts broadband through the air to boxes in your house, these are usually connected to your router and then you use regular WiFi to access and surf. It also means that you don’t need a phone line as that bit comes through the air. It’ll serve as a catalyst that will, no doubt, reduce broadband prices. It will also mean that if you’re too far away from the exchange to get broadband you’ll at least have another option.

There’s also Mobile WiMax which is basically the above, but straight into your phone/computer. It doesn’t really exist commercially at the moment, but will probably find its way to market in a couple of years. However, by then, 3G and 4G services might have made WiMax redundant.

Many people also think that WiMax services will mean lots of radio like devices will appear and will become the defacto way of listening to audio. Me, i’m still to be convinced….

Especially, based on the experience i’ve just had to endure.

My friend Helen has recently become the programme controller of radio station and where she lives she’s not able to pick up the station on FM or digital. The internet is therefore her only chance of spying, er, listening in, on her presenters from home. She has purchased an Acoustic Energy WiFi radio to do this. She’s was having trouble installing it, so she promised me dinner in exchange for some tech support.

Helen’s also on the cutting edge of internet technology as she has a WiMax-ish broadband connection, that pulls the internet over the air, from Now Wireless Broadband. So, to get her internet radio to work we had to hook the weirdo modem thing from Now to a wireless router. We then had to get the wireless router working and encrypted and get all the laptops and the WiFi radio to be able to connect.

This took a long time. And I know a little about such things.

To achieve this I had to use the Netgear admin panel, change the different encyption settings and google some queries to my problems. Then to get the WiFi radio hooked up I evntually worked out that I had to take all the security off the network to get the radio to connect and download some new firmware. I then put the security back on and realised that the WiFi radio only like one of the five different encryption options and even then you weren’t supposed to enter the full password, or something. I then had to change all the laptops to the new security settings.

This is all a little but different from hitting ‘autotune’ on a DAB Digital Radio.

Now, i’m convinced that this will all get easier, it better do, it would be impossible for it to get any harder.

However, the radio itself, is alright. When you’ve got the bloody thing to recognise the network it brings up a station menu that lets you navigate by continent to country and then it pulls a list of all the stations (from Reciva). For the UK it pulls 1340 stations, which makes the tuning take a long time to get to the station you want. When you tune in you get a connecting and a buffering and then it appears. We tuned to a GCap local station (that broadcasts on a number of bitrates up to 128), the version we got was 32kbits. It sounded alright, but nothing special, definitely not as crisp as DAB. I imagine this is because it has trouble connecting to the peered version of the stream.

We also had a play with Radio 4, and that was where the best point of the device came up. As well as live streaming you can hear all the ‘listen again’ content on-demand. Lots of the research i’ve recently commissioned has shown that people would love to listen to on-demand content on a radio-like device and this device definitely proves it.

Listening to on-demand radio is something that DAB lacks at the moment. It is something however that we’re working on and should hopefully fixed by the end of the year. Fingers crossed.

So overall, the WiFi radio is a terrible for setup, okay for navigating and use, but has some excellent features. It will be interesting to see how the next generation devices grow and develop and whether their use increases. As part of my job I regular do research studies and have recently added WiFi radio to the list of ‘ways you’ve listened to the radio in the last week’. At the moment i’ve never had a person say they listen this way, it’ll be interesting to see if that changes too.

Cloverfield Review

Thanks to Ambrose, I got to see the new JJ Abrams film Cloverfield last night.

You might have seen the first trailer if you went to see Transformers. In it, you’re watching a party filmed by one of the partygoers on DV, then suddenly bang, they all rush outside and find the severed head of the Statue of Liberty.

The film is really a very traditional monster movie, but with some good modern twists and turns. Like the trailer, the whole film is ‘filmed’ by one of the actors in it, all on DV. It’s wonderfully shaky camera all the way through, which allows them to play around with how you see the ‘monster’. It’s also quite interesting because of the amount of 9/11 imagery. I don’t think they’re trying to ape that day, but they do use lots of the things we’re used to seeing when a big building collapses. You therfore see a crash and lots of smoke rushing down a street and you see lots of people covered in dust. Things that remind you of the news footage from the day.

The monster is well-conceived and different to other movie monsters and there are some surprising twists with that too.

The cast are all quite young in the movie, early 20s though, rather than cloying teenagers, which made the dramatic quandry they face easier to believe. It’s also quite clever what they do with the extras, both in the party scene and at the beginning whilst people are still trying to work out what’s happening. You’ll notice that there’s lots of cameraphones and digital cameras being used – something which I thought was very authentic and rarely replicated in any other mainstream drama.

Overall, and excellent movie and well worth seeing. It’s on general release today in America and on the 1st February in the UK.

Moving Wallpaper and Echo Beach

ITV’s commissioners are either geniuses are fools. You may have heard about ITV1’s new drama double – Moving Wallpaper and Echo Beach. The first is a behind-the-scenes look at the new ITV1 sitcom Echo Beach and the second is, er, that soap opera Echo Beach.

Moving Wallpaper describes the artificial, ego-driven world of the soap opera and makes fun of the network and politically correct TV. My favourite line from the opening episode is them discussing the need for ethnic characters “…we’re fine with blacks but a bit low on Asians. We’ve only got Dev in Coronation Street”. Soon fixed with an Asian barmaid. Moving Wallpaper is a comedy-drama about the horrible world of telly and the rubbish soap opera their making for ITV1.

Echo Beach is that soap. It’s a Hollyoaks-type affair set in Cornwall with lots of sexy teens and two warring families, one led by Jason Donavon the other Martine McCutcheon. It’s fluffy and silly and not that different from any other soap opera. It’s also well made, shot well and has a good soundtrack.

Before watching it online just now, my thoughts were the idea was clever and different, but I wasn’t sure how they would tackle what’s surely the main problem – one show slags off the other. If you’re in on the joke with Moving Walllpaper then surely you wouldn’t be able to watch the soap Echo Beach? However, I think they’ve managed to strike gold and have created the starting point for a proper new soap opera for ITV1.

You can understand why ITV would want a Hollyoaks-esque soap opera as it would generate young demographics, is cheap to make, and would produce lots of episodes. It could also be something they could anchor to ITV2 for added benefit. However, launching a soap opera is really hard. Whatever you do is going to be regarded as a load of old crap. It would be pilloried by the press and ITV would be accused of dumbing down.

Well ITV have managed to get around this by up front admitting to all of soap’s problems and acknowledging them all in the post modernity of Moving Wallpaper. This has let them get away with launching a teen soap with the reverse to what’s expected, positive press.

Both shows are due to run for an initial 12 episodes, but it would be interesting to see if they both come back for a longer run later in the year… or will just Echo Beach….

New Capital 95.8 Website

New Capital Website

Interesting to see the new Capital 95.8 website go live this evening.

Whilst it is using roughly the same structure of the previous sites (and the new One Network sites), it’s had a wash and brush up, and at least works in Firefox properly for the first time!

Now, radio websites are, by and large, bloody awful. It something that strangely inflicts stations from all over the world. After you get over the ususal horific design, the main problem is badly updated content and terrible copy writing. It’s always amazed me that radio can be incredibly talented at getting the right sound on-air, with presenters on message, and music and production that work, clearly targeting an audience, but they somehow abandon all of this when creating a website.

GCap, however, have done a good job with the latest roll-out of sites and I believe this is also likely to just be an interim version before there’s a full re-tooling later in the year. With lots of staff involved with the sites, I think they they clearly lead UK commmercial radio’s online presence.

One thing the sites still haven’t managed though, is adopting evolving internet practices, something users will be used to when using other sites. What particularly grates is the abysmal blogging system that MediaSpan (who currently provide the backend) provide. If you have a look at this, you can see that it barely looks like a blog. There’s no room for per post comments, you can’t link to a specific post and there’s no use of trackbacks. Really this means it’s not a blooming blog and the station loses out on all the benefits of being a part of the blogosphere. It’s the comments, linking and trackbacks that will generate more page impressions and more ad money. I also can’t stand the URL structure, all this Article.asp?id=450638&page=2 nonsense is rubbish, some plain english URLs would make users more comfortatble navigating the content.

Edited to add the words UK commercial above.