Sunday, June 14, 2015

Will Apple "Beats" Pandora, Spotify and the Rest?

 
 

by Don Keith N4KC

Yessir, the landscape of how people listen to music has just been altered...again.  It's a real skyscraper this time.  One that has been around a while, that already changed everything a couple of times before.  It's Apple.  Uncharacteristically late to the party, Apple has finally unveiled their streaming music service with the clever title of...ready?

Apple Music.  But why?  As mentioned in my last post, the services that everyone assumes are doing wonderfully well are not exactly setting the woods afire, though they have made lots of impact on your granddaddy's way of hearing music, the totally ancient over-the-air broadcast radio.  Google is in the mix, too, and they are a pretty big company with which to contend, wouldn't you say?

So why is Apple jumping into the fray to allow people to listen to music on their little hand-held telephones?  Is there pent-up demand for such a thing?  Are the masses clamoring for a music source that is not currently available to them from multiple streamers?  Will millions of people be willing to pop $9.99 a month onto their credit cards just because Apple is in the (rather bland) name of this new service?

I say no.  Nor can I see anything so far that differentiates Apple Music from anyone else spitting out a continual stream of songs.  Oh, there is one thing.  They will have live deejays who are supposedly curating the music...working their butts off, finding songs YOU want to hear, including new music they believe you NEED to hear.  And according to the video, the whole idea is for that music to be consumed by masses of people who react emotionally to the songs and to the deejays playing them...playing them just for all those folks out there listening to them at that very moment.

Wait.  Isn't that RADIO?  Damn straight it is.  Or was.  Have we, with the help of the geniuses in Cupertino, now done a complete 180?  Your typical radio station with a tower on the hill and a colorful logo and cluttered web site is now streaming music--over the air with 100,000 watts of hit power!- and removing such "negatives" as personalities and songs that don't "test well" because they are too new or too creative for the good of the listener.  And Apple Music--basically a streaming web site--is differentiating itself by adding live personalities, new songs they think you would like (though they still use some of the same algorithms to build individual "playlists" based on your choices, just as the other guys do), and some warmth and humanity that the computers at Pandora and Spotify cannot do.

Or, apparently, your local radio station either.  Even though the guys with the tower and transmitter are in prime position to know YOU, who you are and what you and your neighbors want to hear.  But that is a familiar rant that I won't get into today.

So can Apple sell this concept?  Is the Apple name big enough to convince you that their magic touch can inject some life into spitting out one song after another.  And why are they doing this now?

Cynics say they have to, but may have already fumbled the ball.  Phones dominate their massive profits now.  iTunes is way, way down.  If Apple Music can make iPhones even more in demand then it is a good thing.  If they successfully use those live deejays to tell you about all the other wonderful things Apple is doing for YOU at $795 retail for a telephone, then it may be a good idea for them.  If they can justify the billions they spent to buy Beats by using the technology to extend listening beyond the phones instead of just using the name for their "station."  At the worst, if it loses them a billion or two, nobody but the accountants will notice.

Is it a win for music lovers?  For artists and songwriters?  For the music industry?  Maybe.  We'll see, won't we?
 
 


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Broadcast TV is screwed already. Radio?

by Don Keith

Regular followers here know how I feel about how rapid technological change is affecting media in general and traditional over-the-air TV and radio in particular.  Basically, it's like an armadillo in the middle of a super-highway.  But traditional media continue to waddle right down  the thoroughfare, doing business just as they always had.  And, like our poor armadillo, ignoring all those other technological innovations that were threatening their very existence.


Somehow radio and TV continue to do the same (or less!) than they did when their only competition for eyeballs and ears were themselves.  How could media who are supposed to be so creative be so utterly lacking in creativity or innovation when their entire business model is in danger of getting splattered by a semi?

But even I have to admit that I'm surprised that Pandora and other commercial-free, web-delivered content have not made an even bigger dent in traditional radio.  Especially in light of data that shows Netflix is gutting network TV at a stunning rate...even if Nielsen, the folks who theoretically measure TV viewing, has no way of measuring the outlet that probably has more eyeballs than any one of the networks.

Now comes an interesting blog post by one of the smartest men in the business, and one of the smartest with whom I have had the pleasure of working.  Pierre Bouvard has some interesting observations based on new data, and if you are interested at all in how tech change is adjusting what you will be watching on that big-screen, take a moment to READ it.

So does this mean radio remains strong and vibrant?  No, it is still an armadillo, creeping across a ten-lane expressway, and the tech world is bearing down on it at well above the speed limit.  What this data Pierre shares might mean is that it is not too late.  That station operators can still find ways to embrace how people expect media to be delivered and paid for.  But it ain't playing "the biggest hits of yesterday and today with fewer commercials."

See, time is running out.  Curling up in a shell and hoping the onslaught misses is not a strategy for saving a medium.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Why is the U.S. economy so stagnant?

by Don Keith

Veering just a bit from the usual rapid-technological-change motif for this post, but not very far if you think about it.  Here's the question:

Why is the U.S. economy so stagnant, so slow to rebound from the last recession?

I think I can give a reason for much of the sluggishness by presenting a single chart:


You don't even have to be able to read the labels to understand the impact of the data that this graph presents.  It shows the page count for the Federal Register, generally considered to be a proxy for the amount of federal regulation being inflicted on the country.

Would it surprise you to know that the country's Gross Domestic Product tracks almost perfectly counter to this particular graph.  The ups and downs of the page count in the Federal Register track almost the opposite of GDP.

Makes perfect sense to me!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Good friend, big honor, amazing true story

by Don Keith

My friend and the subject of my book MATTIE C.'s BOY, Shelley Stewart, has just been honored as a "Good Neighbor" by State Farm Insurance.  You can see a short video about Shelley, read the article about the honor, and learn more about the book as well as Shelley's Mattie C. Stewart Foundation HERE.


Shelley's story is one of the most powerful and inspirational that you will ever hear.  I was honored to help tell it.  I wish the book was getting more promotion and awareness.  Everyone...and I mean everyone...could benefit from this man's life experiences and what all he overcame to become such a leading figure in media, business, and human rights.



Saturday, April 25, 2015

I be bloggin'

by Don Keith

I have had the pleasure of doing a couple of blog appearances in the past week.  One will be released in June as part of a brand new World War II blog series done by the History Network in Great Britain.  Angus Wallace did a great job on the interview, and I will try to remember to update this post with a link when it is available.  We are, of course, discussing the USS Neosho and my book about what happened to her--THE SHIP THAT WOULDN'T DIE--at the Battle of the Coral Sea.



I was also honored to be a part of the podcast series from QSO TODAY, a web site belonging to Eric Guth 4Z1UG, who interviewed me from Jerusalem, in Israel.  We discuss amateur radio, how the hobby can enhance a person's education and career, my ham radio book, RIDING THE SHORTWAVES: EXPLORING THE MAGIC OF AMATEUR RADIO, and also about my other books.  Eric does a good job with the podcast but also includes "show notes" that add a great deal to the audio, including numerous appropriate links and even pictures of some of the things we talk about.

You can see the show notes page and listen to the podcast from the QSO TODAY site by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Another promotional blog post from Don Keith N4KC...using that rapidly-changing technology

By Don Keith

You have to admit that I rarely use this forum for self-promotion for my World War II (WWII, WW2, World War 2, #WWII, #WW2) just to get all the keywords in there), amateur radio (ham radio, #hamradio, #amateurradio), submarine, Alabama (Crimson Tide) football, or other books.  But right up front, let me warn you this is one.
The latest Don Keith book, The Ship that Wouldn't Die, a remarkable true story of WWII

While we are at it, are you noticing that most articles you run across on the web...regardless the source...are loaded with both keywords and language designed to put the content at the top of Google, Bing, and other search engines.  Click bait!  It is becoming less and less about what is said and how it is said and more about how Google, Bing, and the rest find and index what is being published.  And so it shall be from now on, I suspect.  And, as best as I can, this article is being written more for Google than for you nice folks who follow the Don Keith N4KC Rapidly Changing Technology blog.  For that I apologize.  But it is what it is.  I feed my family by writing WWII (World War II, World War 2, WW2), amateur radio (ham radio), submarine, and Alabama (Crimson Tide) books.

Well, maybe you are interested that my new book, "The Ship that Wouldn't Die", has now been released and, even before it officially shipped, landed on several Amazon.com (Amazon) bestseller lists.  Amazon.com (Amazon) being the top seller of books these days, that is a positive sign for struggling book writers.  The book tells the story of a WWII (World War 2, World War II, WW2) ship that was attacked and left for dead at the Battle of the Coral Sea (#Coral_Sea) and the remarkable efforts of her crew to keep her afloat until rescue ships arrived.

Ship that Wouldn't Die by Don Keith audio book cover for World War II Coral Sea storyI also just got a copy of the audio book (#audio_book) and the fellow who read it, Arthur Morey, did a very good job.

If you like remarkable true stories of average men placed in desperate circumstances who do remarkable things, you will enjoy "The Ship that Wouldn't Die".

And I don't think there is a single potential search term in that last sentence.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Massive tech change in media means...classic rock still top radio format?

by Don Keith

Counter-intuitive, ain't it?  Despite all the rapid technological change in society and its effect on all media...and especially broadcast radio...a format that plays music forty years old is still among tops with listeners.  At least, that is true if you believe Nielsen ratings and this article from our friends at INSIDE RADIO:

Why Classic Rock Refuses to Die.
Despite classics by Led Zeppelin remaining in rotation for decades, a new online survey from researcher Mark Kassoff shows their extraordinary resiliency. Two-thirds of classic rock radio listeners say the music sounds every bit as good now as it did decades ago.

OK, first let me punch a hole in Mr. Kassof's survey.  According to the article:

Asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “Classic rock sounds every bit as good now as it did decades ago,” two-thirds of the 320 survey respondents who listen to classic rock radio strongly agreed.

Well, if you ask 320 people who eat chocolate cake if chocolate cake tastes good to them, I'd expect even more than two-thirds to say it did!

Then why does Nielsen (formerly Arbitron) surveys show classic rock stations to still be among the most popular in most radio markets?  Because of a strange--but purely self-serving--quirk in how radio ratings are gathered and presented.  And because of the nature of today's over-the-air listener.

If I sit at a desk all day and my only choice for background atmosphere is local radio, I probably prefer something familiar, unobtrusive, and non-distracting.  I probably also need something that will not drive fellow cubicle-mates bonkers.  Country gets on the nerves of some people.  Rap certainly does.  Adult contemporary is often a choice.  But almost everyone can tolerate classic rock, and especially if they are over 40 (as the article admits) and grew up listening to this music when it was new.  So, if I happen to be keeping a diary or toting a personal people meter (PPM) for the Nielsen folks, I can tally a whole bunch of listening to Classic Rock 105.5 or whoever.

Secondly, as mentioned in previous rants. radio is careful to yell and scream about its SHARE, not its RATING.  SHARE is the percentage of people listening at any given time to broadcast radio.  RATING is the percentage of every person in the survey area, including those who listen to no radio at all.

SHARE is how big a slice of the radio listening pie your station gets.  RATING is how big a slice you get of the "everybody" pie.  The former...SHARE...is from a pie whose size is shrinking rapidly.  Fewer and fewer people are listening to over-the-air radio because there are so many other audio sources for them to choose.  Me, sitting at my desk, might listen to Pandora instead of Classic Rock 105.5 if my company's IT department doesn't mind my use of the bandwidth.  But as long as we are talking about a PERCENTAGE of the pie...the SHARE...it will continue to look impressive.

But when figuring SHARE, all that other listening is ignored.  Only over-the-air stations count.  (Yes, new efforts are being made to measure things like radio station streaming and other sources, but we ain't there yet, and share still does not reflect it.)  Even if a station has a big SHARE, it could still be far fewer actual sets of ears than it used to be.  Today's (let's say) 12 SHARE is a lot less human beings than it was a decade ago but SHARES...percentages...are still the same.

Oh, and I can think of one other reason classic rock might still remain a "strong" choice for radio listeners.  Note this sentence in the article:

Nearly 30 years after it emerged as a rock splinter format, classic rock shattered its PPM ratings record in February, underlining the timeless nature of the music.

 Could it be that people who still listen to broadcast radio...and who are willing to keep a listening diary or carry a meter for Nielsen...are not very active listeners in the first place?  That they are not seeking new music or more active formats?  That just want something familiar, safe, and non-threatening?  Something not perceived to be noise?  Could that also be why the most successful classic rock stations have practically no personalities (live deejays) on the air?

Could it be that today's over-the-air radio listeners--far fewer of them, remember...actually only want non-distracting background noise?  Is that where you want your commercials, Mr. Advertiser?  

In the background?