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Weekend Perspective: Week of Oct 7-11

RAIN’s Weekend Perspective summarizes the week’s important events for a weekend catch-up, and revives your weary neurons for coming week.

DEVICES

Two new streaming devices assaulted the traditional home radio.

Samsung Shape: First, Samsung introduced its WiFi-connected speaker system called Shape. Looking like a large, metal doorstop, the uniquely-shaped Shape comes with Rhapsody, Pandora, and TuneIn installed as presets in the remote-controller app. TuneIn issued a press release promoting its selection as the terrestrial radio provider for Shape. Indeed, the presence of TuneIn, with its thousands of broadcast streams and podcasts, puts the Shape squarely in contest with traditional radio sets.

Bose SoundTouch: Days after the Samsung shape launched, Bose announced SoundTouch, in the same device category. It connects to home WiFi. It is controlled via smartphone or tablet running the SoundTouch app. Tellingly, the Bose system include physical preset buttons, like on a car radio, that can be set within the app. If radio builders hadn’t gotten the hint yet, Bose made it clear that their products are under attack. Vast Internet selection threatens to replace the local radio frequency band.

  • Cost? Fortunately for radio builders (of which Bose is one, playing both sides of the fence), the connected speaker systems aren’t cheap. The Bose SoundTouch starts at $400, and goes up to $700 — per speaker. So, a fairly high-end product category for now.

MUSIC SERVICES & APPS

Distribution news for Google, iTunes Radio, and Earbits.

Google All Access to Mexico: Google All Access opened for business in Mexico, just a week after expanding to a half dozen European countries. The empire is expanding. In related news: Google’s All Access app is also reported to be heading for Apple’s mobile system. Don’t hold your breath waiting for Apple to reciprocate by placing iTunes Radio in Android.

But Apple is on the move, too: This week also brought reports that Apple plans to expand iTunes Radio to Australia and New Zealand (the only two non-U.S. countries inhabited by Pandora), as well as Canada and the U.K. (the borders of which Pandora has not breached). This will reportedly happen in the first half of 2014.

  • Every bit of iTunes Radio news is framed in a competition with Pandora, and Apple is demonstrating that by negotiating directly with music owners, rather than relying on country-by-country licensing rules as Pandora does, it has a first-mover advantage. Expect to hear new listener stats in Apple’s new countries, and much media frothing about Pandora’s imminent doom.

But Pandora not exactly fading: The latest comScore app-usage metrics came out, showing Pandora as the 8th most-used app. If you removed Google-branded and Apple-branded apps (because they have built-in ecosystem advantages over stand-alones), Pandora would be third, behind Facebook and YouTube. That is dominance.

Earbits to iOS: the indie-artist streaming service Earbits, which pays for its content in “social currency,” launched an iOS app, expanding its Android-based operation.

Spotify is no longer a toddler: Spotify celebrated its fifth birthday. In Internet years, it is practically middle-aged. The service has streamed over a million years of music so far. Not a typo — that is YEARS. It also revealed that 20 percent of its catalog is never played. RAIN suggests how to solve that.

NEW PRODUCTS

Rhapsody arrives (late) to the party: That’s the party where a user can start a station related to an artist or song. Believe it or not, the venerable Rhapsody has been around since 2000 without artist stations until this week. The new feature works well, and brings Rhapsody to parity with Spotify, Rhapsody, iTunes Radio, Google All Access … and who else? Pandora. Many others. The music services look a lot the same these days, with identical features and usage plans. It is hard to differentiate the products.

Speaking of which: Beats Music will launch soon, this week’s rumors would have us believe. What will Beats do to make an impact in a crowded market? Open question.

Here’s one way: Deezer, the Paris-based European streaming platform, announced a new classical music app, in cooperation with several major classical labels that are licensing their entire catalogs. A niche market, to be sure, but there is an opportunity to present classical music correctly, where everyone else makes a mess of it.

The BBC’s not-quite music service: The BBC calls its brand new Playlister a music service, but it doesn’t make any noise. Users can make lists (and the product interface is beautiful), but must export those lists to Spotify, YouTube, or Deezer to hear anything. Seems futile, but might gain some interest when new feature come aboard. In the meantime, turning a music playlist into YouTube videos is admittedly cool.

BUSINESS & LEGAL

DeliRadio scores funding: Specialty music app DeliRadio, which promotes local concerts by catalog artists, closed a funding round worth $9.35-million.

Rdio on campus: Making a play for sparse collegial wallets, and cultivating long-term customers at an impressionable age, Rdio began offering half-price subscriptions to its streaming service. Of course, Rdio also has free access to its streams, supported by ads.

Oh, no you don’t: The Radio Music Licensing Group moved to block performing rights organization SESAC from raising licensing rates to broadcast and Internet radio.

Brad Hill

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