Short Nerd Chief

Posts Tagged ‘iTMS’

Circumvent laziness with Smart Playlists

Posted by Fred on February 13, 2008

For someone who claims to be a geek, I am woefully lazy when it comes to iTunes.  This is why when I go to the gym, I’m as likely to hear Copland’s Buckaroo Holiday as I am the Dead Kennedys’ Holiday in Cambodia.  Gina Trapani helps you avoid the same fate with Lifehacker’s Top 10 iTunes Smart Playlists.  Of the list, the one I’m most likely to try (if I weren’t so lazy) is the No Skippies list, which eliminates songs you start to play, then skip (such as classical music or Nina Simone when on the elliptical trainer):

 

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Universal CEO: We’re Not Malicious, We’re Just Stupid

Posted by Fred on November 27, 2007

In an interview with Seth Mnookin in this month’s Wired, Universal CEO Doug Morris takes a new tack in justifying the music industry’s heavy-handedness with its own customers.  You see, they weren’t malicious, they were just stupid.

Morris was as myopic as anyone. Today, when he complains about how digital music created a completely new way of doing business, he actually sounds angry. “This business had been the same for 25 years,” he says. “The hardest thing was to get something that somebody wanted to buy — to make a product that anybody liked.”

And that’s what Morris, and everyone else, continued to focus on. “The record labels had an opportunity to create a digital ecosystem and infrastructure to sell music online, but they kept looking at the small picture instead of the big one,” Cohen says. “They wouldn’t let go of CDs.” It was a serious blunder, considering that MP3s clearly had the potential to break the major labels’ lock on distribution channels. Instead of figuring out a way to exploit the new medium, they alternated between ignoring it and launching lawsuits against the free file-sharing networks that cropped up to fill the void.

Morris insists there wasn’t a thing he or anyone else could have done differently. “There’s no one in the record company that’s a technologist,” Morris explains. “That’s a misconception writers make all the time, that the record industry missed this. They didn’t. They just didn’t know what to do. It’s like if you were suddenly asked to operate on your dog to remove his kidney. What would you do?”

Personally, I would hire a vet. But to Morris, even that wasn’t an option. “We didn’t know who to hire,” he says, becoming more agitated. “I wouldn’t be able to recognize a good technology person — anyone with a good bullshit story would have gotten past me.” Morris’ almost willful cluelessness is telling. “He wasn’t prepared for a business that was going to be so totally disrupted by technology,” says a longtime industry insider who has worked with Morris. “He just doesn’t have that kind of mind.”

Maybe they were just that ignorant, but it’s hard to believe.  Morris wasn’t prepared for a business that was disrupted by technology? What business isn’t disrupted by technology?  Besides, the music industry had already been disrupted by technology several times over. Cassette tapes replaced LPs, and were in turn replaced by CDs.  By the time Napster hit the web in a big way, the stand-alone record store was already on its way out, replaced by Best Buy and Walmart and Amazon, which were able to leverage supply chain management and diverse merchandise catalogs to undercut the Towers and mall record stores of the world.  The difference is, these disruptive technologies increased industry profits, and the industry could manipulate the technology – there’s a reason CDs aren’t scratch-resistant anymore, and a reason that CDs became more expensive while the price of other technology was falling.

The MP3 changed all that, as it unbundled music production, manufacturing and distribution.  With no physical product, the industry lost its control, and with it its ability to turn the new technology into new profit.  But they should have seen it coming.  Consumers were ripping CDs before Napster, playing them on their PCs (Winamp just celebrated its 10th anniversary) and their MP3 players.  Napster and its progeny didn’t create file sharing; they just made it easier.  So the industry damn well should have known change was coming.  Even if they were in fact that clueless, the success of Napster should have clued them in – customers wanted their music digitally, they wanted to be able to play it on any device at any time.  Lots of them also didn’t want to pay for it, but many of them would have willingly paid for their downloads if they had had the opportunity (I said exactly this on the old blog in 1999 – give me a way to buy downloads and I’ll give up Napster in a heartbeat).

But you can’t compete with free, right?  Of course you can.  What you can’t do is wish the problem away, or offer a half-baked “alternative” that is clearly designed to increase industry profit at the expense of satisfying customers.  Why did iTunes succeed where others failed? Partly because it’s part of the larger iPod ecosystem, but partly because it’s so easy to use.  Millions of tracks at your fingertips, easily searched, with guaranteed quality and speedy delivery.  P2P file-sharing is free only if the value of your time is $0.

So was the industry stupid or malicious?  Probably a little of both.  There’s just no way they didn’t see this coming.  maybe they were late on the draw, but they knew eventually.  They chose litigation over competition and denial over innovation not because they were clueless about the technological seism underway, but because they didn’t see an easy way to use it to create additional profit.  They couldn’t stop the oncoming train, of course, so now they’ve given away millions in revenue they could have made over the last decade and are being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century

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XM Lets You Get Your Led Out

Posted by Fred on November 9, 2007

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XM Radio launched a new channel yesterday on channel 59.  XM LED is all Zeppelin all the time:

A 24/7 celebration of the music and magic of Led Zeppelin.

A handcrafted channel dedicated to everything Led Zeppelin, including studio albums, rare and archival concerts, interviews, and listener interaction. A continuous and mystical radio voyage into the past, present, and future of the mighty Led Zeppelin.

For a band that released its last real studio album in 1979 (Coda, released in 1982 after John Bonham’s death and the breakup of the band, doesn’t count), Zeppelin is fairly ubiquitous these days.  On Tuesday, they release Mothership, yet another compilation of old material (which follows 2003’s Remasters and How the West Was Won, 2000’s Latter Days: Best of Led Zeppelin Vol. 2, 1999’s Early Days: Best of Led Zeppelin Vol. 1, 1993’s Complete Studio Recordings box set and Led Zeppelin Box Set Vol. 2, 1992’s Led Zeppelin Remasters and the 1990 Led Zeppelin Box Set).  Mothership will be available at the iTunes Music Store, as will the 165-track Complete Led Zeppelin.  The band is reuniting for a concert in London on December 10.

I own several of the compilations and a few of the studio albums on CD, and will likely download Mothership on Tuesday, so the new channel is right up my alley.  During this morning’s commute, XM played Bron-Y-Aur Stomp, Kashmir, Ramble On, The Battle of Evermore, Robert Plant’s solo In the Mood, and Gallows Pole.  I just wish the channel had started during WCVE’s three week beggathon Fall Membership Campaign so I could have turned to it when the host spent a half hour begging for money.

This sort of thing is why I have a satellite radio in the first place (that and listening to Tom Hamilton do Tribe games).

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Hulu, or Who Knew it Would Be So Useless

Posted by Fred on October 29, 2007

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The news embargo on Hulu has lifted, so a bunch of tech journalists who haven’t actually used the service are posting pre-reviews of the fledgling video site based on demos NBC showed them and some press releases.

Kara Swisher, for example, who has been deservedly critical of the service, now says that:

From a demo (here are some screen shots of pages) I was given Friday by Hulu CEO Jason Kilar, the boyish former Amazon exec who seems to have learned to swim well with the Hollywood sharks, I am impressed thus far.

I will, of course, reserve judgment until I get to test-drive it for a while, but in concept and tone and aims–that is, more open than I ever expected the service to be–it is off to a good start. (Actual reviews of these sites I will leave to Walt Mossberg.)

If you’ve forgotten what Hulu is, other than another stupid quasi-Hawaiian name reminiscent of Mahalo, recall that NBC got irritated with Apple for its pricing inflexibility (it now appears that NBC wanted to charge $2.99 per episode for Heroes to see what would happen, and Apple said no thanks, competition should drive prices down, not up), and teamed with Fox to form Hulu, which will offer streams of current TV programming and some movies. It thus is an attempt to compete with (a) the iTunes Music Store per-episode download service, (b) YouTube, (c) illegal BitTorrent downloads, (d) the network’s own websites, (e) Amazon’s Unbox and other movie download services, (f) DVRs, (g) DVD sets and a bunch of other stuff besides. In reality, the big dogs are YouTube and iTMS. Hulu will offer a dozen movies to start and the most recent five episodes of current network programs (delayed by at least a day to protect their original airings and give you a chance to skip the ads on your TiVo box). It will be an ad-supported service, but the precise nature of the ads is up in the air. Given that this is NBC, expect at least some ads to be in-stream and unskippable. They just can’t help themselves.

The service hasn’t even launched yet, but the restrictions seem clear (despite what Kara says, it is not open, at least not compared to other non-Hollywood offerings). No user-generated content (no big loss, in my opinion), no downloads, no desktop player, no mobile access, no real-time or close to real-time access, no proper archive of content. You get five episodes of Heroes, which you can watch in a Flash player via a browser or embed in a website so other people can stream it in a Flash player via a browser. You’ll be able to recommend clips or make quasi-mashup highlight reels.

The TV networks are sitting on a treasure trove of content, but they’re just too paranoid to release it into the wilds of the internet. Just think of what Hulu could be if the networks grabbed that brass ring:

  • The archive.org of the TV generation. Sixty years or more of programming, available on demand. Want to see the Vitameatavegamin episode of I Love Lucy? Stream it on demand, or download it for a buck or two. Stick some ads in the free stream or plaster them on the website to get cash for the non-downloaded content.
  • Mashup central. People love best-of clipfests – where would VH1 be without the commentary-laden clipfest? Release downloadable clips of content and let people mash them, combine them, snark all over them. Then let them upload their creations to Hulu, highlight the best of the bunch. If they’re really good, stick them on real TV and come full circle.
  • Compete with the iTMS. This means really compete, offer-an-alternative-like-Amazon compete. iTMS shows are laden with DRM, play only on Apple TV, iPhone or an iPod and cost too much. Provide DRM-free downloads for a buck that can play on anything that plays video, or offer Hi-def downloads for a reasonable price increase. Get creative with pricing, but that doesn’t just mean “charge more for popular stuff.”
  • Replace the DVR and/or DVD box set. This is covered above in a way, but offer a high-quality stream in real-time. That way, I can start watching Heroes at 8:12 on a Monday if I don’t get home in time. Include ads if you want, but let me skip them. It has to be no worse an experience than I get by paying 10 bucks a month to Comcast. You can also bypass the plastic discs for catching up on past seasons. I caught on to Friday Night Lights late and bought the DVD set. Why? Let me download season one and watch it on the PC or stream to the TV via a media server. I don’t need the discs and won’t have time for the extra features.

Hulu, of course, does none of these things. NBC and its partners are too afraid of cannibalizing other channels, too afraid of alienating advertisers, too afraid of P2P and BitTorrent and the internet. Hulu could kill the iTMS, but this version of Hulu won’t. I generally agree with Marshall Kilpatrick:

No user generated content (not even best-of), no desktop player or download of material (it’s all in a Flash player) and very little viewer interaction is enabled. Viewers are allowed to select which section of the precious Hollywood content they are most in love with, that section or the whole video can then be shared with a friend or embedded on a website. This is just a multi-partner content deal with paltry technology behind it and a whole lot of money for marketing. Nothing innovative to get excited about.

Marshall wants social elements, too, but I’m a misanthrope who doesn’t care to be your friend on Facebook or otherwise, so making the solo viewing experience first-class is more important. But Hulu isn’t social, isn’t first-class, and won’t shake anything up. It’s just another half-baked service with a lot of marketing and a stupid name.

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