Billboard's On-Demand Songs Chart Debuts — Streaming, Indeed, Counts.

1- Streaming counts.

2- Listeners, not gatekeepers, control the charts more than ever before.

3- We are entering a golden era for music fans.

Today Billboard, Nielsen and digitalmusic.org, announced the first ever subscription services On-Demand Songs Chart.  

This new chart tracks all the on-demand streaming activity on Subscription Music services such as Slacker Radio, Spotify, Sony Music Unlimited, Rhapsody, RDIO, Muve Music, Mog, and Zune. Additionally, this streaming play activity will now influence Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, arguably the most definitive ‘Top Songs” chart in the music business.

So, what does this all mean?

Well, let’s start with the fact that I am biased. I work at Slacker Radio, and have a vested interest in seeing Subscription Music models gain traction. I also chair the Music Subscription work group for digitalmusic.org, so I live and breath this stuff.

That said, I think there are three big takeaways:

1- Streaming counts.

2- Listeners, not gatekeepers, control the charts more than ever before.

3- We are entering a golden era for music fans.

Let’s take these ideas one by one. Streaming counts now, literally and figuratively. While the (rightly) respected Big Champagne has long been quantifying streaming activity, both legal and illegal, Billboard’s recognition of the Subscription Music Services certainly signals a milestone in the ascension of streaming music. With nearly 500 million on-demand weekly streams being generated by these nine legal services alone, a new scale of activity has been reached that is undeniable.

Listeners are becoming the new gatekeepers. Traditionally, Billboard song charts like the Hot 100 were comprised around a combination of radio airplay and single sales. Over the last few years, Billboard has done an admirable job of layering in other data to this mix, including song plays on MySpace, Yahoo and the like. With the inclusion of this On-Demand Songs Chart, Billboard has struck another blow for the idea that the end user, the listener and customer, has tremendous impact in shaping what our conception of a “charting” song will look like.

Lastly, for music fans, this really is the start of a golden era.  I grew up in Manhattan in the late 70’s. When I was a kid, every Saturday I would walk from my apartment on 53rd street and 1st avenue to the Donnell Library on 53rd street and 6th avenue to read Billboard.  I especially was focused on pouring over the charts, and spent countless hours discovering songs, artists and trends to pursue based on Billboard’s charts.

During that walk I often made up “dream music” scenarios for myself.

Things like:

I dreamed I had the largest music collection in the world. In my fantasy, I had every song, album and artist at my fingertips. True, in that era, I imagined converting my Mom’s midtown one bedroom apartment, into one enormous record and cassette library, but that’s how childhood dreaming goes…

I wanted my stereo to be able to count every song and artist I played, and tell me truly what my most played songs and artists were. I imagined some kind of song kind of song counter “connected” to my stereo. I wanted the data, even then.

I dreamed of having my own radio station. I wanted to be able to play The Ramones, Smokey Robinson, Grandmaster Flash, Elton John, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, The Grateful Dead, The Talking Heads and Big Daddy Kane all on one station. I wanted no formats. Actually, I wanted my own format. I walked around with reams of paper with all sorts of stations and playlists mapped out, documenting these concepts.

I fantasized about building a Music Clubhouse. I envisioned a cross between a rock club and the perfect mom and pop record store, dominated by a gigantic listening room equiped with a world class stereo and video set-up, so that all my friends could hang out and argue about music all day long.

Naturally, I knew that we would have all the liner notes and lyrics for every album in the world at the Music Clubhouse, as well as an unlimited supply of photos, bio information, and videos — again all at our fingertips.

When I flash back on those music fantasies, and then think about all the experiences available now across these subscription music streaming services, I realize that fantasy has largely become reality. These companies have built these new music experiences from a fan’s perspective.

Think about it  — just about every song, album and artist is available at your fingertips. At certain services, you really do have almost unlimited ability to create your own radio stations. You really can an engage with all your friends online at once, and in ways, thanks to technology, that I couldn’t even imagine in my best childhood music fantasies. Lyrics, liner notes, your most played data — all of these things are available.

And I truly believe this is just the START.

This On-Demand Songs Chart documents what has the potential to be a great era for music fans. There are certainly formidable challenges around label licensing, monetization and building economic ecosystems that subscription services face. So, it’s both the Subscription Service employee AND the music fan in me that works daily to have the industry support and reward continuing this kind of innovation.

I think it is really exciting to know that there will undoubtedly be some kid out there this weekend, who will be reading about all this streaming activity in Billboard. I imagine that he or she will not just try one of these services, but also will start thinking about the innovations and experiences that will reshape the fan experience yet again.

Who knows what the streaming music era will really look like. I imagine we have just started.

Meanwhile, Back In The Real World…Microsoft Triples Apple?

We are a household tethered to Apple’s ecosystems. Currently we have an iMac, Macbook Air, and three Macbook Pros in circulation, counting the hardware the kids use too. Come to think of it there are also currently four iPods and three iPhones in use. Oh, and a nifty “magic” trackpad. So much for my belief that holding off on an iPad here, or an iTouch there, shows any kind of moderation.

Is this Apple hardware festival overkill? You betcha.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Microsoft rolls onward:

 

The Final Take: You know that fly-over zone? Those states just outside your Virgin America window?? Essentially, everywhere in the U.S except California, New York and, maybe, Seattle???

Well, despite Apple’s hardware and OS gains over the last 3 years, according to SAI’s chart of the day, Microsoft still has a gragantuan footprint out there in the real world. Especially for business services. Our Seattle friends may not be as dominant as they once were, but make no mistake Windows-7 is having a very good run lately.

Read the full SAI piece here.

PS–Wonder if my Blackberry feels lonely.

Social Media Explosion — Not The Same As it Ever Was

 

There is a illuminating Social Media piece this morning from Jake Hird at eConsultancy.

In it, he lays out the numerical growth of Social Media over the last 12 months.

This is explosive growth.

 

Some highlights:

Last Year: Facebook has 350 million active users on global basis.

Now: Facebook officially hit the half-billion member mark last year. According to figures from Socialbakers, there are now some 640m Facebook users worldwide.

Last Year: 50% of active users log into Facebook each day. This means at least 175m users every 24 hours.

Now: Still citing the 50% active rate, using the official 500m figure, this means at least 250m users every 24 hours. This is more than a 40% increase in 12 months.

Last Year: 65m users access Facebook through mobile-based devices.

Now: It may well be the year of mobile… For Facebook. Users accessing the site through mobile devices now tops 200m – an enormous 200% increase in around a twelve-month period.

Last Year: There are more than 3.5bn pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, etc.) shared each week on Facebook.

Now: Clearly, Facebook is still growing: More than 30bn pieces of content is shared each month, which is an average of 7bn pieces a week.

 

 

Last Year: Twitter has 75m user accounts, but only around 15m are active users on a regular basis.

Now: Twitter now officially claims to have 175m registered users, although it’s unclear what percentage regularly user the service.

 

Last Year: LinkedIn has over 50m members worldwide.

Now: Officially, Linkedin has grown 100%, now having over 100m professionals who use the platform worldwide.

 

Last Year: Flickr hosts more than 4bn images.

Now: Flickr continues to grow at a steady rate, having increased by some 25% in the last twelve months. At the end of 2010, it was hosting more than 5bn images.


Six other tidbits from Jake Hird:

  • More than 24 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute.
  • Flickr members upload more than 3,000 images every minute.
  • The average Facebook user creates 90 pieces of content each month.
  • There are more than 2bn video views on YouTube every 24 hours.
  • People that use Facebook on their mobile devices are twice as active on Facebook than non-mobile users.
  • People on Facebook install 20m applications every day.

 

The Final Take: David Byrne may have put it best…

Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view

That is, you need to be careful analyzing numbers and “facts”.  As objective as you try to be, they all come with a point of view.

Here’s mine: Some broader trends are well amplified here. The ascension of Mobile as a platform, and photos and video as preferred content forms, are undeniable.

And the scale of Facebook’s penetration and user participation is almost beyond comprehension. This growth easily dwarfs the golden years (2000-2002) of AOL for example, where 25mm monthly subscribers was seen as a bellwether mark, or MySpace’s climb to 100mm accounts in 2006.

This kind of scale has tremendous ramifications for users and businesses alike. Some strategists view Facebook as a “shadow internet” — with visitors who are “always on Facebook” simply substituting their Facebook activity for all online activity. Others opine that Facebook will inevitably plateau, and to be careful about over-optimizing your web activities just to serve Facebook.

Lastly, with the rise of Linkedin, Twitter, and Flickr (or Pandora for that matter), it’s clear that highly targeted silos can scale. Businesses with great, differentiated, user experiences can grow faster than ever before.

Again, just my point of view — based solely, of course, on the facts.

 

 

Read the full eConsultancy piece here.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Power Up Your Laptop — It's A TV Party!

There’s a new survey out from PricewaterhouseCoopers that shows more TV is now watched on computers, than on TV.

Next thing you know they’ll tell us that more people steal music than buy it from iTunes.

Wacky.

DMI Tip: Some very interesting data points in this passage:

When asked about the ways they obtain movie content, only 12.9% cited purchasing via VOD from their cable company, which put that ninth on the list behind streaming from Hulu for free (30.7%), renting from an actual brick and mortar store (23.3%), or borrowing one from a friend or relative (19.8%). The two top answers were renting an actual copy from a Netflix (42.6%) and renting an online copy (31.7%)

DMI Tip #2: Special vintage Black Flag “TV Party” video below. Cause we love you.


 

Why Won't They Stay? –The Artist Website Problem

I rarely go to artist websites. It turns out, that is not unusual.

In August Neilsen reported that over 40% of  U.S. internet time is spent on Social Networking, gaming, and email. So if you take Facebook, email pages, and gaming out of the equation, think about how few websites most Americans visit in a week. Sure, there is a cutting-edge group of folks who use RSS readers, Read It Later, Instapaper, Flipboard etc. — but these people are the exception. I’d guess the average person hits less than 20 sites a week. That’s stiff competition for any website, let alone a single band’s site.

As I said, I rarely visit artist sites. Except for Radiohead, Bob Dylan, Beck and The Grateful Dead.

This list strikes me as strange, as three of these four are not among my favorite all-time artists. In fact, I don’t really like Radiohead (sorry).

Even stranger, none of these acts are even in my favorite genre — Jazz.

Why do I return to Radiohead, Beck, Dylan and the Grateful Dead sites so often?

In an industry that is desperate to drive traffic direct to fans from the artist site, why is it so hard to retain traffic?  Why do artist sites struggle so much? What works for the handful of acts that  retain a direct audience?

After poking around with the data and doing some common sense thinking, I’ll offer these six tenets of what keeps an audience coming back to an artist site:

1. The site is fundamentally sound. News, concert dates, and new music need to be front and center. Navigation needs to be clean and simple. The site needs to load quickly. Too much flash, and (God forbid) auto-starting anything, is a bad idea. You can go simple like Arcade Fire — http://www.arcadefire.com/ — or you can offer more content like Phish —http://phish.com/ — but either way the site needs to load and deliver cleanly and quickly.

2. The site needs to be definitive and authoritative. Vital information such as concert dates, new artwork, lineup changes, new music, release dates, etc. need to be announced on the artist site first, in a way that communicates ownership of the information. Bob Dylan’s site communicates this kind of authority well – http://www.bobdylan.com/.

3. The site needs to give me things I can’t get elsewhere. In a world of Google search and YouTube, I need to get something on the site that I can’t find anywhere else. The site can present the artist as a curator who sifts and contextualizes a variety of content. Beck’s site is the best I”ve seen in taking the artists point of view and communicating it as curation — http://www.beck.com/. Or the site could offer something as simple as free songs, streams, or high-ticket releases like the Grateful Dead Live catalogue.

4. The site needs to have  a “voice” — it needs to feel like the artists world. There needs to be a POV. Lots of photos and a well executed blog go a long way here. Try — http://www.flaminglips.com — note how the Flaming Lips use their blog, as their homepage. Pretty nifty. You might also want to check out Jason Maraz’s site…I have a few issues with the site (unnecessary landing page and the auto-play voiceover), but this is a great example of Pop artist delivering a site that fixes every MySpace design mistake, and has a great, original voice : http://jasonmraz.com/index.php

5.The site needs to create community. It needs to foster three-way communication: 1-band-to-fans, 2-fans-to-band, and 3-fans-to-fans. Radiohead’s site —http://www.ateaseweb.com/ — is the ultimate example of community. The message boards here have transcended Radiohead, and instead, function as the discussion point for people interested in any kind of brainy Alternative Rock. The Grateful Dead and Dylan sites do community well too.

6. You understand marketing to the data: The data tells you that right now action is on Facebook and Twitter. Your audience lives on the Social Networking sites, and has to be reached there.  You’re probably employing widgets, news updates, and tweets that pull visitors towards your artist, in a way that blurs the line between a full visit to your site, and a simple marketing impression. One thing is certain, if you are among the very few who has been able retain an audience, there’s no doubt that you are executing a good Facebook and Twitter strategy already.

The Final Take: Building an artist site that retains traffic is difficult stuff. The competition is fierce, the audience is fickle, marketing is hard, and monetization — which we haven’t tackled in this post –is tricky. Still, there are clues out there about what works. I’d suggest that you start by looking at the sites you regularly visit,  and why, as clue #1.


Ten Billion Instances of Data Collection — Apple Unveils All-Time App Winners

As Apple approaches 10 billion downloads, TechCrunch chronicles Apple’s all-time best performing Apps.

Spolier Alert: You can likely guess most of them, but not all of them. For example Pandora is the #2 all-time free App, but which other music App broke the top 5?

Final Take: A careful look through the list of Apps, reinforces the potential for music companies and music products. Pandora, Shazam, Tapulous, Soundhound, etc. are all well represented.  Music is clearly one of the biggest categories — with scale, not individual artists, reigning supreme. For digital music stakeholders, the question should be “how”, not “if”.

An iDevice in Every Hand? — Apple's Numbers

Apple’s quarterly numbers are out today, and they are staggering.

Apple reported record revenue of $26.74 billion, and a record net qurterly profit of $6 billion.

All Things Digital offers a deeper dive into the quarterly numbers here.

For Digital Music afficinados the specific hardware numbers Apple reported are especially interesting:

  • 4.13 million Macs sold. +23 year over year.
  • 16.24 million iPhones sold. +86% year over year.
  • 19.45 million iPods sold. -7% year over year.
  • 7.33 million iPads sold.

Final Take: Do the math above…that is nearly 50 million new devices in the quarter alone. The vast majority of these devices are portable. Laptops, iPhones, iTouches, iPads rule the day. Steve Jobs famously redefined Apple as a “mobile products company” about a year ago, and now the numbers back this up. For digital music stakeholders, this represents both opportunity, and a challenge. The good news is that you have tens of millions of potential consumers, plugged in to devices they love and feel emotionally attached to. That’s opportunity. The challenge is all the noise. iTunes isn’t Tower Records. It’s a platform, store and application that connects the user with his or her preferred digital content. In the bygone iTunes 1.0 era (1993-1996) that content was primarily music. But now it’s a jump-ball of content choices. Apps, movies, TV shows, video games, photos, and music all fight not just for the consumers attention, but also for the bandwith on the consumers portable device. That’s a noisy challenge for digital music companies.

Still, with an iDevice in this many hands, digital music stakeholders have a fighting chance.

Even Tila Can't Remember Her Password: NY Times Gives Context To Today's Myspace Layoffs.

Sad day at MySpace, as approximately half of their employees were let go today.

Tim Arango from the NY Times does a nice job of bringing context to today’s Myspace layoffs.

Spolier Alert: The rise and fall of MySpace may be the natural pattern for Social Networking companies.

Britney To The Rescue: iTunes Holds It Against Her, Gladly. (iTunes Scorecard Jan 11th 2011)

What would you hope for if you were running the iTunes store? Well, with digital music sales slowing, howzabout a shiny new Verizon iPhone deal and new singles from Britney, Kanye & Jay-Z for starters?. Biggie said “more money, more problems”, but in Cupertino, I’d venture to guess a chant of “more iPhones, more superstar releases” sits just fine.

But, at least for today, there’s a rub.

For this iTunes store turn, two of the three big drivers remain missing.

The iTunes store will not feel any Verizon uplift until February 10th…the day the Verizon iPhone is first available. While Apple usually announces products and consumer experiences that are available immediately, this one month waiting period hardly feels traumatic. You will probably remember there was a similiar run-up to other iPhone releases, and that strategy has seemed to work just fine.

But where is the new Kanye West/Jay-Z collaboration, “H.A.M.” ?  As of 1230pm PST, the song seems to be available on Facebook and the blogs only. No sign of it yet in the store. Perhaps the strategy here is to force fans to Facebook, where they must “like” the song to hear it. Maybe it is a play to grow a database to market the album, and subsequent singles to. Perhaps it’s just logistical. In any case, it feels odd to have such a high-profile release, from two superstars, unavailable for sale on iTunes.

On the other hand, there is Britney Spears. Not only is “Hold It Against Me” her best pop song in years, but Britney and her manager took to Twitter and the blogsphere yesterday to support the launch and amplify the iTunes release today. “HIAM”, positioned as a iTunes exclusive, shot immediately to #1 on the iTunes track chart. iTunes has Britney positioned in all their homepage lead slots…I would too.  iTunes needs big hit songs, from superstar acts, to drive excitement, traffic and sales. Certainly on Britney, that is all happening.

Let’s see what else iTunes is up to, in terms of store positioning this week, the second week of 2011.

Here then, the second iTunes Scorecard of 2011.

Below you will find the titles that manifested above the fold and in the 1st cut at iTunes. In other words, you land on the homepage this morning — here’s what you see:

1st Cut SPLASHES (aka The Big Bold Banners): Britney Spears, Your Favorite Artists/Their Favorite Beatles Songs feature, Darius Rucker, Cage The Elephant, Wretchers & Jabberers (soundtrack/proceeds to charity), and Cake.

New Release SWOOSHES (aka Minis): Britney Spears, Cage The Elephant, Wretches & Jabberers, Darius Rucker, Cake, Chevelle, Lecrae, Nikki Yanofsky, Avril Lavigne, Kristian Stanfill, Edie Brickell, Melanie Fiona, Louis C.K., Wavves, Best Coast & No Joy.

1st Row BRICKS (aka Static Rectangles under the New Releases): Young The Giant, Greatest Hits+Classic Albums $6.99 Sale.

Free Single Of The Week: Young Giant “My Body”.

Free Discovery Download: Tennis “Marathon”

Did You Notice?: Another mostly quiet week for Movies, TV, and Apps leaves plenty of homepage room for Music. Hats Off to Britney Spears for jumping big into that vacuum, and for unleashing a campaign that treats the launch of a digital single as a major event, not just as a step towards an album release date. While iTunes certainly gave the Britney single lots of  love, you can’t help but wonder if there was even more possible here. Artists and labels share the responsibility for generating excitement and innovating, and while the Britney “Hold It Against Me” roll-out was big, it was mostly by the book. Other notable observations — The Beatles string remains unbroken, they have been above the fold on the iTunes homepage every week since the November deal was done…the Classic Album sale is positioned around a $6.99, not $7.99 price point…..the Black Keys return, yet again, to the top 5 on the album chart driven by their SNL appearance…iTunes deep investment in Cage The Elephant (ex-Single Of The Week two weeks ago) pays off as the band is holding at #1 on the album chart today.

Chart Glance: On the Album Chart, #1 Cage The Elephant, #2 Lecrae, #3 Country Strong (Original Soundtrack), #4 Black Keys, #5 Country Strong (More Songs From…). On the Tracks Chart, #1 Britney Spears, #2 Bruno Mars, #3 Katy Perry, #4 Black Eyed Peas, and #5 Enrique Iglesias. Will Britney  Spears top 200k singles sold this week?…Stay tuned.

What Is Facebook Really Worth?

(image ceobiz.com)

Meaty piece on Facebook from Henry Blodget (yes, that Henry Blodget) on SAI this morning.

Spolier Alert: the answer is — “no one really knows”. Blodget argues, among other observations,  that since any company’s market valuation is a reflection of its present value of future cash flows, balanced against risk….it is way too early to tell.

Read the full piece here: http://www.businessinsider.com/so-now-that-we-know-facebooks-numbers-is-it-worth-50-billion-2011-1