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Rhapsody's Jon Irwin: "Don’t Kill The Radio Star! Embrace It"

Irwin HeadshotThis op-ed by Rhapsody president Jon Irwin was excerpted from his keynote at the recent RAIN radio and internet summit.

Streaming music has reached an inflection point. The technology has finally caught up with its promise. The celestial jukebox – any song, on-demand, wherever you are, on whatever you’re listening to – is a reality. And it’s a reality the mass market is beginning to embrace. The stats back it up.

But as great as this any-song-at-any-time experience is, we’ve known for some time that consumers also want to hand the controls off from time to time. To cede control of the celestial jukebox, which has evolved into a multimedia machine.

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Even the most ardent music fans want a mix of lean-forward and lean-back experiences, across a myriad of devices. They also want a mix of content types—music, sports, talk, YouTube clips--so they end up having to curate their own experience. This media patchworking is often time-consuming and fraught with barriers. It also often results in the unintentional consumption of unlicensed content that no one can monetize—which has the greatest impact on the content creators themselves. Our approach to address this challenge is to find new ways to partner across the value chain to bridge the gap between the traditional cost structures that have defined and constrained broadcast and digital media businesses so we can deliver a superior listening experience—the Ultimate Stream.

People love the radio, but recent data from NPD shows that they are listening to it less and less, particularly among younger demographic groups. My own anecdotal research among my Gen Y children confirms that the format is losing relevance—they struggle to even name a local radio station.

There is a big opportunity here to transform the industry. And we can do it by getting the band (all of ‘em: AM, FM, XM, digital) together to free consumers from the barriers between their listening experiences, without them expecting it to be free.

image from gigaom.files.wordpress.com
The Ultimate Stream

The Ultimate Stream gives the customer exactly what they want: content across all listening modes (lean forward and lean back) and access to multiple content types (i.e. favorite local station, adaptive radio à la Pandora, expert programmed content, branded content, full on-demand). I believe this can all be done, and rational business models can be created that deliver value, generate revenue and manage the fair and equitable distribution of content costs.

If we do this right, something beautiful happens. Radio grows its audience, because suddenly you can get any radio station anywhere, well beyond what you can do on XM. Artists attract new fans and they monetize their back catalog and sell concert tickets at the same time. Most important, the listener is delighted. They easily found an artist they love and now are connected with them in a meaningful way. They got the perfect combination of lean-back, lean-forward and live event experiences through the ideal combination of ease of use and control. They’ve achieved the Ultimate Stream.

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