January 24, 2008
CBS to Make Internet Music Unit More Like Radio
By SAUL HANSELL
CBS said Wednesday that it would expand its Internet music service, Last.fm, to allow users to listen to any song on their computers whenever they wanted, up to three times.
The move is expected to give a lift to the idea that music through the Internet can be similar to radio — free and supported by advertising — yet give users a choice of what they want to listen to.
Until now, Last.fm has offered what is known as Internet radio. Users could listen to a series of songs selected by the service on the basis of their musical tastes, but they could not choose individual songs. Under the new arrangement, users who visit the service’s Web site (www.last.fm) can search for and select any of 3.5 million songs to listen to on their computers through technology called streaming. There are limitations: any given song can only be played three times.
What is more, the free music cannot be downloaded to a portable player, like an iPod. Song downloads will be offered through a link to music stores, including Apple’s iTunes and Amazon.com.
Ultimately, Last.fm will offer users the chance to buy a monthly subscription that will allow them to listen to songs as many times as they want.
Quincy Smith, the president of CBS’s Interactive unit, said the company would prefer to offer more free music, but said there was a “healthy tension” over this with the music labels.
“They want a subscription-based service more and they want downloads,” Mr. Smith said. “I want to pay attention to the users, and the first thing the users want is free streaming.”
Last.fm's Stand Against Satellite Radio
By Rick Aristotle Munarriz January 23, 2008
I've got some good news and some bad news for XM Satellite Radio and Sirius investors.
The good news is that it may get a whole lot easier to get the merger between the two companies approved, after this morning's announcement that online radio service Last.fm will offer free streaming music from all four major labels and countless indies. A program is also in place to monetize uploads from unsigned artists.
The bad news? I just told you. Last.fm, bought by CBS in a $280 million deal last year, is providing on-demand delivery of its growing digital library for free.
Naturally, this is also bad news for other companies selling digital tracks, like Apple, or music subscription services like Napster and RealNetworks.
Models will be rattled. Sure, Napster has had a free lo-fi streaming option for Web-based users for some time now. And let's be clear that even the generosity of Last.fm has its limits. Once you stream the same song three times, you'll have to purchase it from affiliated retailers like Apple and Amazon.com.
You may find the restriction limiting -- perhaps even Zune-esque -- but the key to enjoying a music discovery site like Last.fm lies in exploring the millions of available tracks, without repeating the same tune over and over.
It's funny to see terrestrial radio lobbying against the pairing of XM and Sirius as a threat to their livelihood, when this "silent but deadly" killer is sneaking in through the Internet.
It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see where the music broadcasting industry is headed. Have you tried the FlyTunes widget, which lets iPhone users stream free Internet radio through their iPod-enabled wireless phones? Do you realize that more and more new cars are coming with jacks to plug in third-party gadgets? It won't be long before satellite and terrestrial foes are huddled together, shouting "bogeyman" at Web-beamed music programming.
I think that XM and Sirius are differentiated enough to earn their premium pricing. I can't say the same for free radio. It may be Last.fm's stand, but it's starting to feel more like the last stand for conventional one-way commercial music broadcasting.
26 gennaio 2008
Last.fm, musica verso un modello free?
Lo scorso anno, nel caso vi fosse sfuggita la notizia, l'americana CBS ha acquisito la londinese Last.fm, la Web radio che suggerisce i brani da ascoltare sulla base dei gusti già manifestati e dai suggerimenti della comunità di utenti. E ora la CBS decide che ascoltare la musica di Last.fm sarà gratuito. O quasi. Uno può ricercare in un database di tre milioni e mezzo di titoli, ma può ascoltare solo per tre volte il brano selezionato. Poi si deve comprare, o magari abbonarsi. Si vedrà. Quincy Smith, presidente della divisione interattiva della CBS, ha riferito al New York Times di aver avuto una franca discussione con le etichette musicali, le corporazioni che si vedono sfilare sotto le dita le antiche prebende. "Loro preferirebbero gli abbonamenti ai download, gli utenti vogliono lo streaming gratuito". Eh già. The Motley Fool commenta la notizia con un aperto avvertimento agli operatori di radio satellitare e alla radio commerciale americana. In sostanza, dice il Fool, la decisione di Last.fm potrebbe rivelarsi produttiva per XM e Sirius, che attendono ancora una buona notizia sulla loro fusione. Visto il crescente successo di tutti i modelli, gratis o a pagamento, su Web, è possibile che il regolatore si impietosisca e dia l'OK per la fusione. Forse per la radio satellitare non sarà troppo tardi, può ancora differenziarsi e ricavarsi una nicchia di mercato. Ma la radio convenzionale? Le chance si assottigliano.