Tag Archives: radio

Dash Radio: What happens when Apple swipes your mic? (Q&A)

When DJ Skee launched his startup, he didn’t anticipate going head-to-head with Apple Music’s most popular feature, but he isn’t letting Beats 1 knock him down.

At 6 feet 3 inches tall, DJ Skee isn’t often the little guy, but everyone looks small compared with Apple.

The Cupertino, California, tech giant is known for following established trends with polished products and services. What does that mean for a fledgling company that paved the way? Scott Keeney, better known as DJ Skee, said explaining his startup got a little easier, especially to people who thought he was crazy.

Skee spent a decade as a DJ for radio giants like LA’s KIIS-FM and satellite radio service Sirius XM. That was long enough for him to see what was going wrong. Too many commercials and the lack of freedom to be musically adventurous were making radio unlovable, he said.

So he quit and launched a startup a year ago: free Dash Radio, a digital network of live radio channels with a mission of expertly picking the right tracks.

“We want to bring back the magic of what live audio could be,” Skee said.

Unfortunately for Los Angeles-based Dash, Apple had the same idea.

When Apple Music launched in June with a three-month free trial, its live worldwide radio station, Beats 1, was among the most lauded features because of inventive programming and expert hosts.

With Apple Music’s first free trials due to expire Wednesday, Skee spoke to CNET about what it was like when the technology giant moved into a niche he had carved.

Q: Apple’s Beats 1 is fundamentally similar to Dash Radio, your startup. What’s that like?
DJ Skee: We don’t necessarily look at Apple Music as a direct competitor as much as, say, iHeart Radio or Sirius XM. Apple Music only has one station, and its main goal is to get people to start using subscription services. It just happens that Apple is using radio services as marketing for that.

Bob Pittman, CEO of terrestrial radio giant iHeart Media, once joked that if Apple invented radio, everybody would be amazed. Launching Beats 1, Apple made good on that punchline, in a way. Will Dash be overlooked?
Skee: Just by the media power and the spending power that Apple has, it helped educate a whole group of people who didn’t realize how magical live radio could be.

People nowadays grew up in the era of corporate radio. For the past decade or so, if you turned on the radio, you had a 99 percent chance of tuning into a station owned by one of the big conglomerates. Chances are it’s the same 20-song playlist, and there’s a 1 in [3] chance you’re listening to a commercial. About 20 minutes per hour on traditional radio is commercials. There’s so much more music out today than there was ever before, and radio never caught up. They’re still in bed with the major labels. They’re still shady. Just being honest. That was one of the key reasons I left.

Apple has launched one station that has incredible content and top artists. We still think we have that too, on steroids. Plus ours is uncensored, and we don’t have ulterior motives, like trying to sell things.

Is there anything Beats 1 is doing that makes you envious?
Skee: Absolutely, I’m envious. No. 1 is just the budgets they have. It’s the most valuable company in the world, so they can afford to hire the biggest staff ever. But I wouldn’t trade places, because they’re more limited in what they can do.

The biggest thing is censorship [of obscenity]. I’ve talked to many DJs there, including some who started off with us but were offered a huge check to leave, and they’re frustrated with that. I understand why they have to be clean: It’s Apple, they only have one station, and they don’t have any other option. We have clean stations, and we have dirty stations.

I wouldn’t trade that, even though they have all the money in the world.

A few weeks before Apple Music launched, Dash had more than a million monthly active users. Where is it at now?
Skee: It has grown. It’s been climbing steadily every month. I don’t have the exact number, we haven’t disclosed it yet.

[Dash has more than 2 million monthly active listeners, Skee said in a follow-up after the interview. Apple hasn’t discussed monthly active listeners, but last month it said 11 million people have signed up for Apple Music free trials.]

Can you characterize how Dash’s growth rate has changed since the introduction of Apple Music?
Skee: It hasn’t gone down, but it hasn’t made a tremendous jump because of Apple entering the space. We haven’t lost anybody. The time spent listening is going up steadily, almost five minutes every single month, so about 35 minutes to 40 minutes per session right now. When we launched, we were at four or five minutes per session.

You’ve talked before about how you met with Apple to give the company more insight into Dash, in the hope of App Store promotion. Then Apple executive Jimmy Iovine took to the stage to introduce Apple Music with what sounds a lot like the same pitch you made. What happened?
Skee: I don’t want to make it us versus Apple. At the end of the day, the idea is radio. We took a system that has worked for 100 years but consumers weren’t happy with, and we made it digital and made it good.

With Dash, like every app company, we want to talk to Apple, just like we talk to Google and everyone about store placement. We showed them the product early on, and we have visited Cupertino. At the time, it was to say, “Hey, we’re not competing with Beats,” its streaming service at the time. “We compete directly with iHeart, Sirius — we’re live audio.” And they were always fans.

Then when we started hearing the rumors that they were getting into broadcast, at first of course it was daunting: “Wow, Apple is going to come in, they can do whatever they want.” But even if they’re taking a little bit from the concept, it still justifies the idea. There are people over there that were over here first. I’m not mad at it. Everybody has to do what’s best for them.

We don’t think that it makes sense for one company to own every space. Now, I’m the biggest Apple fanboy in the world. I’ve had an Apple computer since I was a kid, I’m talking on my iPhone to you, I have an Apple Watch on my wrist. Yet we don’t know if we want the same people that forced U2 onto my iPhone telling us what music is.

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WiFi, Move Over – Here Comes LiFi

Disney researchers last week demonstrated Linux Light Bulbs — a protocol for a communications system that transmits data using visible light communication, or VLC, technology.

Linux Light Bulbs can communicate with each other and with other VLC devices — such as toys, wearables and clothing — over the Internet Protocol, according to Disney scientists Stefan Schmid, Theodoros Bourchas, Stefan Mangold and Thomas R. Gross, who coauthored a report on their work. In essence, they could establish a LiFi network that would function in much the same way that WiFi works.

Scientists have been experimenting with the concept of using light to channel data transmissions for years. Previously, however, the use of VLC supported simple communication between devices. Linux Light Bulbs may take that process one step further by enabling networking on VLC devices.

However, the throughput is critically small compared to other visible light approaches, and the technology suffers from proximity limitations, noted James T. Heires, a consultant at QSM.

“Visible light technology is viable for the Internet of Things, but only on a limited basis. This is due to the physical limitations of visible light,” he told LinuxInsider. The transmitter and receiver “must be within line of sight of each other.”

How It Works

Modern light-emitting diode light bulbs, or LEDs, can provide a foundation for networking using visible light as a communication medium, according to the Disney researchers’ report.

The team modified common commercial LED light bulbs to send and receive visible light signals. They built a system on a chip, or SoC, running the Linux operating system, a VLC controller module with the protocol software, and an additional power supply for the added electronics.

The key to the project’s success was the Linux software that enabled the signals to work with the Internet Protocol. The VLC-enabled bulbs served as broadcast beacons, which made it possible to detect the location of objects on the network and to communicate with them.

The Linux connection is at the software level. The Linux kernel driver module integrates the VLC protocol’s PHY and MAC layers into the Linux networking stack.

The VLC firmware on a separate microcontroller communicates with the Linux platform over a serial interface, the report notes.

Slow Going

The drawback is the speed. The network’s throughput maxed out at 1 kilobit per second, noted SeshuKiran, founder of XAir.

“A data rate of 1 Kpbs means a maximum 2 to 3 pixels of a good photograph can be transmitted per second,” he told LinuxInsider. “Good luck with an entire photo. For half of an HD photo to go, it will take 10.66 days.”

The technology may not be fast enough to compete with other technologies. WiFi operates around 3 GHz, and invisible light frequency starts at 3 THz. That is some 1,000 times higher than the WiFi frequency.

“Technically, it should [seem] that light has a better promise in delivering data. It is true in theory — but electronics and circuits say otherwise,” said Kiran.

Made for IoT

Developers have proposed a wide range of applications for VLC tech — using LiFi in place of anything currently supported by commercial wireless technologies such as WiFi.

“The Disney effort is fairly limited in terms of performance, but other projects suggest that broadband quality data transfer performance is possible, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“The real issue driving VLC is the pervasiveness of the base technology,” he told LinuxInsider.

Data transfer solutions like Wi-Fi require specialized equipment, installation and maintenance. However, light fixtures are virtually everywhere.

“Since LED represents the future of commercial lighting, developers are suggesting that VLC capabilities could easily be enabled in existing homes and businesses without the need for expensive extraneous systems,” King said.

“On the IoT side, VLC would provide an easy way of connecting endpoint sensors to back-end systems without needing to build expensive, dedicated networks,” he pointed out.

The Disney researchers developed hardware peripherals that effectively turn a consumer LED fixture into a Linux host, including a kernel module that integrates the VLC’s physical and MAC (media access control) protocol layers with a Linux-based networking stack, King added.

Trying Times

Light has been used as a communication medium for decades. Major uses include fiber optics and infrared devices, noted Heires. Auto industry researchers have been investigating the incorporation of VLC tech into headlights and sensors to allow cars to communicate with each other and thus avoid collisions.

“Applications such as using light to extend the range of a WiFi signal are within reason. However, since light does not travel through solid objects, such as walls or floors, light is impractical for applications such as TV control, sensor monitoring or security,” he said.

Brighter Ideas to Come

One of the lowest data rate uses for VLC and the IoT is for automatic door openers equipped with light sensors at the lock. Point your smartphone at the door and flash a modulated-light app with a specific code to open the door.

Such a system would work for homes, hotels, garages and more.

Another use is modulating streetlights to deliver specific information, such as alerts and emergencies, across an entire city.

It also could be used to safeguard top secret communications between coworkers.

“If a light bulb in the garden could deliver commands for the automated sprinkler, … that would be “a definite possibility,” Kiran suggested. “Data rates are not yet crucial there.”

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Here comes Apple’s iTunes Radio

Summary: With iTunes Radio, Apple wants to be your DJ — and big music labels are rooting for its success. Pandora, meantime, says growth is slowing.

With the arrival of iTunes Radio, which comes out this week with the release of iOS 7, Apple is poised to tackle the streaming music market like no other entrant before it.

It’s shaping up to be quite a big deal. Not only will iTunes Radio pose the biggest threat to Internet radio king Pandora to date, as I argued here, but Apple now will get an opportunity to recast a decade-old debate about the respective roles of man versus algorithm when it rolls out this new piece of streaming music software. Apple has built a service in its own image that, to a large degree, leans on taste makers as well as algorithms.

In a still-young digital music industry, everyone from Spotify to Google is trying to figure out the best way to help music fans discover new music. Yet so far, most people are discovering music the old fashioned way — via FM radio.

So here comes Apple, which very much wants to be your DJ — albeit with a heavy dose of your iTunes behavioral data mixed in. And the big music labels, working closely with their largest digital partner, are rooting for Apple’s success. iTunes Radio will roll out with 300 or so genres, from hip-hop to country and Doo Wop. It also let’s you enter an artist’s name — a la Pandora — to build a station, and it does so for free with ads.

Because this is Apple, the potential stage is global, even though iTunes Radio is rolling out initially in the US only. The agreements Apple has with the music labels and publishers generally give it rights to the countries where iTunes operates, which is now in 119 territories — many of those are countries that have no Internet radio service at all. Pandora, meantime, operates only in the US, Australia, and New Zealand.

(Credit: Apple)

For the music labels, the hope is not just that Apple lures people from Pandora — the company has a rocky relationship with the labels — but that iTunes Radio pulls millions of people from the FM dial over to streaming radio, a more lucrative place for the labels.

“We’re hoping Apple shakes up the entire radio market,” said one top digital music executive speaking on the condition of anonymity.

That’s also Apple’s goal. In the runup to this week’s rollout, for instance, Apple has asked all the major music labels for their “heat seekers” lists, according to people familiar with process. Those are the lists the labels keep of artists and songs they’re betting are on the verge of breaking — even though the data might not yet point to success.

At the same time, Apple has been staffing up and is looking to hire a range radio music programmers. These are people with deep knowledge in genres such Latin Music and alternative and metal music who will be responsible selecting and promoting songs out of the thousands of new releases each month. Apple has also been trying to poach people from the labels themselves.

Apple: New approach to digital music?
This human approach is very Apple. After all, the iTunes Store, which despite attempts by Amazon and Google remains by far the biggest digital music marketplace, relies on people to select which artists get featured and that can make a new album or track. And so the people at iTunes Radio, which is an extension of the iTunes Store, will work closely with the labels to figure out whom to feature when. At least that is the expectation at the labels, which already work this way with the iTunes Store. Apple didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Such collaboration is something that just doesn’t happen with Pandora, which doesn’t work with the labels beyond getting new music and data. (The two sides are at odds over money because Pandora pays rates determined by federal statute instead of cutting direct, more lucrative deals with the labels.)

What it boils down to is coming up with the best way to discover new music in the digital era. In some ways, this is what all these services are trying to crack, whether that’s Rdio, Slacker, or Google Music All Access. The human touch, for instance, is the backbone of the upcoming Beats streaming service run by music industry veteran Jimmy Iovine.

And just look at what Spotify, the fastest-growing on-demand music service, recently did. It has always relied on algorithms, apps, and social — creating and sharing playlists, following other people — to help its users discover new music.

Then last month Spotify added another way to discover music with a feature called “browse,” where you can find playlists created by a team of editors or writers. It seemed like an unusual move for Spotify. But then again, CEO and founder Daniel Ek is always looking for new ways to help people sort through the sea of digital songs.

“Our big problem is how do we make sense of what you want to listen to?” Ek told me recently.

All the concern over discovery is a valid one for the music industry. A recent study, underwritten by radio giant Clear Channel, found that 80 percent of people turn to radio to find new music. Nielsen, last year, found the radio came out on top as well.

And another study, from 2011, found that the average iTunes user never listens to 81 percent of their music library, suggesting that people like what they know, but also that there’s an opportunity to push new tracks to people on digital radio the way that happens with FM radio. Actually, in a better way, considering how hard it is to get music on radio.

So for all the attention given to streaming music, which now makes up the fastest-growing segment of the recorded-music industry, much of the world is still listening to AM/FM radio. Which is why network radio in the U.S. captured the bulk of the roughly $14.8 billion advertisers spent in 2012. At the same time, though, more and more radio fans are listening online, either by streaming AM/FM stations or by tuning into pure digital radio plays like Pandora.

And if Apple can steal some of those people and inject new releases into the stations, it has a chance to also sell them more music. At least that’s the bet. Sure, you can jump from Pandora to Google Play or iTunes to buy a song, but the process is clunky and, according to music execs, few people do it. With iTunes Radio, by contrast, there’s a quick buy button atop the track you’re listening to.

All this is not to underestimate the critical role of data with iTunes Radio. Apple iTunes, which has already has 575 million customers, says your stations will improve over time, becoming more personalized. Plus, the data Apple has could prove more powerful than any that rivals have. Think about it: If you bought three singles off an album, the algorithm should know that you haven’t bought a fourth and could begin plugging that into your stations.

“Advances in music have always been driven by a union of man and machine,” said Jim Lucchese, the CEO of The Echo Nest, whose music intelligence platform powers parts of Spotify, Vevo, and Rdio, among others. “And that’s not going to stop any time soon.”

(Credit: Appe )

Pandora girds for Apple onslaught

It’s this blend, mixed with Apple’s sheer reach and plans for a global rollout, that gives it an extraordinary opportunity to shake up the status quo.


Naturally, Pandora is on the defensive. After all, aspects of iTunes Radio seem inspired by Pandora, and its execs have argued — possibly correctly — that iTunes Radio could end up helping Pandora. And Pandora’s metrics are impressive, with more than 72 million active listeners, although Pandora late Monday warned that its growth is slowing. Moreover, Pandora listeners make up more than 70 percent of Internet radio listening — and more than 7 percent of all radio listening.

While Pandora has 1 million tracks — versus iTunes Radio’s 27 million — its execs boast that more than 95 percent of the songs on Pandora are played once a month, proving that Pandora is cataloging music that people want to hear.

“We’re not investing in music that people aren’t interested in,” said Michael Addicott, Pandora’s manager of curation. “All our music is curated, goes through a vetting process.”

What he’s referring to is Pandora’s Music Genome Project, where experts log tracks based on musical qualities so that the algorithm knows how to mix them into a given station. Once the stations are created, the algorithms are in control, although the stations evolve as listeners give feedback by clicking a thumbs or thumbs down button.

“Just because a label wants us to push a song doesn’t mean we do,” said Addicott. “We defer to the listeners. They ultimately tell us what songs to play more often than other songs.”

Pandora certainly deserves credit for building a service people love and doing it early on.

“When we started this nine years ago, it was clear to us the inevitable shift from FM broadcast [Internet] radio,” said Tom Conrad, the CTO of Pandora in charge of the product. “It took Apple eight years to figure that out.”

Perhaps, but we all know that might not matter. Pandora’s nightmare scenario is that Apple has exploited the latecomer’s advantage, watching what earlier Internet music services have done and then fashioning an easier, more intuitive alternative. Now it’s up to the consumers, who will vote with their ears.

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