First announced at the Apple Worldwide Developers conference last year, iTunes radio has not been available outside of the USA since it launched at the end of 2013. Today Apple announced the second market for iTunes radio would be Australia, available today.
The music industry was reshaped by Apple with the launch of iTunes, taking the idea of legally downloadable digital downloads to the masses and introducing a micro-payment system which made the idea of parting with a couple of dollars for a new song a purchase may often not give a second thought.
So, what is the deal with making music available to listen to for free?
iTunes radio joins a bandwagon of streaming music services, but is not only different to what was originally on offer from the likes of Spotify, Rdio and Deezer but it also joins them as they too evolve toward “stations” as a concept not individual tracks.
The bread and butter for iTunes has to be the sale of music, track by track, album by Album. Likewise, Spotify, Rdio and Deezer make their money by offering you a “collection” of songs which you can access any time, any where and add to as much as you like from their databases of 20million plus songs – as long as you continue to pay their monthly fee.
However what those services have found is they need to offer a discovery tool – and surprise surprise the method of music discovery most popular over the decades has been radio. A bunch of songs (known in the Radio game as a “universe”) suited to a particular demographic or of a certain genre, which when scheduled well will not only have a familiar sound to the listener but will introduce them to new tracks too now and then.
So the “stations” or “channels” being offered by these services are drawn from a similar sized (but not entirely the same) database of music to the song by song subscription model, and are algorithmically curated by smart technology to offer you the best experience track after track – well at least they hope so.
Enter iTunes Radio. Same thing. Except the “stations” on offer are curated by real people, and in the case of today’s launch, real Australians who know our music and our culture.
The songs and order are put together to present a station full of a certain style or aimed at a certain audience (just like music radio!). For some stations you just have to listen and can’t make it “learn” from you, while on others you can like and dislike songs to customise what comes out the other end and create a better listening experience.
Apple say “you’ll have access to stations inspired by the music you already listen to, Featured Stations curated by Apple and genre-focused stations that are personalised just for you.”
Of course there is then the option to purchase tracks to add to your own collection.
It’s a pretty big deal for Australia to crack it as the second country to get a service or product from Apple, let alone in the music space where our industry hasn’t been known for its innovation. iTunes radio is ad-supported and free to listen to on your iOS device, iTunes installation or Apple TV, and the main restriction you will find is the number of tracks you can skip per hour. That is limited to six tracks per hour, per station – after which you have to wait 60 mins to skip another. This is basically to stop us skipping aimlessly to find a song like we might through our own large collections.
If you are an iTunes match subscriber ($34.99 per year) iTunes radio is ad-free so that’s a bonus.
Additionally you cannot go back – just like what we know as Radio today you can’t go back in time, however there is a History option that allows you to view the tracks you’ve listened to and perhaps buy tracks.
There has been no information on the success or otherwise of iTunes radio in the United States until this point, so the adoption rate is unknown, however, unlike Spotify, Rdio and others the Music App is pre-installed on every single Apple device, so the idea that people will sooner or later “stumble upon” the “Radio” link at the bottom of their music app is pretty close to real and will create an immediate audience. Apple’s challenge is to keep them listening with great content and great stations.
The Radio industry’s challenge is to find a way to embrace this, or continue to differentiate traditional music radio from what it has been with unique live and local content. The race to the future of music is on.
I look forward to starting my “John Farnham Radio” station!