Radio Is Streaming’s Next Frontier

This week MIDiA held its latest quarterly research and networking event at Gibson Brands Showrooms in the heart of London’s West End. The event was heavily over-subscribed and was a great success (there are some photos at the bottom of this post).

The event combined a presentation from Pete Downton, deputy CEO of our event sponsor 7digital, a keynote from myself and a panel of leading industry experts. Here are a few highlights of my presentation.

radio blog slide

Streaming music has got where it has today largely by being the future of retail and replacing the download model, which in turn replaced the CD model (though vestiges of both remain). That premium model will continue to be the beating heart of streaming revenues for the foreseeable future but will not be enough on its own. The next big opportunity for streaming is to become the future of radio, which incidentally is around double the size of the recorded music market. In doing so, it will be a classic case of disruptive insurgents stealing market share from long-standing incumbents.

The opportunity for streaming is to build ad revenue around the younger audiences that are simply not engaging with traditional radio in the way that previous generations of young music fans once did. As the chart above shows, radio’s audience is aging and has an almost mirror opposite demographic profile to streaming. What is more, radio’s audience is declining by around one percentage point each quarter. It might not sound like much, but you normally do not measure change in terms of consistent quarterly trends. Instead there is normally quarterly fluctuation. So, this is nothing short of a major decline.

However, what is interesting is that free streaming is not growing by the same rate radio is declining. Instead, what is happening is that radio and streaming audiences are co-existing, with many that have spent a long time doing both eventually shifting all of their listening to streaming. Added to this, older consumers tend to embrace change more slowly than younger audiences. So, radio’s older listener base effectively acts as a disruption buffer.

What all this means is that radio is facing an existential threat like no other but it has some time to get its house in order, to identify how it can meld the best of the radio model with streaming experiences to start its fight back. And make no mistake, radio has so many unique assets that streaming does not (local content, talk, news, sports, weather, travel, brand personality etc.) and Apple’s underwhelming success with Beats 1 shows that hiring a bunch of radio people and launching a station does not guarantee success. Nonetheless, streaming services will get there. And Spotify’s recently launched Pandora-clone in Australia indicates just how serious the radio frontier is to streaming.

For more (a lot more!) data and analysis on how radio and streaming are facing up against each other, check out our new report Radio – Streaming’s Next Frontier: How Streaming Will Disrupt Radio Like It Did Retail which can be purchased directly from our report store here and is also available immediately to MIDiA clients as part of our research subscription service.

MIDiA Radio Event 1MIDiA Radio Event 2

The Case For A Freemium Reset

Ministry Of Sound’s Lohan Presencer stirred up a hornets’ nest with his impassioned critique of the freemium model at a recent MWC panel. This is one of those rare panel discussions that is worth watching all the way through but the fireworks really start about 16 minutes in. For a good synopsis of the panel see MusicBusiness Worldwide’s write up, for the full transcript see MusicAlly. I’m going to focus on one key element: free competing with free.

Free Isn’t The Problem, On Demand Free Is

Free music is a crucial part of the music market and always has been thanks to radio. The big difference is that radio is not on demand. Even the Pandora model, which quite simply IS the future of radio, is not on demand. The on demand part is crucial. Although labels have a conflicted view about radio there is near universal agreement that the model works because it is a promotional vehicle, it helps drive core revenues. But turn free into an on-demand model and the business foundations collapse. The discovery journey becomes the consumption destination. To paraphrase an old quote from a label exec ‘if you are playing what I want you to play that is promotion, if you are playing what you want to play that is business’.

P2P Is In A Natural Decline, Regardless Of Freemium

The argument most widely used by streaming services in favour of the freemium model is that it reduces piracy. There is some truth in this but the case is over stated. P2P was the piracy technology of the download era. Its relevance is decreasing rapidly for music in the streaming era. In fact mobile music piracy apps (free music downloaders, stream rippers etc.) are now more than twice as widespread as P2P. So the decline in P2P can only partially be attributed to streaming music services as it is in a trajectory of natural decline as a music piracy platform.

Freemium Isn’t Killing Piracy, It Is Coexisting

But even more importantly free streamers are using those new, next-generation piracy apps to turn their freemium experiences into the effective equivalent of paid ones, by creating local device caches for ad free on demand play back. In fact free streamers are 65% more likely to use a stream ripper app than other consumers. They are also 64% more likely to use P2P and 57% more likely to use free music downloader apps. While it is always challenging to accurately separate cause and effect what we can say with confidence is that whatever impact freemium may have had on piracy, freemium users are still c.60% more likely to be music pirates also. (If you are a MIDiA Research subscriber and would like to see the full dataset these data points are taken from email info AT midiaresearch DOT COM)

Monetizing The Revenue No-Man’s Land Between Free and 9.99

So more needs to ensure the path from free to paid is a well travelled one. It might be that the accelerating shift to mobile consumption of streaming music may help recalibrate the equation. Mobile versions of free streaming tiers in principle may not be fully on demand but they often stretch definitions to the limit and some are simply too good to be free. Being able to create a playlist from a single album and then listening to it all in shuffle mode simply is on-demand in all but name. If we can get mobile versions of free tiers to look more like Pandora and less like Spotify premium, or YouTube for that matter, then we have a useful tool in the kitbag. And if users want more but aren’t ready to pay a full 9.99 yet, let them unlock playlists, or day passes for small in app payments. Lohan made the case for PAYG pricing to monetize the user that sits somewhere between free and 9.99 and it is an argument I have advocated for a long time now.

Freemium Is Not Broken, But It Does Need Re-Tuning

Freemium absolutely can work as a model and it has achieved a huge amount already, but it needs recalibrating to ensure it delivers the next stage of market growth in a way that minimizes the risk to the rest of the business. None of this though can happen until YouTube is compelled to play by the same rules as everyone else. Otherwise all that we end up doing is hindering all music services except YouTube and Apple (which won’t have a free tier). Google and Apple are not exactly in need of an unfair market advantage. So a joined-up market level strategy is required, and right now.

Making Freemium Add Up

Today at MIDiA Consulting we have released a new report on the digital content sector entitled ‘Making Freemium Add Up’.

The report combines an unprecedented appraisal of key freemium service metrics with market analysis and recommendations to create a definitive assessment of the freemium marketplace.  In the report we analyse an intentionally diverse selection of consumer web services, looking at the distribution and scale of their user bases and the relationship of these with their business models.  Services tracked range from music services like Slacker, through utility services like Skype to social services like Google+.  It also includes long term data trend analysis of Spotify, Deezer and Pandora.

The report is available for free to all subscribers to Music Industry Blog (to subscribe just add your email address in the Email Subscription box to the right of this post.  If you are already a subscriber but have not yet received a copy of the report by email please email mark AT midiaconsulting DOT COM).

Here are some of the key findings of the report:

  • Inactive users: inactive user rates range from 13% to 77%.  Social services have the highest rates (77% for Instagram and 66% for Twitter).  Inactive users are a key characteristic of all registration based services with free-to-consumer tiers, but the registered-to-active rate is below average for all freemium services However freemium inactive users are also often highly interested customers who simply need hooking up with the right pricing and product. In short, freemium inactive user bases are priceless qualified marketing lead databases.  The challenge is to separate the wheat from the chaff, to differentiate between disinterested freeloaders and potentially valuable paying customers.
  • Paid users: paid user rates range from less than 1% to 90%.  But both ends of the scale are outliers.  At the low end Soundcloud’s premium tiers are aimed at the smaller audience of creators that are just a small subset of its 180 million active users. While at the other end Valve’s gaming platform steam is more digital retail store than pure freemium destination.   The risk for all freemium services is ensuring the free tier isn’t too good, unless free users are your key revenue source (cf Hulu and Pandora). Spotify and Deezer appear to have hit a conversion sweet spot, a solid balance between compelling free tiers and better enough paid tiers.
  • Scarcity counts: a music service user risks little by churning because he can still easily get all the same music elsewhere if he cancels his Spotify subscription.  But if you stop playing Angry Birds you’ll find few other places where you can hurl bad tempered feathered missiles at egg-stealing green pigs.  Similarly churning out of a social network carries a high ‘churn risk’ for consumers as they will weaken their ability to connect with extended social circles online
  • The free-to-paid divide needs narrowing: the gap from free to paid is high, a significant leap of faith is required from the user.  Whereas the gap from zero to $0.99 for Angry Birds free to paid is a modest step, from zero to $9.99 for Spotify or Deezer portable is a much more sizeable hurdle.  Thus converting to paid for music subscription services is a more sizeable achievement than for low priced gaming apps. More needs to be done to bridge the divide.  This can be achieved in through bundles and innovative pricing. Though this must be set against the risk of cannibalizing full price tiers.

making freemium add up

Guest Post: What’s the Future for Ad-Funded Music Services?

Today we have the first in a short series of guest posts by leading music industry consultant Keith Jopling.

Keith is also one of the panel of judges for the Music Industry Blog Start Up Showcase and you can view Keith’s bio on the Start Up Showcase page here.


What’s the Future for Ad-Funded Music Services?

I recently gave a short talk at the IAB entitled “What could happen if the music market truly opened up to advertising?” The point of the talk wasn’t to answer that questions exactly (who could?), but to explore why ‘ad-funded’ music is less of a buzz these days. It was an opportunity to reflect why ad-funded hasn’t delivered on the heady expectations back when it all started in 2005/6.

The IAB event was back in May and since then there have been one or two developments and fresh comment. Most significantly, the UK’s number two ad-funded music streaming service, We7 was bought by Tesco for £10.8m – presumably in time, re-positioning the ad-funded pure-play music service to something of added-value to Tesco music buyers (and presumably, no longer funded by ads). Watch that space.

I also read something from Alexis van de Wyer, President of AdsWizz Inc, suggesting that Spotify had taken its eye firmly off the ad-funded ball and become too focused on premium subscriptions and partnerships for its API platform. I’m not one to doubt the brilliance of Spotify’s strategic plays but I thought this was an interesting viewpoint (even if it was a thinly disguised sales pitch from an advertising salesman).

In its early stages Spotify would wax lyrical about ‘new advertising products’ and various forms of innovation in online advertising. But did it sometimes feel like there really wasn’t much advertising on Spotify, or for that matter, innovation in ad formats? With several strategic shifts since it does to some extent look as though Spotify has accepted that ad-funding isn’t a primary revenue model – but more a springboard to other revenue streams (the so called freemium model).

Wherever this takes Spotify, the other question is – where does it leave ad-funded music as a ‘sector’.

The IAB talk highlighted a few facts of note, as follows:

  • The UK online advertising market was worth £4.8 billion in 2001 (the IAB’s official figure)
  • The UK online ads market grew by 14% year-on-year
  • The BPI reported ad-funded music revenues to labels (therefore trade revenues at the labels’ agreed share) of just £11.4m in 2011
  • From the BPI figure – adding in publishing and partner shares – the IAB estimated a total figure for ad-funded music in the UK of circa. £40m

Thus, music’s share of the online advertising market in the UK is well under 1%. As a share of revenues to the music industry (to labels anyway), ad-funded is just under 4%. And it hasn’t grown since 2010.

Why is ad-funded music so small and why is it no longer a growing revenue model?

In a way this is more a European problem. With Pandora generating $250m in advertising revenues in the 2011 and label-backed Vevo bringing in $150m, there are at least two cases studies of success across the pond (provided Pandora can keep it up!).

By mapping the existing music service landscape, it’s possible to make some observations:

  • In music streaming – Spotify and ‘3rd generation players like MOG (also now acquired) and Radio have shifted away from ad-funded
  • In music video ad-funded is still the primary model (for You Tube, Muzu and Vevo for example)
  • In discovery there is a range of models, but the latest buzz start-ups like Soundcloud and Songkick have stayed clear of ad-funded

What mapping current services doesn’t show is the number of promised or planned ad-funded services that have never materialised – including high-profile flops like the notorious Spiral Frog and Qtrax. More recently Oz-based Guvera’s arrival to market seems protracted even though it is still raising investment.

Is there opportunity to re-energise the sector? What is its real potential in Europe?

The IAB seems interested in this space and continues to examine it, so we may hear more views from the advertising camp. But there are at least a few possibilities:

  • In video – original programming and digital music channel creation – exemplified in the UK by the massive successes of SBTV, UKF and the more recent indie play Noisey.com
  • Format Innovation – audio ads have lagged behind other formats such as display and didn’t quite live up to early expectations, but perhaps there are breakthroughs still to come here
  • New markets – with brands now becoming publishers and ‘Content Strategy’ the buzz section of digital marketing plans, it’s only a matter of time before online sync services such as Cue Songs or others can crack-open a scaleable new way to license music to the millions of small scale uses in corporate video, blogs and other branded content

Ad-funded has places to go then, but isn’t the buzz it used to be. But then part of the music industry’s ‘problem’ is the apparent need to pin big hopes on the next panacea. Currently, it’s cloud services enjoying some time in the sun. But what’s really unfolding is a patchwork economy for music, that’s far more interesting to view as a whole.