iTunes "Radio" Is Coming

"Radio" is coming to Apple.

Unfortunately for terrestrial radio it will not necessarily be their existing radio stations.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs is way ahead of the curve on this. It has confounded the broadcast industry that Apple offers just about everything on its mobile devices but a radio tuner.

I know that iPod and iPad users can access radio using third party apps. Apps arguably saved Pandora's franchise. Still there is no direct link to Pandora on these popular devices. Yet Apple seems to consider radio not an essential part of what it is doing.

The Apple Nano has an FM Tuner on board and in spite of the radio industry's campaign to get Steve Jobs to make an iPod radio, the Nano has not really turned an iPod into a radio. The tuner feature is marginally at best helping to sell Nanos.

The "radio" that Apple sees in its future is one that terrestrial radio executives do not have in their sights.

It is a music service -- located on a "cloud" -- available to users of mobile devices either as an instant way to get access to their music libraries or a subscription service offering all the music that fits to hear.

Or both.

The signs are all there.

Apple spent $85 million to purchase Lala, a streaming service that uses such a "cloud". Music can be accessed instantly without waiting for a download from any browser or Internet device.

Apple could offer consumers a subscription plan, but Rhapsody-type programs have not been successful. Apple could make it successful by its sheer heft, but some people believe what Apple has in mind is a major revision in iTunes that will transfer each consumers library of music to this new "cloud" iTunes store and thus make it available virtually everywhere on-demand.

From day one it would be a success with over 100 million iTunes users already in place.

This creates a new form of iTunes "radio".

I use "radio" in this way because much of the next generation uses online or mobile music as a replacement for music they can hear on terrestrial radio.

It gives them more potential variety -- not limited to the short playlists still popular on terrestrial music stations. They can also listen on-demand.

Terrestrial radio owners looking to cutback the expense of enhanced music presentation (i.e., popular djs) have played into Apple's hands. Given a choice between instant access to your music library by using a simple Internet connection to your iTunes account or turning on a radio, Apple would be betting that the "cloud" model would win the day.

An article in Apple Insider earlier this year added:

"In addition, analyst Maynard J. Um of UBS Investment Research said in early December that he believes iTunes content will become available from a Web browser and other Apple devices. The purchase of Lala could tie in to Apple's $1 billion server farm in North Carolina".

Apple is in the midst of transforming -- not to radio -- but to mobile content and there is no reason to expect that it would not build its iTunes store into the new "radio" by making it on-demand, customized for personal musical tastes and easy to manage.

I believe there will also be a music discovery aspect to the Apple plan when all is said and done. After all, the one thing the next generation is screaming for is more music variety. The record labels have seen fit to ignore this plea and you know what radio consolidators think about music variety when they opt for voice tracking and short playlists.

What is happening here is that the radio and records industry is holding onto models they want to preserve (CD and broadcast radio) while consumers have moved on to on-demand, personal and universal.

To make matters worse, the labels are at their lowest with regard to finding and helping new artists grow. Even worse at pushing out new music genres.

The radio industry has cut on-air personalities in favor of voice tracking or cheap syndicated shows making them even less viable if Apple succeeds with its transition to instant, personalized music "radio".

An entire generation that preferred Internet and mobile to access entertainment will enjoy music anywhere at anytime -- without personalities, of course.

Radio offers a limited playlist -- increasingly without personalities, of course -- for free and all it takes is a radio to take advantage of it.

And that's where we learn yet another lesson about the critical importance of studying sociology along with technology.

The next generation will pay for that which it wants and will reject even what it can access for free if it does not:

a) Give them the specific music they want
b) When they want it
c) Wherever they want it

What the radio industry should be doing is building local programs with local personalities featuring local bands and artists and originating from local stations.

That's what Apple is not going to do.

And that is something that will never go out of style even in the era of iTunes, cloud computing and iPods.

Sadly for the broadcasting industry, Apple "radio" is coming just when terrestrial radio is going.

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