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Fred Jacobs is President of Jacobs Media, a media research and consulting firm. Jacobs Media clients have included CBS Radio, Premiere Radio Networks, Citadel, Greater Media, MTV Networks, Playboy, Amazon, Electronic Arts, NPR, Sylvan Learning Centers, and Taubman Malls. Learn more about the company here.

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August 2011

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« Delivering The Donuts | Main | Thank You! »

Comments

Harry DeMott

The fact that you didn't hear Stay had nothing to do with the lack of a heart in the digital world nor any lack of passion for Jackson Browne. As a board member of Pandora I should know. The company is governed by insane rules made up by the record labels to protect their interests. Thus, Stay is considered a second song by the same artist - and the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) prohibits the playing of two songs in a row by a digital music service - otherwise you are viewed as a "track on demand" service - and thus subject to a whole bunch of additional fees. I agree that Pandora could do a better job with its playlists - particularly getting more variety into a playlist. I listen to great classic rock stations and what you get there - that you never get with Pandora - is great variety. You get from Jessica from the Allman Brothers to Ziggy Stardust from Bowie. That really gets to the heart of your comments - Pandora is solely music based, great radio is generational.

Dan Kelley

Great piece Keith!

I wonder how Pandora treats Abbey Road or much of the Moody Blues catalog. Yipes!

Not to argue with the above comments by Mr. DeMott, but if Pandora follows the same DMCA rules as other streaming radio stations, there's no legal reason "Stay" could have not followed "The Load Out".

The DMCA rules for streaming radio services state "In any three-hour period, you should not intentionally program more than three songs (and not more than two songs in a row) from the same recording; you should not intentionally program more than four songs (and not more than three songs in a row) from the same recording artist or anthology/box set."

Great radio still takes the skill and passion of a great programmer who can hear it all in his head before it gets to air; with eyes focused on the program or Selector log.

Fred

Harry, I appreciate your comment and the insight about DMCA - it's something that most listeners wouldn't realize. And your comments about the difference between a service like Pandora and a terrestrial radio station - when it's fulfilling its mission - are well-taken. Thanks for writing, and providing us insight about Pandora.

Keith Hastings

Harry, I too appreciate the comment and insight. As a programmer, I don't mind telling you that if I was prohibited from letting the two songs track together, I'd take the first one out of the system so as to avoid the inevitable consumer backlash from what sounds to a listener like a lack of heart and passion from the people providing the music.

You're exactly right. Pandora is solely music based whereas great radio is often generational. While I remain very disheartened that Tim Westergren chose to e-mail his database and encourage Pandora users to contact their government representatives and convince them to enact performance taxes on terrestrial radio, my intention in this piece is only to point out the differences.

Have a great holiday.

Peter Cavanaugh

Right, you are, Keith! VERY cool! I'm at 31,000 feet over Denver, heading to Cincinnati for Christmas. Seems we did the same sort of thing 19 short years ago driving down from T-Town to shoot The Beaver for Z-Rock. Ain't it funny how the time flies!

Merry Christmas!

Peter C. Wild Wednesday.com

Harry DeMott

Thanks for all the replies to my comments.

Good comments regarding the DMCA. I believe Pandora has taken a pretty strict view of it - and really doesn't play 2 songs in a row by the same artist - although in this case I think you are correct that the songs should be linked - they are just never heard apart. (Or removed - although if you have a Jackson Browne station - you wouldn't want them removed - I assume they are a thumbs up song)

As to the e-mail campaign - remember it wasn't long ago that the CRB ruling threatened to put Pandora out of business - and enough passionate people out there helped flood Congress with pleas on behalf of the company and it was ultimately saved.

Now that being said, saving Pandora meant paying a pretty high royalty rate for songs - > 25% of revenue this year. Compare that to satellite at 8% or so - and terrestrial radio at 0% and you can see from a business standpoint where pandora might feel that it was entitled to a similar rate as radio.

In all fairness - all of the rates should be normalized at some common standard - and if it is 0% - all the better, but as long as some part of the musical food chain is paying, it is hard to argue that radio should be given a historical exemption. Yes, I agree that without radio (terrestrial or otherwise) record companies would have an extremely difficult time selling records - there is tremendous promotional value, but equally so - without the music, there would be no rock radio - or anything but Rush and Glen Beck. Those guys get paid for their content - is music any different?

Despite the enormous difficulties of the traditional radio business - it is still a business with 30+% cash flow margins and $16+B in revenue - so crying poor won't cut it. Where radio has had troubles - as evidenced by the recent bankruptcy of Citadel and Next Media - is simply in piling too much leverage onto these companies and then trying to cut costs (i.e. people) to try and make the balance sheet work - rather than simply accepting lower margins and giving the audience a better product.

Without 15 minutes of commercials per hour and centralized programming - satellite radio would never have taken off and Pandora would not be nearly as popular. But the truth of the matter is that radio shot itself in the foot reaching for higher and higher growth and is now 10 years later still paying for its errors - and sadly, despite the rise of satellite and the growth in Pandora - I see almost no radio company of any size or stripe doing anything even remotely innovative online - and it is a shame.

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