Review: 6 Internet Radio Sites Help You Discover New Music
Internet radio is enjoying an explosion of new services that could make it a viable replacement for broadcast radio -- if the record industry's allies in D.C. don't kill it first.
Yahoo's LAUNCHcast is, like Live365.com, an aggregation of stations that span genres and interests (without the commercials and other broadcast radio affectations), but it also provides personalization and socialization functions that are nicely integrated into its interface.
LAUNCHcast's personalized playlists are driven by your ratings of artists and tracks. (Click image to enlarge.)
LAUNCHcast is driven by your ratings of artists and tracks. You can see a list of recently played tracks and rate them, and display and edit the lists of artists and tracks you've thumbed-up and thumbed-down. All this data is used to program the playlist for your personalized station. The results can be variable. If you don't train the playlist by adding ratings, the "wander" factor can be extremely high here. (Or is anything more than random selection at work? How do you get from Willie Nelson to Fallout Boy and then boy-band NLT?) On the downside, you can very quickly train most of the surprise factor out of the music.
The social networking begins when you make your station -- your musical preferences -- public. You can e-mail it to friends, who can "subscribe" to your station as part of the definition of their own station. Similarly, you can choose other LAUNCHcast users to be "influencers" of your station, using a process that matches you to other users through artists and tracks you have both rated highly -- exactly the sort of functionality that's missing from TagWorld, for instance.
While LAUNCHcast offers one of the higher-quality experiences among the music-discovery sites, it does have a couple of liabilities. One is that it runs only in Internet Explorer -- if you're a Foxfire partisan you're out of luck. The other is that while the basic version of LAUNCHcast is free, Yahoo sells a premium version, called LAUNCHcast Plus, for $3.99 a month (or $35.88 a year). Many of the more interesting LAUNCHcast stations and social-networking features are available only if you're a paying customer.
Performance Royalty Ruling Puts Future of Internet Radio In Doubt
On March 2, 2007, the Copyright Royalty Board released a proposed rule that would set new performance royalty rates for online radio stations. The ruling would radically alter the existing rates, which expired at the end of 2005, both in terms of amounts and the way they are assessed.
Performance royalties are something new in the U.S. entertainment business. While broadcasters and entertainment venues like concert halls and nightclubs have historically paid royalties to music composers, radio and television -- and the Internet -- came into being without paying any royalties to the performers of recorded music, or the record companies that distributed them.
The first round of licensing fees, announced in 2002 and set to to run through 2005, created such controversy at the time that Congress stepped in to force a redraft. The process of renegotiating the fees in 2006 culminated in the Copyright Royalty Board essentially accepting the music industry's proposal, made by SoundExchange, the company the music industry set up to collect the royalties.
According to the new ruling, the basic rate, which in 2005 was .0076 cents per song, would go to .08 cents for 2006, .11 cents in 2007, .14 in 2008, .18 cents in 2009 and .19 cents in 2010. The new rule also added a flat fee of $500 per station. An alternative deal struck in 2002 that allowed small Webcasters to pay royalties of a flat 12% of revenue would disappear, along with other provisions, including a concession for public broadcasters.
The result of the March 2nd announcement was an immediate outcry from the Internet radio community and predictions that the new royalties will mean the end of Internet radio. Kurt Hanson, founder of online radio company Accuradio, for example, told The Wall Street Journal that the new rules would likely raise Accuradio's performance royalty payments from about $50,000 to about $600,000 -- more than Accuradio's total 2006 revenue. (Doc Searls provides a lengthy look at the issues involved in a blog entry titled Internet Radio on Death Row at linuxjournal.com.)
Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House panel on telecommunications and the Internet, weighed in against the board's proposal, and several organizations immediately demanded a rehearing by the Board, including National Public Radio (NPR), The Digital Media Association (DiMA), and Clear Channel Radio. The Copyright Royalty Board has agreed to re-hear the issue.
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