Monday, October 19, 2009

Radio, music, curation and social objects

I have a lot of time for the guys at One Golden Square Labs as they try to adapt Absolute Radio's broadcast model to the networked world.
The latest example is Compare My Radio. Absolute's Dan Thornton pointed me at it (here's his take) - and I want to thank him for making me think a little about radio, music, curation and social objects. Which is what follows.

Anyways, to start at the beginning, Compare My Radio requires a little data from you about musical tastes before attempting to match you with the most appropriate broadcast channel.

Bravely, users get directed to rival properties as well as Absolute's own.

No doubt the payback for Absolute is the data they receive from users which could, for example, be used to hone Absolute's broadcast output: ie they learn more people want more Britpop, so they play more Britpop.

So, I muse, what may the outcomes be if you include not only the output from mainstream broadcast radio in the search returns, but also the narrowcasting shows of podcasts and the likes of Mixcloud (touted as The YouTube of radio). Tough to do. And I'm not criticising that this is not included in CompareMyRadio - I'm simply indulging in the thought experiment of assuming it could and should.

A model like CompareMyRadio could surface the single largest group by revealing the lowest common denominators (ie, the most searched-for artists).

And that is useful for honing broadcast.

And in a broadcast way, it will also point you at the mainstream channel which is the best fit for your expressed tastes.

But that can't be as good a fit as is available from the long tail (think last.fm and spotify for starters).

Imagine if CompareMyRadio could point you at the channel most fit for you? The outcomes would certainly point you at the long tail more often than they would the mainstream broadcasters. That's because your own itunes playlists are a better fit for you than anything Absolute, Capital, Heart or Radio 1-6 etc can come up with. In a long tail world there are bound to be niche shows that are closer to your itunes playlists than the big broadcasters can ever provide. It's a simple matter of too many niches - and those niches being better provided for by narrowcasting (a tautology of course - if it's niche it must be narrow).

Of course, the mainstream broadcasters may still account for the largest single groups (with viable numbers), but that, in a long tail world, is the minority - and significantly so.

Add peer to peer recommendation to the long tail model and you also add discovery - a role previously retained by the broadcast playlist creators.

When I shared CompareMyRadio with peers on Twitter, one point raised was that in a world of spotify etc, access to a best fit of music selection is less of a differentiator than placing value on the human voice content - does the presenter make you laugh/talk about stuff that interests you? Do your peers trust her and her playlists?

Valuing the presenter; their curation of taste and their human voice, is what Mixcloud does.
In the podcast world (see blogtalkradio for example) we are all potentially radio show hosts now (just as, through YouTube, we are TV hosts and through blogs and other social media we are publishers). And that means there will always be a show with a list of content which is a great match for you.

But we want that to be more than a playlist. We want the show to be the social object around which the community of purpose gathers.

So where does broadcast play it's part?

For many of us, it acts as The Great Reminder.

Two examples:
1. BBC4 broadcasts Synth Britannia on Friday night, I download Tubeway Army's Replicas.
I didn't see the show. But it became a social object around which conversation happened on Twitter. I joined in the conversation on Twitter. It's the conversation, not the show, that inspired the purchase. But the conversation needed the show (the social object).

I also got reminded about Bill Nelson in conversation about the show. He wasn't even featured. But I'll likely be searching iTunes for Art, Empire, Industry later today. Where is the broadcaster's revenue share?

The broadcaster created the social object, inspired the conversation, triggered no end of purchase downloads - but gets nothing.

At the very least, in a YouTube-of-radio model, the creators of the shows (the social objects in this instance) should make one-click iTunes purchases (tickets, dvds, merchandise etc) easy and get a good share of the profit. But that's before the peer to peer interaction has even started - and that's where the greater value for all lays. There's the conundrum - how to track conversations inspired by social objects.

2. I go to see The Pixies with a friend I haven't seen for a while.
The Pixies gig is the social object. My friend and I are brought together (again) by our common interest. We talk about (guess what at a gig?) music. He tells me about another gig we should see together (ker-ching) and I end up buying some of the band's work as downloads (ker-ching, ker-ching)

In short social objects and peer-to-peer interactions are fabulous reminders of what you already knew. The 'value' of that knowledge may be enhanced, of course, by the context. And 'the show' is very much about context.

So what about discovery? Well, discovery all depends on silos and silo walls.
If the community of purpose surrounding a social object has a hard edge, nothing much new is going to arrive.

But if the community is more like most networks of peers, the edges are fuzzy. More people can be attracted to join by the social object (or by their interactions with their peers) but with a different take on the social object. They bring with them different ideas for content (for example) from their peer to peer interactions in their other communities of purpose.

Provided the show host employs feedback loops which constantly remind her that it's their show, not hers, then the new discoveries can be passed on through the show content.
Even without this, the p2p interactions around the show will share (or not) and rate (or score down) the latest collective community discoveries. The most apt will flourish, the least die out.

So, in summary.

Broadcast is The Great Reminder. It has real potential to be the social object around which peer-to-peer interaction happens. And the real magic of this happens in the peer to peer interactions. This is where the purchase reminders and recommendations happen in the main. It is therefore where the greater revenue opportunities lay. Your click-to-buy model (or it's equivalent) therefore has to be portable so peers can take it with them on their journeys.

Narrowcasting serves a greater number of people. All those tiny niches are bigger in total than the largest of your lowest-common-denominator single groups. So if you're really about scale - you know what to do.

Discovery = community created playlists ONLY where communities are fuzzy edged. Bear that in mind when you consider whose communities we are talking about - and where they reside.

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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?