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Music Choice Pt 2

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In all humility, once again I say to you, you heard it here first. Last week on the 19th I talked about how much I like the cable TV Music Choice music service with its 45+ channels – right now I am digging on the “Pulse” downbeat and ambient music channel.

Only a week behind us, the NY Times sings the praises of Music Choice today:

    There is already a money-making music alternative to the CD, and it has nothing to with the Internet.

    At a radio station in Midtown Manhattan that is not a radio station, there are no on-air disc jockeys and no commercials. Earnest-looking audiophiles compile playlists on their computer terminals, headphones sealing in the sounds as they work. The classical department is a few cubicles down from the programmers who compile the rap and hip-hop shows.

    ….Music Choice’s audio is accompanied by simple graphics, which identify the artist and album. On some systems, purchasing the CD for home delivery is possible by simply using the remote control.

    “Typically we play 15 songs an hour, when radio typically plays 8 to 10,” said Damon Williams, director of programming for Music Choice. “You hear music that you wouldn’t normally hear.”

    After years of tinkering, televised audio channels like these seem poised for a certain amount of success. While the recording industry struggles with piracy issues created by the Internet, which they blame for rapidly dwindling sales of the venerable compact disc, there are now more delivery mechanisms than ever for music consumption and sales.

    ….The industry has come a long way since 1987, when David Del Beccaro founded Music Choice. At that point, cable television was still strictly an analog technology, and would-be customers had to purchase a special receiver, pay for installation and agree to a monthly subscription fee.

    Back then, he said, “we spent tens of millions to acquire 150,000 customers.”

    The economics are different today. Since 1998, as digital cable has emerged across the country, the need for a separate audio box has vanished, and the cost for the audio channels has become invisible to consumers because they are bundled into the television service’s monthly subscription fees. Music Choice is a partnership of influential cable, music and technology companies that include Comcast, Time Warner Cable, EMI, Sony Music, Warner Music, Microsoft and Motorola. The company has been profitable since 1999, Mr. Del Beccaro said.

    ….Those alternatives also provide an outlet for music unlikely to be played on commercial radio, whose ownership has become homogenized in the hands of just a few companies. Commercial radio’s playlists are focused largely on just five formats: country, pop, solid gold, classic rock and news.

    In December, the artist Moby wrote in his online journal after hearing the Norwegian duo Royskopp on a cable music program: “It seems to be the only place to hear good dance and electronic music on the radio in the states. See, here in the states we have, well, a rather restricted diet when it comes to commercial radio.”

Good old Moby agrees with me as well. The other great thing about the medium is that it is audio-visual: you can just listen to it like radio, or you can glance at the screen and catch the name of the song, artist and album, and see the cover art, which makes it that much more likely to stick in my mind. There are alos facts and trivia passing by on the screen, which is interesting but can also be confusing because the trivia applies to the genre, not necessarily to the artist currently being played. But even with this very minor caveat, cable music kicks commercial radio down the street and down the sewer.

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About Eric Olsen