Tag Archives: streaming

Digital Music Landscape III: Consumption

[This is the concluding part of a three-part post on the Digital Music Landscape. You can read the first post and the second post to get up to speed]

Let’s look at the services that exist in the West against the services for Indian music in an attempt to look at how music recommendations serve people’s needs. In the previous posts, we’ve discussed a few approaches for recommendation. Let’s pair that up against the following music consumption models:

  • Downloads: Wherein the service allows you to browse and download songs for purchase. Most services allow downloaded songs to be played in any device/player but certain services provide DRM-restricted songs. Such songs can only be played on certain devices or certain players.
  • On-demand streaming: The user can listen to any music, any time. These services are either free (ad-supported) or based on a subscription plan. Increasingly, the free plans are getting capped to a limited amount of music.
  • Non-Interactive streaming: The service is pre-programmed with content,  allowing users to only skip tracks and provide ratings. The content is either delivered through a recommendation engine based on the users’ taste or curated by experts.

Download services limit the number of songs people can listen to (only purchased songs) while streaming offers potentially unlimited number of songs for listening. On the other hand, downloaded songs can be listened to anytime, anywhere. Whereas, streaming services typically require an internet connection. The line between download and stream services is blurring though, as the download services are providing cloud-based features in addition to song previews; and streaming services are allowing downloads either directly or through other download services.

Music Consumption – Mature Markets

ServiceConsumption modelRecommendation approach based on
DownloadOn-demandNon-interactiveMusical attributesWisdom of the CrowdsExpert curation

Music Consumption – India

ServiceConsumption modelRecommendation approach based on
DowloadOn-DemandNon-InteractiveMusical attributesWisdom of the CrowdsExpert curation

A more detailed look at the Indian music services show that:

  • There are fewer consumption choices in India.
  • There is very little differentiation between various services.
  • The business model behind some of these services is not evident. All streaming services are free to users. Do they make enough money from ads? What about those that don’t even show ads?
  • Services are in the early stages of building recommendation capabilities. Recommendations from Indian services are either poor or limited (e.g.: NH7 does a pretty good job but serves a niche).
  • A lot of popular Indian music is made for films and has unique factors driving people’s interests – music directors, singers, lyricists, actors on which they are filmed, etc. These factors don’t come into play for non-Indian music.
  • Interest in multiples languages need to be catered to.
  • Services have big holes in their song catalogs because of limitations in their licensing agreements.

Given all these challenges, the quest is still on for a good, Indian music service that is comparable to an iTunes or a Spotify. While we’re not launching a music consumption service (not yet at least!), we at Mavrix keenly watch this space because we’re trying to solve one of the challenges listed above – that of serving good recommendations. We will be launching MySwar in a few days as a first step in this journey.

Why Won’t Apple’s iCloud Stream Music?

Since Apple’s big iCloud announcement a couple of days ago, the internet has been abuzz with people expressing disappointment at the iCloud not going far enough when it came to music (like here, and here). What did Apple miss? Streaming.

Broadly, there seem to be two camps of people when it comes to music listening preference – one that prefers listening to streaming music (via services like Rdio, Spotify, Pandora, Raaga, Saavn) and the other that prefers owned music played locally on their computers, mobile phones, media players or other devices. But even those who prefer owning music (like I do), probably use streaming as an option to discover and sample before they buy.

So, regardless of your listening preferences, you may feel that iCloud missed the bus by not allowing streaming of music via subscription. Amazon Cloud and Google Music Beta also missed that same bus, by the way. They allow streaming but only of the music you already own. In fact, Amazon actually charges you for it. (Duh?!) Google has conveniently not revealed its pricing.

Coming back to iCloud. Streaming of purchased music may not make sense, but why not give customers the option to stream music they don’t own as well as buy songs if they choose to?

My guess is that it could be due to the following reasons:

  1. Profitability – Apple has a predictably profitable model of selling music through iTunes. On the other hand, streaming services have struggled for profitability, whether it’s the ad-supported Pandora, or subscription-based Spotify. And while streaming services are becoming increasingly popular, they still do not represent a sizeable enough market for Apple to be interested (not yet at least).
  2. Risk – iCloud is going to put considerable pressure on Apple’s resources (including their cloud infrastructure) and they know it. Why do you think Steve Jobs showed off the pictures of their huge server farm? Apple wants to come back strongly after MobileMe’s failure (Steve Jobs described it as “Not our finest hour” in the keynote at WWDC), and is not willing to take on the risk associated with the burden of streaming music.
  3. Concerns around bandwidth usage – A few days ago, I wrote a post about why 3G economics don’t work for streaming music in India. According to Paul Lamere, a music+tech guru and a passionate supporter of music subscription services, people in the US can get an unlimited 3G data plan “for the cost of a good meal”. That may be the case today but even in the US, people are becoming more aware of their rapidly increasing mobile bandwidth usage and carriers are shutting down unlimited data plans. Perhaps Apple believes that the consumers’ and the carriers’ increased sensitivity to bandwidth usage may adversely impact the streaming music market.


Apple’s iCloud Is Transformational

What is iCloud?

iCloud is Apple’s service that allows consumers to shift their storage hub from local hard-drives to the internet. iCloud takes care of syncing a variety of content and information (contacts, mails, calendars, music, photos, videos, documents, etc.) across multiple devices. The following apps are available on iCloud:

  1. Contacts, Calendar, Mail are available on iCloud for free. Apple is shutting down MobileMe, the product that used to do the same at $99 per year.
  2. Apps Store
  3. iBooks
  4. Device backup – Backs up important settings and loads on new device
  5. Documents in the cloud – Supports availability of Pages/Numbers/Keynote across devices.
  6. iCloud storage APIs – For developers to build iCloud apps
  7. Photo Stream – Stores the last 1000 photos on the cloud. Allows access across devices. People with more than 1000 photos can move older ones from Photo Stream to their device.
  8. iTunes
    1. Anything bought on iTunes can be re-downloaded on 10 devices
    2. Automated download to all devices. Download starts when you plug in your iPhone for charging.
    3. For non-iTunes music, consumers can
      1. Sync devices
      2. Buy the songs from iTunes, so it’s available on iCloud
      3. Buy the iTunes Match service at about $25/year. The service lets you match your non-iTunes tracks to iTunes’ 18 million song catalog. Matched songs have the same support as iTunes songs – 256K downloads (even if the original track is less than 256K) available on 10 devices. Unmatched songs will be available on the cloud as is. Apple claims that the matching takes minutes (as opposed to the “weeks” it takes to upload music to Google Music Beta or Amazon Cloud).

How much will iCloud cost?

Some details are not known but for the most part, iCloud is free. Storage for purchased music, apps, books and the 1000 Photo Stream photos are free of cost. 5GB of storage is available for free for mails, documents and backup. Apple indicates that 5GB is more than enough and does not even address the possibility of the need for more than 5GB. The only component of iCloud that costs money is iTunes Match at $24.99.

When will iCloud be available?

iTunes on iCloud is already available. The remaining components will be available this fall.

What about streaming?

No streaming. (I will be writing another post with my theories on why Apple did not roll out streaming).

Why is iCloud transformational?

  1. Comprehensive – It is the first and only service that manages such a wide gamut of “stuff” on the cloud.
  2. Invisible – It is so well integrated with the Apple ecosystem, that consumers may not even notice it. Stuff just becomes available across devices.
  3. Big impact – Except for iTunes Match, it is free. At that price point, adoption of iCloud by anyone with an Apple device is a no brainer. With millions of Apple customers using iCloud, the standard for managing multiple devices has changed permanently. For the better.


Mavrix Monthly Update May-2011

  • We finished cataloguing information for 2 decades of Bollywood songs, from current day to 1991. Good news – We were making good progress! Bad news – We have to started listening to the songs from 1980s – probably the worst ever to come out of Bollywood. Please excuse our team members if they’re posting weird videos of like this on FB – I think they find it cathartic. Good songs are few and far-between and hog the office music system, when we do find them.
  • Online stream vs CDs. Since we analyze songs at a fairly detailed level, we find it difficult to do a good job of analyzing songs when the stream quality is not good (“Was that a dholak or a tabla?”) – which is a lot of the time. We therefore try and buy CDs if they’re available. We didn’t have any trouble sourcing CDs for the 2000s (we used Flipkart for the most part) but beyond that, sourcing CDs has been a pain. Recently though we were able to get in touch with some helpful folks at Saregama who put us in touch with a distributor who is now supplying us with a large number of CDs. We are not getting the entire set but it’s a lot more than the small numbers available on Flipkart. The conversation with Saregama was interesting – they made sure we were not pirates (or just plain dumb) before they gave us the distributor’s info.
  • Cover Art. We’d like to be able to display album cover arts on our website but we still haven’t been able to figure out a way to secure rights to do that. If you have any pointers, please send us an email at admin AT mavrix DOT in.
  • Tech work . After a few iterations, we are getting to the UI we want. Finalizing the designs next week. Thej is working fast and furious on finalizing the architecture and technology decisions. (Check out his post on Github vs Bitbucket). We’re shooting to start development work on Jun 20. Our quest to find a smart and dynamic Python/PHP/MySQL developer is still on.

3G Cost In India Will Burst Music Cloud Bubble

Even though Google and Amazon have not yet released their cloud music service in India, the excitement around it is palpable in cities where 3G has been rolled out. One of our team members, Rakshith, can’t wait for Google Music to come to India because he wants access to music anywhere, anytime. To quote him “Have a 3G connection and u have all ur songs in one click. And its FREE if im not wrong.” He was referring to the free 20000 song upload for the Google Music Beta. I asked, “What about 3G costs?”. We had a good debate and that was that.

The matter resurfaced over the weekend though, when a visitor on our blog sent me an email about streaming music. He seemed very keen about it because “anyway i pay for 3G”.

For some reason, people seem to be putting blinders on when it comes to 3G costs. Sorry to burst the bubble, my fellow music buffs but here is something you should know about the prevalent 3G plans:

  • The more you use, the more you pay. There is no unlimited plan. You cannot justify your music streaming with “anyway I am paying” rationale.
  • 3G plans are not cheap.

Based on your listening habits and assuming music streamed at 128kbps, here’s what your 3G cost would be:

Hours of streaming per month510152025
Bandwidth used (MB)281.25562.5843.7511251406.25
Approx annual cost based on current tarrifs (Rs)240054006000810010125

If your argument then is that you’re willing to pay this price for the convenience of having access to your music everywhere, I would say you can pay a lower price for a portable media player like an iPod, which you can truly access everywhere unlike over 3G which is only available in some cities and is unpredictable even in cities it’s rolled out (I’ve been a 3G user for almost a year). You actually save money if you buy a media player:

If you listen to..…you could buy…at Rs…and save over 5 years (approx life of device) Rs
5 hrs of music per monthiPod shuffle32006628
10 hrs of music per monthiPod nano 8GB1070011413
15 hrs of music per monthiPod nano 16GB1270011870
20 hrs of music per monthiPod Classic1520017970
25 hrs of music per monthiPod Classic1520026263

The savings calculation factors in a 10% reduction in 3G tarrif every year over 5 years. Of course, iPod is a premium product and the savings would be much higher if you bought a cheaper media player.

The only compelling argument I can think of for streaming music on the cloud is that your music collection is so big that it does not fit in any portable media player (more than 160GB if you consider iPod).

So, before you jump on to the cloud music bandwagon, you might want to figure out what your 3G cost works out to based on your listening habits and compare it against the cost of a suitable media player.

Why Music On The Cloud Does Not Make Sense

In a previous post, I talked about why streaming music would never be the same as owning a physical copy of it. Since then, Amazon has launched it’s Cloud Player which takes perfectly good physical copies that you can listen to directly and let’s you stream it over the cloud. While I understand people streaming music that they don’t own, I am bewildered that Amazon (and other companies) thinks that there are customers who are willing to pay them to stream music that they already own. Look at this comparison of the various types of music services and tell me why anybody would pay for Cloud Music (or at least the way Amazon has implemented it).

ParameterCloud ServiceStreaming ServiceOwned Physical Copy
QualityPoor bitrate. Mediocre at best.Varies from low quality (free) to high quality (premium). Another problem with free services - audio ads that spoil the listening experience.Can’t get better than this
CostOne time cost for songs + Recurring extra cost for storage + Recurring bandwidth costsRecurring bandwidth costs + Recurring streaming cost for premium plansOne time cost for songs. No recurring costs. Even is you add the cost of a hard-drive (to mimic the backup functionality of cloud), it’s a one-time low cost (and getting lower every day).
AvailabilityNot available when internet is not available (like on flights), or when there is a service disruption/outage at your ISP or the cloud service provider.Not available when internet is not available (like on flights), or when there is a service disruption/outage at your ISP or the streaming service provider.With a large capacity portable media player (ahem, like an iPod), you can carry your entire music collection with you all the time. No service comes close to this level of availability.
Music CatalogLimited – as many songs as you purchase. But your catalog is yours forever.Unlimited as long as you subscribe. Zip, zilch, nada if you don’t subscribe.Limited – as many songs as you purchase. But your catalog is yours forever.