24 April 02005

Downloading from the radio

Last week's MusicWeek had a article about UBC Media preparing to offer listeners to some of its digital (DAB) radio stations the opportunity to download the songs they broadcast. I can't find the exact story on the web, but here's a feature on similar developments in radio, which details the lower data bandwidth available with DAB, by comparison with broadband Internet.

Leaving aside concerns about commercial radio programming becoming even more narrow in its playlist range (playing just the songs most likely to sell), a radio download service presents a further blurring in the way people listen to and control their music. What was previously an unpredictable stream of music has an on-demand element added. This form of radio becomes another data-point on the spectrum of control I outlined previously:

  • terrestrial radio — no control over programming, track selection or scheduling;
  • digital radio with the Bug — limited 'micro' control of scheduling through ability to pause, rewind and record live radio;
  • Internet radio with time shift capability (e.g. BBC Radio Player) — control over what programmes you listen to and when, but no control over programme contents;
  • Internet radio with interactive programming (e.g. Last.FM — track selection can be rejected by users, and users can also determine how closely the programming is tailored to their profile of preferences (from 'personal radio' to 'random');
  • MP3 player in shuffle mode — user has total control over the library of tracks, but no control over sequencing; to
  • MP3 player in playlist mode — user has total control over selection and sequencing.

You could also add podcasting to this list, especially since that is effectively another means of 'downloading (from) the radio'. And services like Odeo promise to blur the line between podcasting, downloading and radio still further.

At the moment many of these ways of listening require different hardware. Devices may soon appear that support more or less all the different 'modes' of listening to music. Then — as with the argument I made about the co-existence of subscription and à-la-carte music buying — it won't be a case of MP3 players 'winning' over radio; it will be a case of listeners choosing, session by session, among 'radio-like' and 'player-like' modes to suit their mood and the kind of attention they have to offer in the next 30-60 minutes.

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Future of Music, Music and Multimedia, Podcasting, Radio on 24 April 02005 | TrackBack
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