Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Anything good on the radio? Apple finally take a bite out of streaming

Streaming is about to go mainstream as Apple enter the fray with iTunes Radio

Radio on: Apple dude Eddy Cue introduces the new iTunes Radio

Tue, Jun 11, 2013, 09:20


Game on. After years of huffing and puffing and repeated bouts of speculation, Apple have entered the streaming business with iTunes Radio. Announced at yesterday’s fanboy convention (AKA Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco), iTunes Radio will be seeking to kick some ass as it goes up against Spotify, Pandora, Last.fm, Rdio, Google and anyone else with a dog in the streaming fight.

Naturally, now that they’ve finally decided to join the party (they’ve always been followers rather than leaders – look at how long it took them to get the iTunes store up and going in the first place), Apple were as bullish as a Kilkenny hurling fan when it came to throwing shapes yesterday. There are already 575 million registered iTunes accounts so that will probably equate to a huge chunk of mainstream music fans checking out streaming who’ve never thought of doing so before.

The service is initially going to be launched in the United States in the autumn and rolled out in other countries in due course. We can probably expect it to open for business in Ireland by 2021 given how the local licensing services work to hinder innovative new services – it took nearly two years to get iTunes up and running here. Such local, er, peculiarities aside, Apple will probably dwarf most existing streaming services by the end of the year.

Like all streaming services, iTunes Radio will be ad-supported, which may well put some cats amongst the pigeons on a few fronts if they get that one right, taking ads from other services and also offering advertising giants Google some competition on that score (which may provide some clues for media ops as to how to work that angle). Those who want to opt out of hearing ads with their tunes can do so for paying for Apple’s iTunes Match cloud music storage service. It’s an annual fee of ¢29 which is considerably cheaper than the €9.99 per month offering from Spotify et al and there’s also going to be no limits on the amoount of time you can spend listening to the music. Strike another one to Apple.

Of course, it remains to be seen what all of this means for the artists and labels who’ve already done deals with Apple or who will do so in the coming months. Have the musos managed to strike a better royalty deal with the techies than they’ve done elsewhere or are the former counting on big volume from the latter to keep the revenue coming in? Either way, it’s clear that streaming is now the way of the walk when it comes to revenue and these new rates are now the new gold standards.

It also means that labels can start to look forward, so to speak, to the day when the income from paid-for downloads begins to disappear as more and more people switch to streaming rather than owning their music. But remember that Apple too may have to adjust to this as well, as people’s need for bigger and newer devices to hold all their music lessens, so iTunes Radio is likely to be just the first step in what will be a longer, more involved process involving getting people to pay for music.

Right now, we’re waiting for more than just press release details and what we can extrapolate from these. The real tests and talk will come later this year when US users can run the rule over the new service. Apple may have taken their sweet time before showing the green light, but you can be sure they’ll want this one to work and work really, really well right from the get-go. Streaming’s tipping point is about to arrive on an Apple platform near you.