Apple’s new streaming service is called iTunes Radio. Not iMusic. What elements could be included that would justify such a name?
The current music streaming services offer very large music libraries to those that pay a subscription fee, or to accept listening to adverts. Although streaming services have features named ‘radio’, they don’t sound much like broadcast radio.
I think there is room for a streaming service that adds elements of radio: the shared experience, regular elements, a reliable schedule.
FutureRadio = Purchased music + Curated music + shared experiences
Imagine a service that combines purchased music, music that fits well with purchased music and shared audio experiences.
Curated music in this case starts with algorithmically chosen music that works well with the music you want to listen to. iTunes has a ‘Genius’ command that creates playlists of tracks from your library that fit the genre or mood of a chosen track. Spotify has a ‘Radio’ feature that creates playlists based on an artist, genre or time period.
Curation doesn’t only have to come from software algorithms: it could come from the playlist of a favourite radio station or radio show. Radio station playlists change periodically, some every week, some every few months. Radio show playlists could be based on the music played over the previous years, year, month or week. The playlist could be the exact tracks played on a recent show.
There is also a place for non-music content on a radio service.
For many years car radios with RDS have had the ability to automatically pause the tape or CD and switch output to important local traffic news broadcast on a local radio station and then return playing music when the bulletin finishes.
Given that software can now compile a complex playlist, that playlist could include (close to) live content in the show. If broadcasters tagged their content, you could configure your radio station to include whichever elements you want.
At the moment the non-music content of radio could be seen as content that gives listeners a shared experience. Depending on the market of the station, these experiences are shared at the national, regional or local level. With internet radio experiences are shared at an international level.
Radio schedules and shows are usually organised by presenting specific combinations of content. Some stations are ‘your regional 24 hour music station’, some ‘Your local news and sport leader (with a proportion of adult contemporary rock music)’ and others are ‘Your national news, documentary and drama station’.
With FutureRadio you will be able to choose what proportion of a given hour or day are made up of
Your own purchased music, be it randomly chosen, a playlist compiled by you or by software (played from your device or from a cloud service)
Streamed music from automatically a generated playlist based on a track, artist, genre or time period
Streamed music from a playlist being listened to by a friend
Streamed music from a playlist of a radio station, or the music recently on a specific show
Music streamed from a radio station (within the last few minutes)
Radio drama streamed from a radio station (ongoing soaps or radio plays)
Radio documentary streamed from a radio station
News debate (including phone and online audience contributions)
Local sports news
News from podcasts you subscribe to
Music news (selected based on your music preferences)
DJ chat (broadcast within the last few minutes, or close to live)
Weather at your current location
Weather at a future location (based on your schedule)
Schedule information (trailers for shows, concerts, items available on other feeds)
News generated from a social media feed of your choice (a subset of your Facebook friends, a Google+ circle or a Twitter list)
Advertising (if you want to pay for some radio elements, or earn money directly)
You could set the proportions you want to change during your day. For example you might only need time checks in the hours you spend getting ready for work (hours that can change based on your personal schedule). A customised radio station that has the elements you want – including shared audience experiences of favourite DJs, sports events and different kinds of news.
Illuminating the past
Given that this is a data-driven personalised radio station, you could set the software to generate radio based on any date in the past. You could listen to music, national news, local news, sports news and music news from any date. You could listen to the music that a specific DJ played on your birthday in any year.
With the addition of excerpts from radio podcasts, the playlist could incorporate elements from specific shows in your customised radio station. Interviews, comedy items, presenter conversation and other elements could be weaved into the playlist between songs, with interruptions for news and other useful reports.
Some broadcasters own the rights to live recordings of many songs. If I subscribed to a feed from the BBC, I could opt for alternate versions of songs in my library to be played instead. A playlist of music bought on CD or iTunes that includes a Beatles song would then optionally include the BBC recording of the same song instead.
Advanced context switching
This would require a lot of metadata in audio feeds – including tagging elements that depend on previous elements. This could include the moments when DJs say what music they are about to play or have just played. Knowing dependencies between spoken word and music items would allow the service to decide whether to include items.
This would help if you want to interact with a show. If you click a ‘go live’ button, you would hear a minute or so of necessary recap (when a presenter asks the audience for contributions via phone or online) before going live to hear the rest of the audience contribute. Conversely, non-live contributions that come in after a show has been broadcast could be integrated in the following days, months and years.
Not just radio
Once this is done with radio, the service could be expanded to work with other media – a personalised TV/film service.
Adding the visual to a media feed would make a playlist item an act of a TV show or feature film, a short film, a YouTube video or a family video. It would include content from broadcast TV (news and sport and drama premieres), purchased TV, feature films and content from streamed subscription services. If you wanted to jump into a TV series or Soap after the first episodes, recap content would be playlisted in advance of the show you want to start with. Additionally synced social media streams could play on second screen devices away from the large screen, such as tagged Twitter and Facebook feeds.
The combined curated visual feed might also have to take into account that many people find TV more enjoyable when sharing the viewing experiences with others. That implies having visual feeds that combine the viewing preferences of more than one person while they are together (or on the same Skype call or Google+ Hangout).
Maybe the road to the future of TV is in interactive (customisable) Radio.
Or iTunes Radio.