Tech News February 2011

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1. Digital music sales 'slowing'

The growth in digital music sales has been slowing in recent years, according to industry figures.  Sales grew 11-fold between 2004 and 2010 to an estimated $4.6bn, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) said.  But while revenues grew by 25% in 2008, that figure slipped to 12% in 2009 and to just 6% in 2010. The group also warned of the challenges facing the industry from piracy, with 95% of music downloads made illegally.  (Source: BBC News)

2. Piracy websites attract billions of visits

A study by anti-fraud firm MarkMonitor has offered a snapshot into the changing nature of online piracy.  It monitored illegal traffic levels on 43 file-sharing sites and found that they generated more than 53 billion visits per year.  The top three - RapidShare.com, Megavideo.com and Megaupload.com - generated more than 21 billion visits. Such sites are becoming as popular as peer-to-peer methods of accessing illegal content. The study only used a small sample of sites suggesting that the problem could be in fact much bigger. "The numbers are staggering," said Charlie Abrahams, vice president of MarkMonitor. The study was put together following requests from the US Chamber of Commerce to identify trends and rogue sites. (Source: BBC News)

3. Borromeo String Quartet and the digital tide

The digital tide washing over society is lapping at the shores of classical music. The Borromeo String Quartet players have embraced it in their daily musical lives like no other major chamber music group. They record nearly all of their concerts. They have forsaken paper musical parts in favor of MacBooks nestled on special music stands, paging forward and back with foot pedals. They have replaced old-fashioned tuning devices and metronomes with programs on their laptops. The Borromeo provides an example of how technology is shaping the production and creation of classical music, a bastion of traditional acoustic sound and repository of centuries-old masterpieces. (Source: New York Times)

4. Facebook offers app makers your home address and phone number

Facebook has quietly announced that app developers will now be able to access users' home addresses and mobile numbers, in a move that has already raised concerns among privacy advocates and security experts alike. Developers who take advantage of this new feature will still have to request permission to access a user's personal information, but you could be forgiven for not noticing a subtle change to the page's layout -- specifically, a new subsection titled 'Access my contact information.' Under this heading, Facebook clarifies (in a light grey font), that granting access to a given application will allow the developer to obtain your 'Current Address and Mobile Phone Number.'   As some Facebook supporters point out, the new wrinkle could offer some very real benefits to users, by expanding Facebook's Open Graph network. The more personal information that Facebook registers, the easier it becomes for users to register with other sites in just a few clicks. The only problem, of course, is that many users still have trouble trusting Facebook with that kind of information--especially when companies like RapLeaf are discretely selling that information to anonymous parties. Phone numbers and addresses may not be quite as tightly protected as, say, credit card numbers, but it's still probably more information than most people are willing to share with strangers. (Source: Switched.com)

5. Chamber Music Society’s first live video streaming in mobile apps

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS) and InstantEncore.com announced the first LIVE concert video stream in mobile apps. The CMS concert at Lincoln Center’s Rose Studio was made available for free to a virtual global audience through the CMS Android and iPhone (iOS) Application and on any Smartphone web browser.  (Source: InstantEncore)

6. Apple’s disdain for philanthropy is rotten for charities and society

In an essay in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Vincent Stehle takes Apple to task for the limitations it has placed on direct charitable contributions through apps on its iPhone. “Holiday season is always a time for giving—but not on your iPhone.  That’s because Apple doesn’t allow nonprofits or other organizations to include a direct donation system in the phone’s applications, so the only way to give is to go to a charity’s Web site, a cumbersome process with a small phone-size keyboard.  The only question: Is it a mere glitch or a natural extension of Apple’s policy that is generally indifferent to nonprofits and philanthropy? 

For its part, Apple has said that it does not permit charitable donations to be made through its iPhone applications because it has no way to verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations that might receive donations through its media platform.  But numerous organizations vet charities today and GuideStar has offered to allow its services to be used to insure the legitimacy of donations through the iPhone. 

Ultimately, the iPhone donations controversy raises questions that are larger than the facilitation of donations.  One question is how best to generate sustainable revenue for media outlets that deliver journalism, entertainment, and other information that keeps communities vibrant.  As noncommercial media organizations play an increasingly important role in communities, they need to find new sources of financial support to survive.  In the competition between commercial and noncommercial media outlets, Apple seems to favor commercial media companies—even while many of Apple’s customers seem to favor public-media content.  (Source: Chronicle of Philanthropy)

7. LA Phil Live beams, sets audiences beaming

Merging classical music with multimedia spectacle and a dash of Hollywood showmanship, the Los Angeles Philharmonic launched its series of high-definition concert simulcasts, LA Phil Live, with a Sunday afternoon performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall that was beamed live to about 450 specially equipped movie theaters across the United States and Canada.  Hoping to prove that classical music aficionados will pay to watch big-screen transmissions of live events in the same way that sports lovers, rock concert fans and opera buffs do, the orchestra began its ambitious venture with a program of works by Beethoven, Bernstein and John Adams that went off with only scattered reports of technical glitches. Although the Phil declined to provide overall ticket sales figures, attendance appeared to be strong at theaters in many areas of metropolitan Los Angeles.  At other locations, sales of tickets ranging from $18 to $22 were more mixed. (Source: Los Angeles Times)

8. Will movie-theater orchestracasts build audiences or steal them from smaller orchestras?

First the Met, now the Phil.  Another big name in music - one that could give the Columbus Symphony and other midlevel orchestras a run for their money - has come to a movie theater near you.  The Los Angeles Philharmonic, led by dynamic young Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel, is broadcasting three live Sunday concerts this season in almost 450 theaters in the United States and Canada - including five in central Ohio.  Promoters insist that the broadcasts won't compete with performances by the Columbus Symphony and other orchestras but will expand interest in the art form and attract new audiences to live classical music in nearby concert halls. 

Roland Valliere, president and chief creative officer of the Columbus Symphony, isn't so sure.  Valliere, who is moving the orchestra toward more interactive performances while exploring ways to deliver content with smart-phone applications and Internet downloads, is intrigued by the LA Phil technology but wary of the ramifications.  "It's a land grab," he said, but he acknowledged that it's too early to tell whether classical concertgoers will forsake the Ohio Theatre for a neighborhood cineplex on a regular basis.  (Source: Columbus Dispatch)

9. Major labels to face price-fixing lawsuit

The US Supreme Court has allowed a landmark lawsuit against the four major record labels to proceed. According to the plaintiffs, Sony, Vivendi-Universal, Warner Music and EMI colluded in the early 2000s to keep download prices high, while preventing consumers from burning purchased songs to CD.  The labels argued unsuccessfully that the allegations were insufficient to suggest misconduct. A federal appeals court in New York said the claims were enough for the case to go ahead, and the US Supreme Court has left that ruling intact.  (Source: The Guardian)

10. More TV viewers may be cutting the cord this year

A torrent of television-ready gadgets will hit the store shelves this year, including dozens of phones and tablet computers that will allow viewers to watch movies and TV shows from just about anywhere. The proliferation of viewing devices — including a new generation of TV sets that connect to the Internet — could boost the chances that viewers will do what cable and satellite companies fear most: cancel their $70-a-month subscriptions in favor of cheaper Web options.  (Source: Los Angeles Times)

11. And Now: Virtual Opera

For the Opéra de Rennes, 3D is by now “so yesterday,” as the kids would say. It has since moved on to the virtual realm, where audience members can create their own avatars (virtual images), buy tickets and attend a 3D virtual live opera from all points on the globe. Using the same technology that can create those addictive car-chase and combat video games with your virtual image as part of the action, "OpéraBis," as the Rennes project is called, is a collaboration with the local university's Audiovisual Studies and Research Center as well as the Bibliothèque Francophone du Métavers. The first performance, in June, was Donizetti's one-act opera, "Rita." A virtual attendee could buy a ticket, see his virtual self in the lobby and in his seat, hear the murmur and applause of the crowd and witness the virtual production as it was actually performed in real time. The second effort, on January 6, was entitled "Revisit your Classics," a selection of scenes from "The Marriage of Figaro" with a narrative by the opera's General Director Alain Surrans. For the adventuresome, start with a virtual tour of the jewel box opera theater in Rennes at http://bit.ly/i4e9vu. YouTube sections from the virtual broadcast of Donizetti's "Rita" can be seen here: http://bit.ly/eSF8fO.  And the project website, with photos and more information (in French), is at: http://operabis.net. (Source: MusicalAmerica.com – subscription required)

12. Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra starts own label

The recording industry may be dying, but top-notch orchestras still maintain their national and international standing through new releases. In conjunction with its 30th anniversary, San Francisco's Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is not just issuing a new release, it is starting an entire new record label, Philharmonia Baroque Productions.  (Source: San Francisco Chronicle)

13. ENO opera to be broadcast in 3D

English National Opera’s forthcoming production of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia is to be broadcast live in 3D as part of a partnership with Sky.  Directed by Mike Figgis, who is best known as a film director and whose credits include Leaving Las Vegas, the opera will be broadcast live on February 23 on Sky Arts 2, Sky 3D and in a range of cinemas.  (Source: The Stage News)

14. KDFC goes public

KDFC, the San Francisco Bay Area’s major classical music radio station, has been sold and will be taken on by nonprofit KUSC, which is operated by the University of Southern California.   Many in the area were surprised by the sale, given how wide an audience the station served but, as Station Manager Bill Lueth explained, “profitable” is not always “profitable enough” for a publicly traded corporation like KDFC’s recent owners, Entercom.  They really wanted to make a go of it. But with the economy the way it is, when the ratings system changed a couple of years ago, that affected every classical station in America. That’s why WQXR in New York had to go public, WCRV in Boston, WTMI in Miami, King in Seattle — all those stations have been annihilated by the new ratings system, and by the way that business is conducted in modern radio.

“Most revenue is generated by your 25-54 [age demographic] ranker in your market. According to Lueth, in the old ratings system, respondents would be asked to write down what they listened to every week. In the new system, for a small fee, the respondent would wear a device that would let the ratings agency record automatically what they listened to. “For the whole Bay Area, that was only a few thousand people at a time being measured in a market of six million,” said Lueth. “How many lawyers and doctors and upper management are willing to wear this device every day?”  You can’t prove it, but the potential problem for KDFC is that a good portion of their audience wasn’t measured in the new system.   (Source: San Francisco Classical Voice)

15. Low-power FM radio to gain space on the dial

President Obama has signed the Local Community Radio Act, which repeals restrictions on low-power FM, or LPFM, stations and allows the Federal Communications Commission to give out more 100-watt licenses.   Freeing space on the radio dial for local voices might seem a moot point in an age when anyone can start an Internet radio station. But the appropriation of the public airwaves remains a vital and, for some, very emotional issue, which proponents say enable the stations to provide a slight corrective to the consolidation of commercial radio.  (Source: New York Times)

16. Musician uses Twitter to launch career

Meerenai Shim was a flutist with a dilemma. She had all but exhausted performing available pieces for flute and cello -- a favored duet of hers -- and commissioning a new work could take years. "Usually you need a big nonprofit to get something composed," said 34-year-old Shim, of Campbell. "It's not a bad way to go. It just takes a long time." To speed up the process, Shim posted on Twitter, a San Francisco-based social networking service she'd already been using to reach out to friends and colleagues in the music industry.

It didn't take long for someone to answer her plea. Daniel Felsenfeld, a Brooklyn-based composer who began following Shim on Twitter earlier that month, offered to write the music. But he came with a price, and teaching private lessons out of her house in Campbell wasn't going to pay the bill. The pair turned to New York-based Kickstarter, an online company founded in 2009 on the premise of bringing together friends and strangers to pool small chunks of money for larger projects. Together, Shim and Felsenfeld amassed a little more than $5,200 by the end of their six-week campaign, which concluded on Jan. 18. One hundred and thirty people donated to the new piece, including several complete strangers.

Kickstarter, among other new projects, represents a novel method for starving artists to quickly raise funds beyond begging for cash on a personal website. In addition to asking for money, performers like Shim are able to offer tiered incentives for each level of donation.For $5, a donor got an MP3 of the new piece. Ten dollars awarded someone an "I Heart New Music" bumper sticker. Fifteen got Shim's new flute CD and a shout-out on her personal website. Near the top of the list -- a $250 donation -- a patron of the arts could enjoy lunch and a private concert with a friend at Shim's house.  (Source: ABC News)

17. Music industry braces for the unthinkable

After another year of plunging music sales, record company executives are starting to contemplate the unthinkable: The digital music business, held out as the future of the industry, may already be as big as it is going to get.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, a trade group based in London, said that sales of music in digital form had risen only 6 percent worldwide in 2010, even as the overall music market had shrunk 8 percent or 9 percent, extending a decade-long decline. In each of the past two years, the rate of increase in digital revenue has approximately halved. If that trend continues, digital sales could top out at less than $5 billion this year, about a third of the overall music market but many billions of dollars short of the amount needed to replace long-gone sales of compact discs.  

Despite the fall off in sales of digital downloads, industry executives say they are encouraged by the development of new digital services, particularly those that embrace the principles of cloud computing. These services can provide unlimited amounts of music to listeners on demand, through a variety of devices, from mobile phones to televisions.   Around the world, 10 million people have already signed up for subscription-based online services from Spotify, Rdio and Deezer, some of which have attracted additional millions of users with free, advertising-supported services. Many executives hope the growth of offerings like these can reduce the industry’s dependence on sales of individual tracks through digital stores like Apple iTunes, a model that has attracted little interest from young music fans, particularly outside the United States.  (Source: New York Times)