Tech News September 2011

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1. After dropping PBS, Los Angeles station makes deal of its own

KCET, the Los Angeles public television that quit carrying PBS shows Jan. 1 because it said the dues were too high, has found a new source of original programs that it will get free.  The station has reached an unusual agreement with Eyetronics Media and Studios, based in Encino, Calif., which will provide up to $50 million in financing for original productions, acquisitions and distribution over five years. The programs will be shown on KCET, which will retain distribution rights to other public television stations. Eyetronics, best known for its work in 3-D scanning and modeling technology, will have the rights to distribute the shows domestically to other outlets such as cable networks, and internationally. If distribution revenue exceeds the initial investment by Eyetronics, the two parties will split the proceeds. (Source: New York Times)

2. Classical CD biz bounces back

Nielsen SoundScan's report for the first half of 2011 indicates that classical music CDs had the biggest gain in sales of all genres, 13%, over the first half of 2010, for a total of 3.8 million albums.  Granted, that's still a small percentage of the total market (about 2.4%), but it shows that classical is holding its own and then some, with other genres up slightly or slipping. (Source: Variety)

3. Classical music waltzes with digital media

Orchestras, including the L.A. and New York Philharmonics, and Pacific Symphony are using social media tools, like Twitter and Facebook, in hopes of engaging and luring a tech-savvy public.  (Source: Los Angeles Times)

4. Technology is infringing on classical music

Music critic Mark Swed expresses concerns about the increasing use of technology by audience members during classical music performances, which arts organizations are encouraging as a way of increasing audience attendance and engagement.  Swed believes, however, that the use of smartphones and other devices in the concert hall distracts audiences from the active listening that is required to appreciate classical music.  (Source: Los Angeles Times)

5. Tweets, texts not for everyone in arts world

Like performing arts organizations everywhere else, the heavy hitters of classical music in Chicago are desperately seeking new ways to connect with wired younger audiences and lure them into concert halls and opera houses to fill vacant seats.  Yet, the very idea of allowing audience members to use smartphones and tablets during indoor classical performances met strong opposition from every one of the local arts executives surveyed by the Chicago Tribune.  They regard the practice as antithetical to music and to what classical concerts are all about. And they see this as yet another means to dumb down the musical experience for an already ill-educated public whose attention span is getting shorter by the minute. (Source: Chicago Tribune)

6. Do Facebook ads bring customers?

Similar to many other online sites, Facebook ads are a marketplace–you’re making a bid about how much you’ll pay to reach people, or how much you’ll pay if they take an action.   Your return on investment is the Gross Revenue from that campaign minus the expense spent on the campaign, divided by the expense and that gives you a percentage, which you can compare to other marketing expenditures to see what is most effective for you.   (Source: Inc)

7. Should nonprofits dive in to Google+?

The new Google+ social network has been producing a lot of interest, attracting more than 25 million members during its first month.  But for many nonprofits that are still learning how best to use established social networks like Facebook and Twitter, its arrival and rapid growth are anything but welcome news.  If they ignore it, they risk missing out on building strong connections with the early adopters who are flooding into the network.  But if they invest time in developing a presence in Google+, they risk weakening their relationships in existing networks like Facebook and Twitter without the promise that Google+ will ever reach the same size and scale.

So how should nonprofits approach the arrival of Google's new network?  In the latest episode of her blog Social Good , Beth Kanter, the blogger and co-author with Ms. Fine of The Networked Nonprofit, offers advice to nonprofits that are looking to answer this question.   (Source: Chronicle of Philanthropy)

8. Is the Spotify model really the answer?

The owner of Mode Records, a NYC based label specializing in contemporary classical music and jazz, says that new streaming services like Spotify – that journalists like The New York Times‘s David Pogue praise so highly – has the potential to squeeze smaller labels out of the picture.  On a typical CD sold through a distributor, the label may make a profit of $3-4 a unit.  Sales through iTunes or a similar downloading service can yield a similar profit. But this all gets turned on its head with the Spotify model, for which the label earns about 1/3 of a penny per stream, which must be split with the artists and composers.  (Source: New Music Box)

9. Out to lure audiences to Liszt et al.

In response to a reporter reciting the bad news about classical music’s ability to attract and retain audiences, Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony, said, “Classical music is very, very much alive. But it is going to demand that people think about it creatively.”  The interview touched on a main theme in classical music today: How can the traditional art form prosper in a hyperactive age of smartphones, computer tablets and 10-second attention spans? To Mr. Tilson Thomas, the answer is the same as it has been for generations. Don’t reject current technology, embrace it. Use it to flesh out the humanity of the music.  

Mr. Tilson Thomas is doing just that in a variety of ways with the San Francisco Symphony and the New World Symphony, a training orchestra for young musicians that Mr. Tilson Thomas founded in 1987, which just opened a multimedia concert space and campus in Miami, designed by Frank Gehry.   In March, at the Sydney Opera House, Mr. Tilson Thomas also conducted the second YouTube Symphony Orchestra concert, which was streamed 33 million times to 189 countries.  (Source: New York Times)

10. Pay TV industry loses record number of subscribers

The weak economy is hitting Americans where they spend a lot of their free time: at the TV set.  They're canceling or forgoing cable and satellite TV subscriptions in record numbers, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of the companies' quarterly earnings reports. The U.S. subscription-TV industry first showed a small net loss of subscribers a year ago. This year, that trickle has turned into a stream. The chief cause appears to be persistently high unemployment and a housing market that has many people living with their parents, reducing the need for a separate cable bill.  But it's also possible that people are canceling cable, or never signing up in the first place, because they're watching cheap Internet video. Such a threat has been hanging over the industry. If that's the case, viewers can expect more restrictions on online video, as TV companies and Hollywood studios try to make sure that they get paid for what they produce.   (Source: Yahoo News)

11. Legislator calls for clarifying copyright law

Arguing that Congress has an obligation “to preserve fairness and justice for artists,” Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, has called for a revision of United States copyright law to remove ambiguities in the current statute about who is eligible to reclaim ownership rights to songs and sound recordings.  When copyright law was revised in 1976, recording artists and songwriters were granted “termination rights,” which enable them to regain control of their work after 35 years. But with musicians and songwriters now moving to assert that control, the provision threatens to leave the four major record companies, which have made billions of dollars from such recordings and songs, out in the cold.

As a result the major record labels — Universal, Sony, EMI and Warner — are now fighting the efforts of recording artists and songwriters to invoke those rights.  The labels’ legal theory is that most sound recordings are not eligible for termination rights because they are “works for hire,” collective works or compilations created not by independent performers but by musicians who are, in essence, employees of the labels.  With years of costly litigation looming, groups that represent the interests of recording artists and songwriters said they found Mr. Conyers’s remarks encouraging. But given the issue’s legislative history any amendment process in Congress is likely to be long and complicated.   (Source: New York Times)

Additional New York Times articles on this topic appeared recently here and here.

12. SiriusXM attempting to license directly from labels

SiriusXM Radio is attempting to directly license music from record labels, bypassing the statutory license and royalties it currently pays to SoundExchange.  In moving to directly license masters, the company is seeking expanded licenses that will allow for more functionality (such as allowing subscribers to record programming blocks, rewinding and fast-forwarding) to insure it retains its subscription base as new music services like Spotify and the cloud-based services come to market. 

To some, the Sirius move is similar to a play by Rhapsody earlier this year to pay "Pureplay" royalty rates rather than using the standard Copyright Royalty Board ("CRB") rates (set by a government tribunal). These Pureplay rates are approximately a 40% discount off of the CRB set rates and they are offered to Pureplay webcasters because of certain important concessions that these webcasters agree to that are important to independent labels and artists.  To some, Sirius is making a veiled threat, i.e. "License directly or we'll stop playing your music." To others, they are offering an incentive, i.e., "License directly and we will pay your music more," which means bigger payments.

As part of its move to direct licensing, SiriusXM will pay the full royalty rate directly to the labels, as opposed to the way SoundExchange makes payments, splitting royalties evenly between the artist, which it pays directly, and the label.  The question then arises if the labels will pay the artist half the royalty, or 50%, they receive for each time a song is played, or will some labels choose to pay them their artists the regular royalty rate, which typically ranges between 15% and 20%.   (Source: Billboard)

13. Classical streaming’s fitful baby steps

Steve Smith of the New York Times reviews the pros and cons of listening to classical music on Spotify, a Swedish Internet music-streaming service founded in 2008 and eagerly adopted by millions of registered users in Europe, that recently began operating in the United States after years of arduous negotiations with the big four major recording companies.   (Source: New York Times)

14. Twitter, Google+ and Facebook – reasons you should never cross the streams

Social media comes with a ton of benefits, but to make it work you need to invest heavily, and the most important investment is your time.  Twitter, Facebook and new kid on the block Google+ are each very different social networks with different communities, expectations and norms.  To maximise the ROI on each platform you need to be sure to tailor your brand presence accordingly. While some things should stay the same – notably any logos and avatars you use, and the ‘voice’ of your brand – mass-repetition of your message is a sure-fire way to poison the well and diffuse the interest level of your community.   (Source: Media Bistro)

15. YouTube inks licensing deal with music publishers, ending lawsuit

Ending a four-year legal battle with over 3,000 independent music publishers, Google Inc.'s online video site YouTube has agreed to pay licensing fees with the National Music Publishers Assn.  The deal, which covers songwriting rights, paves the way for YouTube and Google to begin monetizing user-generated videos that contain music written by artists represented by the NMPA. The arrangement does not cover the four major music publishers owned by EMI Music Group, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, each of whom has separate licensing contracts with YouTube.   (Source: Los Angeles Times)