Internet World

I was at the Internet World conference in Earl’s Court this afternoon, speaking about Alternate Reality Games. It’s a bit of a grandiose name for a conference that is essentially aimed at SMEs, but they’d managed to round up a pretty interesting bunch of speakers, including people from the likes of Yahoo, MSN, Blockbuster, Virgin, etc. The guy who spoke directly before me, in fact, was Brent Hoberman, the co-founder of Lastminute.com (talk about a warmup act!). I had to smile when I saw that the cover of the conference booklet featured the Mind Candy logo up there among far more famous names…

I think my talk went fairly well, although I was speaking pretty quickly in order to cover all the bases – with a conference like Internet World, where entry is free, it’s pretty difficult to work out the background of your audience and what they’d be interested in, so I took a page from Feynman’s book and talked about a lot of things to do with ARGs. Thankfully, the audience seemed interested enough – there were a bunch of good questions at the end. Anyway, you can judge for yourself when the webcast goes online next week.

Along with the Lastminute.com talk, I listened to James Cridland from Virgin Radio Digital Media speak about the relevance of radio today, amidst iTunes, podcasts, Last.fm and all that stuff. James had a pretty slick presentation, which immediately put me on my guard. You can always tell when someone’s spent a lot of time preparing and practicing a talk when there are a million slides in it, filled with audio clips. In any case, he started out well and confronted the problem that a good iPod on shuffle – or a properly configured Last.fm or Pandora setup – will always beat the pants off any normal radio DJ in terms of playing music that you actually want to hear. Sure, there’s the issue of serendipity, but let’s face it, that sort of thing can be programmed in as well.

No sooner had he admitted Last.fm’s superiority to a DJ then he immediately said ‘but who would want to listen to a lifeless jukebox’? Say what? Ah, because a lifeless jukebox ‘doesn’t have the sparkling conversation and witty commentary of a good DJ’. That’s true, to the extent that people actually want such things, and to the extent that you couldn’t just, say, recording said conversation and commentary into a podcast and download that for free. I think even he realised that this was a bit of a lame argument, and then moved onto the idea that Virgin Radio will still be listened to because it’s a strong brand.

That makes more sense to me, although I hardly think that means that ‘organised’ radio will grow, let alone maintain, its share of listening time. To be honest I think that radio is a confusing word to use these days anyway – it refers to a type of broadcasting technology, not a content type. Specifically, I think that live audio will always be attractive for coverage of things like news and sports events – things that are timely. You can imagine a next-next-gen iPod that might be able to insert near-live audio streams into your playlists; the best of both worlds, really.

There was some guff about promoting user generated content on the Virgin Radio website, which is just a tiresome mantra that I hope people will stop repeating soon, and then he finished up with saying that radio has a better future than TV. Whether or not you agree on that depends on your definition of the words ‘radio, ‘better’, ‘future’ and ‘TV’ (but not ‘is’).

(This blog post was a bit incoherent – I’m kind of tired…)

3 Replies to “Internet World”

  1. Interesting to read your thoughts. Radio seems to do two different jobs: background music (ie put a radio station on because you know the music will be okay) and having a ‘relationship’ with radio personalities. Both of these jobs seem transferable to the internet, albeit in different ways…

    You can read James Cridland’s blog here: http://james.cridland.net/blog/ by the way.

  2. Personally, I get the best of both worlds (well programmed music and commentary) by finding genre-specific music podcasts. Extra Super Action Show has some great punk, Coverville has all covers, but a mixed bag of styles, The Tartan Podcast has a good mix of Scottish music, a couple of different Doctor Demento-style podcasts (Manic Mondays, Mad Music Hour) offer silly and novelty music, Thomas Edison’s Attic offers turn of the century jazz, Industrial Radio has hardcore industrial music. There are hundreds more at directories like Podcast Alley.

    Of course, they all offer a DJ with commentary. Admittedly, they are not 24/7 and most come out once or twice a week, but given the quantity of them, not by individual show, but en masse, that’s enough music to keep me occupied for quite a while.

    Another interesting thing about podcast-based music (and for that matter, pure-internet-based streaming radio stations, as opposed to terrestrial stations that rebroadcast to the internet) is that more and more often, it uses unsigned and indy artists. I did not necessarily like this at first, but am finding that the quality is matching and often exceeding the mainstream artists that get overplayed on the radio.

  3. If labels/bands can get over their irrational aversion to having their music put in podcasts, then everyone will benefit – not just listeners, but also the radio industry and music as a whole…

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