Technology News of Note

February 2013

1.    UK album sales suffer 11.2% drop

Overall UK album sales fell by 11.2% in 2012, according to the British Phonographic Industry (BPI).  Figures showed CD album sales declined nearly 20% to 69.4m copies, although digital album sales rose by 14.8% to 30.5m. (Source: BBC News)

2.    U.K. digital download sales top £1 billion

Digital sales in the U.K. of music, games and films have broken the £1 billion barrier for the first time, according to new figures.  Research by the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) shows shoppers spent £1.033 billion (U.S. $1.6 billion) - an 11.4% rise - on downloads, with video games accounting for more than half that figure with sales of £552.2 million.  Physical sales of CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray and videogames still account for more than three quarters of the entertainment market, but sales fell by 17.6% compared to 2011.  (Source: The Independent)

3.    Cable Companies Squeeze More Obscure Channels

Independent cable channels (which are not owned by major media companies) are feeling threatened these days. Some of the distributors they depend on — Time Warner Cable, DirecTV, Verizon FiOS — are talking about dropping underperforming channels from their lineups, or at least paying them less.  Distributors have talked for years about belt-tightening, but two things are different now: potential Web competitors are creeping up and programming costs are soaring, particularly for sports channels.  Time Warner Cable recently dropped Ovation, an arts and culture channel, which “is viewed by less than 1 percent of our customers on any given day,” the distributor said.  So what’s a tiny channel to do? Some analysts have suggested that low-rated cable channels should remake themselves as freely available channels on the Web, modeled after channels that YouTube is financing. YouTube channel owners make money from advertising but not subscriber fees. (Source: New York Times)

4.    Opera and the Internet: Making Links

In a blog entry, Fred Plotkin – host of the new WQXR show Operavore – discusses how the relationship of audiences to live theater and opera has been changed by the addictive and enslaving role of technology in our society.   Theater and opera, he believes, are real in their emotions and humanity, but not “real” as literal representations of what happens in life.  Now, in the fourteenth year of the 21st century, we are immersed in a different reality, that in which everything “virtual” is real and media are where we socialize. Our knowledge and experiences come in bits and bytes. The writer does love watching performances on YouTube of wonderful lost-and-found videos of operas from all over the world and acknowledges that viewing a day inside the Royal Opera House is “reality TV” of the best kind.  He also believes that the best use for the Internet is as a radio, as a way of listening to opera performances from all over the world.   (Source: WQXR)

5.    Regional theatre and independent cinema: collaborating in a crisis

Local independent cinemas in the U.K. are considering bringing high-quality theatrical shows from the biggest stages in the West End, New York and Moscow to the small screen. Macbeth starring Kenneth Branagh at Manchester International Festival, Welsh National Opera's Anna Bolena, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic's Wagner on Merseyside – these are all shows where a screening in an independent cinema could allow more people to see the homegrown talent and productions on offer.   (Source: The Guardian)

6.    Sony Issues Dylan CDs to Extend Copyright

In an unusual response to a new European copyright law, scheduled to take effect by 2014, Sony Music has released a compilation of early Bob Dylan recordings that – with only about 100 copies of the four-CD set produced – is bound to become one of his most collectible albums. “The 50th Anniversary Collection,” which carries a subtitle — “The Copyright Extension Collection, Vol. 1” — also comes as a downloadable version, available through the singer’s Web site, bobdylan.com, but only to fans who log on from France or Germany.  Sony explained that the point of the release was to keep the recordings under copyright protection in Europe, where currently, recordings can be copyrighted in Europe for 50 years, a much shorter term than in the United States, where recordings made since 1978 will remain copyrighted until 70 years after the death of the last surviving author.  In 2011 the European Union revised its copyright laws to extend copyright, beginning in 2014, to 70 years.   (Source: New York Times)

7.    A Growing Number of Artists Are Live-Streaming Their Shows

Whether or not you realize it, if you've ever streamed a live show on your television, iPad or laptop, you've been out on couchtour (hashtag: #couchtour), and large-scale acceptance of the practice is not far off.   Most people agree that “Couchtouring” – in which fans watch live streams of concerts from home and then tweet or share their comments on social media under the heading #couchtour – will never replace the experience of seeing a live show. But there are advantages to staying home and it doesn't matter where the show takes place: Hong Kong, Brazil, London, New York, Los Angeles or Atlanta. As long as you're awake with a WiFi connection, you can tune in.  It's also different from watching an archived live performance on YouTube, DVD or a cable TV rebroadcast; you're in the moment, sharing the experience with a like-minded community on Twitter or through a website's comment widget.  (Source: CT.com)

8.    Diablo Ballet, East Bay Dance Company, Is Crowdsourcing Its Next Piece

Diablo Ballet, the Walnut Creek-based ballet company, is hopping on the crowd sourcing bandwagon and developing a piece pulled entirely from social media. Between now and February 14, the organization invites the twitterverse to post ideas for "The Web Ballet." Seven of the most interesting suggestions will be incorporated into the choreography.   (Source: Huffington Post)

9.    Listen to Yo La Tengo's New Album Fade via Pitchfork Advance

Pitchfork has announced the launch of Pitchfork Advance, an immersive music streaming platform designed to emulate the classic album experience. Pitchfork Advance showcases an interactive listening environment featuring pre-release albums streams with dynamic graphics and a host of tools that will allow fans to engage with album art, lyrics, credits, track listings, artist info, and more while they listen.   The platform allows users to scroll through multiple screens of artwork in full-browser graphic mode while listening to a fully-controllable stream of the album.   (Source: Pitchfork.com)

10.    Live-Streamed Performing Arts Festival Opens February 19th

VirtualArtsTV (http://virtualarts.tv) has announced the WiredArts Fest, the first of its kind, live-streamed performing arts festival. Think of a Fringe Festival, but online, where the audience is global, seating is unlimited and viewers can participate in live chat discussions, interact through Twitter and Facebook, while the performance is happening. The WiredArts Fest will feature 14 shows running in repertory over 12 days.   (Source: VirtualArts.TV)

11.    Pandora Public Performance Royalty Settlement for Sony/ATV Musical Works

The rights to publicly perform musical compositions had until very recently been relatively straightforward. All a broadcaster, digital media company or other music user needed to do was to pay ASCAP, BMI and SESAC the uniform compulsory license fees set by government agencies.  With Sony ATV withdrawing from ASCAP and BMI, music services have one more rights organization with whom they have to negotiate in order to play music. And this publishing company is free to set royalty rates as it sees fit, not supervised by a government agency or rate court.  Pandora may be getting a taste of this increasing difficulty, having to pay significantly more money to Sony ATV music publishers than it had previously paid for that same music when it was licensed by ASCAP and BMI.   On the sound recording side, there have been defections from the SoundExchange collective – though driven by the music services' desire to lower rates, rather than the music copyright holders' desire to raise rates.   What this fracturing of music licensing does is to make life more complicated, especially for smaller copyright holders and licensees in the music universe, who benefit most from the compulsory license systems.  (Source: Broadcast Law Blog)

12.    As Music Streaming Grows, Royalties Slow to a Trickle

A decade after Apple revolutionized the music world with its iTunes store, the music industry is undergoing another, even more radical, digital transformation as listeners begin to move from CDs and downloads to streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and YouTube.  Spotify, which began streaming music in Sweden in 2008, lets users choose from millions of songs over the Internet free or by subscription, and is increasingly seen as representing the future of music consumption.   As purveyors of legally licensed music, they have been largely welcomed by an industry still buffeted by piracy. But as the companies behind these digital services swell into multibillion-dollar enterprises, the relative trickle of money that has made its way to artists is causing anxiety at every level of the business.   (Source: New York Times)

13.    Theater Gives Free Seats to Viewers Who Tweet Performances

While seat-kicking and talking in a theater will likely incite the ire of fellow seatmates, using your smartphone may soon lose its taboo status.  The Providence Performing Arts Center in Providence, R.I. has designated a section of its theater for "tweet seats" since last spring. Located in the back two rows to avoid distracting patrons, the seats are free for those who promise to live-tweet a performance.  (Source: Mashable.com)