1. YouTube and Universal to Create a Hub for Music:
YouTube, the most popular online video site, and Universal Music Group, the world’s largest music company, have announced they will create an online hub for music videos and related content, called Vevo. The agreement is the latest of many efforts by YouTube, which is owned by Google, to put more professionally produced content in front of its huge audience, and in turn, earn more money from advertising.
Music videos of Universal’s artists will be available both on Vevo.com, which will be powered by YouTube’s technology, and on a Vevo channel on YouTube. The companies said they would share revenue from advertising on both sites, but declined to discuss specific terms of the agreement. Google and Universal said they planned to introduce Vevo this year and are working to persuade other major labels to join the site.
2. Social Media Networks Are Music's Curse and Salvation
In the golden age of the record album, friends would gather around the hi-fi system to share the latest music, most of them not paying a cent. Today, music fans do pretty much the same thing — online, in social networks. But now, just about none of them pay. Downloading music is still a big business, and it pays a lot of bills: Artists and labels have already earned around $4 billion from iTunes sales alone. But the dynamic is shifting to the “cloud,” where tracks are always available and listeners generally don't have to fork out money. These networks represent something of a threat to iTunes, the labels and their record-store-style pay-per-download music sales. But a new report says the same social media sites that threaten the old-school, sales-based approach will eventually save whatever's left of the music business. A new report by Mark Mulligan of Forrester Research suggests that “social music” may not generate much revenue now, but “monetization” effectiveness and will improve and become an increasingly important revenue stream that helps fill the gaping hole left by lost CD sales. The key to generating revenue from social media sites arises from users, who categorize themselves into useful demographics based on media consumption, so music-oriented sites can offer advertisers more value than the ones where all people do is talk.
3. Harmonia Mundi Defies The Music Industry Blues
Harmonia Mundi is continuing to thrive as a successful record company, says 83-year-old founder Bernard Coutaz, by staying with the same formula used to start the company 50 years ago, “To discover a new text or a new music and new musicians and, with my own enthusiasm, to have relationships with people." Enthusiasm for the new and strong relationships with musicians is a deceptively simple formula. It's also increasingly rare in today's recording industry, which according to chief of production Eva Coutaz “is based on money, money, money." Harmonia Mundi's approach is to identify an artist they “trust” and believe in and then to remain committed, even when an artist doesn't sell many discs initially. "I trust in this artist, and even if the first and the second and the third recording are not selling well," Coutaz says, "I am sure in the future he will be a really great, great artist." The have also focused on non-mainstream repertoire, such as Renaissance works on Renaissance-era church organs, Baroque music and, whenever possible, to record on period instruments in period settings. Their all-time best-seller is Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, which so far, has sold 250,000 copies.
Harmonia Mundi also has cashed in on its brand loyalty, and the demise of other retail music stories, to open its own European retail chain, which the company says brings in a quarter of its revenue. Another 10 percent comes from Internet downloads. And the company diversified its operation by creating a worldwide distribution network, which has sold music in a variety of styles, including jazz and world music on several small labels.
4. PBS Launches New Online Video Channel
PBS will significantly expand its online video strategy, with the launch of a new video-only channel which will aggregate thousands of full-length episodes from the network’s top series, along with complete seasons of current shows and full back-catalogues of classis series.
Among the shows available on the new portal (PBS.org/video) are American Masters, Antiques Road Show, Masterpiece Theater Nature and Nova. Classic series, such as the various programs featuring cooking legend Julia Child, will also eventually be available in their entirety on the site.
PBS also plans to create programming packages for the site featuring compilations of episodes from various shows that touch upon a common theme, such as the environment-centric package, which was launched to coincide with Earth Day (Apr. 22). That collection includes snippets from Frontline, Nova and Nature, along with the classic Jean Michel Cousteau Ocean Adventures.
PBS is also planning to roll out original Web series at some point down the road, according to Jason Seiken, PBS Senior VP of Interactive. But initially the new portal’s focus will be on showcasing the depths of PBS’ library in one easy-to-use Web outlet—one that offers better navigation and search. Seiken said that the new video portal should benefit the 150-plus local participating PBS stations. Those stations will be given the opportunity to integrate the portal on their own Web sites—with their own branding and local programming. Plus, some local shows will have the chance to “bubble up” on the new national video portal and potentially reach a broader audience.
Initially, the full-length online episodes of PBS shows will carry the same advertisers, and same “brought to you by” approach as the series do on TV. But eventually the online episodes will carry more traditional pre-roll ads and banners. However, Seiken promises that PBS isn’t about to become overtly commercial by testing running more ads online.
5. The Royal Opera and BBC bring opera to millions in the summer
The Royal Opera House and the BBC announced a partnership which brings the work of the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet to millions of viewers and listeners. Covent Garden productions will be available across many different digital platforms including radio, television, CDs, DVDs, online and outdoor screens. For the first time, the Royal Opera programs broadcast on the BBC will also be available on the BBC iPlayer.
The two-season commitment with the BBC brings eight operas and/or ballets from the RHO to be broadcast on BBC TWO and BBC FOUR. Radio 3 will also take part in the re-launching of the ROH's Heritage CD label under the new management of Opus Arte. Decades of previously unreleased archival recordings of productions from the ROH, some dating back to the 1950s, will soon be released under the new label.
6. How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write
A recent article by Steven Johnson in the Wall Street Journal describes how his purchase a Kindle, Amazon.com Inc.'s e-book reader, has changed the way he thinks about such basic daily practices as reading and writing. After using his new Kindle, he had an “Aha” moment, in which he came to the realization that “the book's migration to the digital realm would not be a simple matter of trading ink for pixels, but would likely change the way we read, write and sell books in profound ways. It will make it easier for us to buy books, but at the same time make it easier to stop reading them. It will expand the universe of books at our fingertips, and transform the solitary act of reading into something far more social. It will give writers and publishers the chance to sell more obscure books, but it may well end up undermining some of the core attributes that we have associated with book reading for more than 500 years.”
Johnson goes on to say that “there is great promise and opportunity in the digital-books revolution. The question is: Will we recognize the book itself when that revolution has run its course?” The question for music the creators and consumers of music and opera is whether the digitization of content will have an equally transformative impact.
7. EU extends music recording rights to 70 years
The European Union Parliament (MEP) recently voted to extend copyright protection on recordings in the EU extended from 50 to 70 years. The EU internal market commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, had proposed up to 95 years, but many EU states, which have a joint say with parliament, balked at such a long period.
The British government was among those seeking a 70-year period - coupled with better guarantees that the continuing royalties go to artists and their families rather than music companies.
The measure, if it becomes law, will give the same copyright protection to European artists as their US counterparts for works created after December 31, 1977. (For US works registered before December 31, 1977, the old U.S. system of two terms of copyright continues, so that the total term of protection is ninety-five (95) years.)
8. High tech offsets opera's low budget
Although we usually think of technology as a strategy for marketing performances or distributing them beyond the theater, it can also be used creatively within the opera house. When the Opera Company of Philadelphia's L'Enfant production budget was cut from $250,000 to $150,000 in mid-season, the void was filled by using giant, rear-projected, computer-animated images that through the opera, in lieu of traditional scenery.
9. Van Cliburn Competition’s 2009 Real-Time Webcasts
The Thirteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, from May 22 to June 7, will offer online live coverage of events via streamed webcasts at cliburn.tv. Though the competition has offered streamed audio since 2001 and introduced an online video player in 2005, this year it upgraded to Silverlight 2.0 technology, allowing for real-time webcasts of all 30 pianists as they compete at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas.
Live streamed webcasts will be offered at the site eleven hours per day; those performances will then be archived and made available for on-demand viewing. The website’s interactive features will include two blogs and an “email the competitor” area, as well as an online audience vote, which will not influence the outcome of each round. The competition’s four symposia—featuring diplomats, members of the press, and competition jurors—will also be covered live.
10. A trove of online music
Massive musical archives - some of them previously inaccessible - have parked themselves online, which is particularly good news for classical-music types who tend to be too isolated and specialized to enjoy the kind of word-of-mouth recommendations common in pop-music circles. An article by David Patrick Stearns in the Philadelphia Inquirer provides a list of of some the offerings, including:
- The Metropolitan Opera now has 212 videos and audio recordings - from its most recent galas to the 1937 Carmen that drove the legendary Rosa Ponselle into retirement - available, usually for $14.99 a month for streaming (www.metplayer.org), but with a special free-of-charge deal for the current weekend.
- Live opera from nearly everywhere but the Met surfaces at OperaDepot.com, which has 150 titles, both downloads and hard discs, even including a student recital by Gwyneth Jones.
- Naxos Music Library has 31,890 CDs waiting to be streamed for the price of a $25-per-month subscription - or downloaded for reasonable prices on its sister site, Classicsonline.com. Other more distant archives are suddenly closer to home.
- The Hamburg Archiv fur Gesangskunst, almost all vocal, has about 500 discs available through Amazon.com (search for HAFG in Music).
- PristineClassical.com has roughly 300 titles for downloading, streaming, and hard-disc purchase, including remarkable remasterings of classic Arturo Toscanini performances as well as blues and jazz, such as Duke Ellington's Carnegie Hall appearances.
- Waiting in the wings is the Swedish-born, British-based Spotify.com, perhaps the largest music library of all genres, with hundreds of thousands of tracks being added each week. Though Spotify is now off limits in the United States, with a U.K. proxy server it doesn't have to be. Ultimately, musical properties will exist in the thin air from whence they came - on microchips that render your well-stacked shelves obsolete, and on outside servers that won't even clutter your hard drive.