How Will Plug.In Play Out?

If you were to peruse the menu for the sixth annual Jupiter Media
Metrix-hosted digital music festival slated for next Monday and Tuesday
at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in New York City, you would find a lot to
get excited about.


It seems all the necessary major players are represented at Plug.In. Napster
skipper Hank Barry will serve as afternoon keynote on Tuesday; AOL Music’s
top-guy Kevin Conroy will tune in as Monday’s morning keynote (yes, he was
moved up from the afternoon slot); RealNetworks Inc.’s chief Rob Glaser, if
you look at Jupiter’s latest note, is due to speak both days. For the love
of digital music, Tuesday also has Edgar Bronfman, Jr., executive vice
chairman of Vivendi Universal as a keynote and Andreas Schmidt, president
and CEO of Bertelsmann’s eCommerce Group serving in the same capacity.


Those are absolutes. What’s less known is what they’re going to announce,
which JMM associate analyst Dannielle Romano said Friday is anyone’s guess.
But pressplay, the child of Vivendi Universal and Sony Music
Entertainment, and MusicNet, spawn of AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann AG and EMI Group
plc, will garner much attention because their ballyhooed services will
launch in August if all goes according to their plans.


“It’s fair to say that almost every big name will have something really
dramatic to talk about,” Romano told InternetNews.com. “You can expect that
MusicNet and pressplay will receive attention because everybody is in the
dark about how they are going to present their platforms. This is an
opportunity for them to position themselves before the industry.”


But keynotes aside, Romano said three key gigs shouldn’t be missed.
Seattle’s Loudeye Technologies Inc. will be sponsoring mid-morning
refreshment sessions where they will demonstrate how their end-to-end
digital audio infrastructure has evolved — something not revealed in the JMM show blueprint. Loudeye made waves a couple of
weeks ago when it acquired assets of theDial, the creator and syndicator of
original, online radio programming. Loudeye has also showed its interest in
monetizing content as it picked up Addition Systems, a developer of
streaming ad and content insertion software.


Second, Romano said Alanis Morisette, a multi-platinum selling pop star, should
pack some punch with an artist’s perspective of the whole online music
industry. Morisette, along with performers such as Don Henley, Dr. Dre and
Metallica, has been outspoken about artists rights as they apply in the
digital music realm.


“As an artist it behooves her to take the stand and talk about the impact
online music has made on her,” Romano said.


While there are broad-sweeping panels on the evolution of online music
scheduled, as well as differing record label and file sharing firm angles on the
subject, these issues are nothing that haven’t been discussed ad nauseum
for the last two years. There is a panel slated for noon on Monday dubbed
“Artists, Labels, and Management Collide: Who’s in Control?” Who indeed?
That, too, is a question scads of people have been posing, all the while
stirring much debate. Probably no surprises there.


But the third key panel Romano said to catch is run by teens. That’s
right — teenagers.


One way to look at “who’s in charge” is to ask yourself the question: what
is the dominant demographic of music listeners? Teens. No matter how you
slice it, teens drive the music market, whether it’s their almost spiritual
love of Britney Spears or the Dave Matthews Band. And so it goes with online
music. Created by a college student, Napster become a smash hit on college
campuses nearly two years ago, which is of course filled with teens, in
between-teens and young twenty-somethings. (To be sure, that was then; this
is now. We won’t talk about the fact that Napster’s global use plummeted 65
percent among home users in 14 leading wired countries, from 6.3 billion
minutes in February 2001, to 2.2 billion minutes in June 2001, according to
the latest JMM figures.

Romano said “Special Focus: Teenage Music Consumption,” will feature a
variety of teens “to provide first-hand insight into the behavior and
expectations of this critical demographic.” True, this is a 5 p.m. panel
(not exactly a time reserved for priority speakers), but this will address
the voices of consumers least often heard.


“So many people try to guess what teens want. As hip as an execs thinks they
might be, they have yet to come up with anything groundbreaking to hook
teens for online music,” Romano said. “They need to know what motivates
them.”


Then there are the sideline players; CenterSpan, the successful heir to the
Scour.com throne, is sponsoring Monday’s 1 p.m. luncheon. That firm has billed
itself as the alternative to Napster with its C2 peer-to-peer platform. CenterSpan
has prided itself on its ability to “mediate” or “gate” the
dispensation of music files using P2P technology and Microsoft Corp.’s
Windows DRM technology. Indeed, CenterSpan launched a music subscription service beta in March and has not looked back.


CenterSpan Vice President of Marketing Andy Mallinger told InternetNews this
week that it is CenterSpan’s first time as a sponsor of the show. His
excitement in a phone interview, though noticeable, was offset by his
reluctance to discuss the major announcement his firm will be making next
week. But we do know this: it has something to do with MusicNet or
pressplay. This would make sense as neither newborn has download technology
in place.


“I can’t talk about deals specifically, but we will be announcing a major
deal for us at Plug.In,” Mallinger said.


Digital music won’t be the only technological phenomenon discussed at
Plug.In. Sony Pictures Digital
Entertainment will demonstrate Screenblaster, a broadband service in which
Web users would pay for software that can be used to create their own songs
and video; think of it as a do-it-yourself tool for independent artists.


Screenblast makes it possible for aspiring artists to store digital versions
of performances and mix the tracks into
songs. On the video side, users will be able to manipulate footage to insert
things into the action or rearrange scenes.
Novice producers and directors can post their art on the site for public
viewing.


Others scheduled to show their wares or discuss their technologies include
MUSICMATCH, which offers a music subscription service based on ad-free,
streaming music; music application service provider RioPort Inc.; DataPlay,
the maker of a quarter-sized disk that holds 500 megabits of digital
content; and digital rights management provider Reciprocal.


Those who want a peek at what’s on Plug.in’s menu as of Friday may go here.

News Around the Web