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Personalized, portable Net radio coming to town
(CNN) -- Video may have killed the radio star, but a North Carolina-based company wants to shove the final stake into Internet radio, that scratchy bargain-basement medium that has yet to penetrate to mainstream Internet users.
NextAudio plans its launch of MyRadio, a new personalized Internet radio delivery system, in the second quarter of 2000. MyRadio attempts to learn the taste of the user by monitoring listening habits as well as more traditional ratings. If you skip a song, the program knows that you don't like it and will try to avoid similar songs in the future. If you buy a CD from a featured artist -- yes, there's that ubiquitous e-commerce hook -- MyRadio will play more from that artist.
"It's learning you," says Jeff Williams, CEO of NextAudio. "It's delivering the music you like and tracks your interaction with the music."
MyRadio isn't just about personalization, though. Delivery and content are also key.
No MP3 Zone
Rather than the popular and controversial MP3 music format, MyRadio's tunes will download in the WMA file type. The music can stream in -- like current Internet radio -- or drop down into a package during off-hours so that it won't clog networks. The program works on your desktop to make sure there's plenty of music, but you can determine how much disk space you want to devote to it.
The songs can also be uploaded into a portable device -- similar to the Diamond Rio or Creative NOMAD players -- or into a future stereo or car device. Williams says the company is working with device manufacturers to make their gadgets MyRadio compatible.
To protect against copyright concerns, the music is encrypted and each song automatically expires once it's played.
NextAudio is working with the five major record labels to have permission to use their music and has already had "great success" with the eager beaver independent labels, Williams says.
This won't be easy, though. Rather than looking for a Webcasting license, NextAudio wants an interactive-use license, something that hasn't yet been done in the industry. The company's staff and advisory board are using their considerable music connections to get approval, however, and three of the five have indicated that barring the details, NextAudio will soon get the licenses.
One of those five labels is Warner Music Group, owned by CNN.com's parent company Time Warner.
Asking for permission, not forgiveness
By using industry-friendly encryption and expiration techniques, as well as getting permission from record companies beforehand, MyRadio apparently is taking a safer road than Internet music bad boys Napster and MP3.com. The first company is under fire for allegedly being a piracy haven. It's desktop tool lets other users on the Napster network trade MP3s freely between them. MP3.com came under fire recently for its MyMP3 service, which allows users to register their song libraries in order to use them on the road.
To save time and space, MyMP3 doesn't actually transfer albums into its digital library -- it already has them. Record companies became enraged when they found the company was marketing a library for communal use and had -- in the industry's view -- substandard protection against account-sharing.
Besides getting a cut of CD sales, NextAudio also plans to use its personalization scheme to target advertising and will ask for demographic information. There's an obvious privacy concern, but as with most new products MyRadio will surely get its product placed under a microscope by security and privacy analysts.
If Williams has his way, users may not hate the ads so much. MyRadio will broadcast two advertising spots in a row four times in an hour -- considerably less than on AM/FM radio. But like its music, those ads will be personalized, similar to current Web site banner ads.
"You're going to like the stuff you hear, compared to the repetitive nauseating stuff you hear on regular radio," he says.
Williams has plenty of healthy disdain for both airwave radio and Internet radio. He cites two main reasons for this: bad quality, especially when the music drops out while browsing the Internet; and bad music.
"My mom trades her stocks using E*Trade," he says, "but she can't find the music she wants on the Internet."
Williams may make his mom happy, but the Internet community at large is another matter. He's got a good start, though. As a placeholder on the NextAudio Web site, the company offers a contest to win music for life -- 1,000 CDs of the winner's choice. And as fickle as Internet users are, they sure like free stuff.
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