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Rdio forges its own path in Aussie music-streaming

In an interview with Rdio Australia's Colin Blake, we discuss the crowded local music-streaming market and how curation is a double-edged sword.

From local relaunches to new offerings, 2013 saw the music-streaming landscape in Australia become more crowded than ever.

(Credit: Rdio)

Rdio is a music-streaming heavyweight founded by Janus Friis, the co-creator of Skype. Colin Blake, head of territory for Australia and New Zealand at Rdio, came on board in 2013 to lead the local charge.

Worldwide, Rdio is available in 51 countries and is the second largest music subscription service in the world, with 57 per cent of monthly active users based outside of the US.

In Australia, Rdio is a joint venture with DMG Radio, the company that owns the Nova stations across the country. Rdio launched locally in January 2012, and has since grown its catalogue and offering to local users.

Other radio-backed streaming services in Australia include iHeartRadio, run by the Australian Radio Network (ARN) and Songl, backed by Southern Cross Austereo.

Blake says that Rdio's model and DMG's model are fundamentally different products. "I think it will always be quite a separate beast," he said.

"In actuality, trying to compare these businesses and clump them together is a very tough thing to do. ARN has a streaming partner with iHeartRadio, that's a particular product, [so] people would want to make a comparison between our relationship with DMG and try and make apples for apples, but they're totally not. I think the way that ARN has used the iHeartRadio product is smart for them, but it is absolutely a digital extension of what the radio product is, nothing more nothing less."

Curation and discovery

Every streaming service, with its millions upon millions of tracks, faces a difficult task when it comes to serving up content in ways beyond the traditional on-demand model. Curation is designed to serve those listeners who want to discover new music but also have the familiarity of existing genres and styles to fall back on.

One of Rdio's solutions to curation is its Stations feature. Blake is a passionate music fan that has a "fair bit of ego" around what he likes.

"So when I got involved with Rdio and I started really discovering this space, the idea of a curated product totally did not turn me on whatsoever," he said. "But of course, as we launch curated products I have to start using them, get familiar with them and all of a sudden I've flipped to the dark side."

(Credit: Rdio)

Despite being converted to the merits of curation, Blake believes it's a double-edged sword. "The challenges for the platform developers is to really get it right depending on who their audience is ... the curated services that exist currently on Rdio are far more along the lines of developing and pushing the boundaries of someone's particular music taste."

"So curation kind of plays two roles," he said. "It helps get through that 20 million-plus song catalogue so that you're not getting bogged down in stuff you don't want. The technology that goes into that curation piece there has to be as good as it can be to ensure that end outcome."

Making sure that people always want to be given new music is also important. "So we launched these Stations features that gives you a whole plethora of different options, it's driven by this company that we're working with called Echo Nest, which uses the human factor, algorithm-generation factor, and it builds off the information and creates stations that give you a lot of easy options."

"That ability to go from familiar to adventurous and adjust how bold the selections become, stuff based purely on your own collection that it already knows you like by pulling it together in different ways, stuff from your network ... curation for me has actually become an extension of my experience as pretty much a headstrong on-demand kind of person."

For those who want curation options straight out of the box, Blake says that it's about creating a compelling and competitive option. "We're really, absolutely trying to create the best scenario on both sides of the coin."

It's a big market out there

At the time of writing, there are no fewer than 14 music-streaming services available to Australian users. From established global players to more local offerings, there's no doubt that the market is incredibly crowded.

Blake certainly sees this clearly and realises how confusing all the options are for consumers. "What's happened is you have Australia, which is a pretty sexy territory," he said.

"It's English speaking, people are big music lovers, there's a massive live music scene here. The amount of businesses that are here are here for the wrong reasons. They think that Australia is a nice trophy or consumerism here is so big that there might be some big cash day. But it ain't going to happen.

"What's got to happen is that the three, four, five services which are all probably slightly different models that offer different things and stand for different things, they're going to survive and probably do quite well. Rdio will be very much a lead of that. The rest of them in the meantime help confuse the Australia public, water down the offering and reward for the music industry, and they just really harm that number one objective of people getting what streaming is in the first place."

(Screenshot by CBSi)

One way to stand out from the crowd is by extending and partnering the brand with a related event or organisation. Rdio has done this locally by teaming up with ARIA as the exclusive streaming partner of the awards.

"Most other businesses and categories do this ... fashion retail is the ultimate example of this," said Blake, formerly head of marketing for General Pants and vice president of commercial marketing and brand partnerships for Viacom. "You don't do anything unless there's co-op marketing and plans together on how we're going to get this stuff off the shelves."

"My goal is to have a credible position within the music industry. Who better to help deliver that outcome than ARIA?"

As part of the partnership, Rdio offered audio of all the performances after the awards and playlists from nominated artists.

"Really the win was the content. The big spike and the big interest from the public came the day after the show, when we got the songs on the service and people started seeking [them] out. So it worked."