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|TODAY'S TOP STORY: iHeartMedia has warned investors that it may be forced into administration before the end of the year, with a $350 million debt repayment due in the coming months... [READ MORE]|
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iHeartMedia facing bankruptcy
The biggest radio broadcaster in the US, and owner of the iHeartRadio streaming service and Clear Channel billboard advertising business, the iHeart company took on $20 billion of debt during a $24 billion private equity buyout in 2008. If it manages to make this year's hefty repayment, it still has a far more significant $8.3 billion due in 2019.
In a new filing with the US Securities And Exchange Commission, the company says: "Management anticipates that our financial statements to be issued for the three months ended 31 Mar 2017, will include disclosure indicating there will be substantial doubt as to our ability to continue as a going concern for a period of twelve months following the date the first quarter 2017 financial statements are issued".
The company is attempting to defer up to $14 billion of its debts, though without much success so far. There was a recent arrangement in relation to $476 million due in 2018, but bankruptcy now seems increasingly likely.
Last year, of course, the company launched a new on-demand streaming service powered by Napster. The aim is the complement its existing personalised radio operation, while also incorporating programming from its network of AM/FM stations to distinguish its product in a crowded market place. Whether this new part of the business will be an attractive proposition to anyone involved in taking the company out of any future bankruptcy remains to be seen.
Jay-Z signs new deal with Live Nation
"Live Nation has a new long term deal with Jay-Z and we expect to continue being equity partners in Roc Nation for many years to come", a Live Nation spokesperson told Billboard.
News of the deal came after the New York Post reported last week that Live Nation was looking to get shot of its stake in the recordings side of Jay-Z's business, breaking the original 360 degree nature of its relationship with the rapper. The paper speculated that Universal Music could become a partner in the Roc Nation joint venture too as a result.
Although Live Nation has now issued its statement, we don't actually know whether or not those rumoured changes to the partnership are happening; but Billboard reckons that the new agreement only covers Jay-Z's touring business.
Parliament cancels ticket touting select committee inquiry ahead of General Election
Chair of the committee, Damian Collins, said in a statement: "Although we are unable to complete these important inquiries, there is no bar to our successors in the next Parliament taking up the evidence received - which has been published on the committee's website - and finishing them. Given the importance of all these subjects, we hope that the new committee will do so".
The select committee's inquiry into ticket touting had helped to further grow support for better regulation of the secondary ticketing market in political circles. It also pushed for the 'bots ban' - making it illegal to use special software to buy up large quantities of tickets off primary sites - to be re-introduced into the Digital Economy Bill.
Amendments made by the House Of Lords to the DEB, including the bots ban, are due to be considered by the Commons on Wednesday this week. It's not yet clear if the wide-ranging digital bill will get through before Parliament is dissolved for the election.
Either way, anti-touting campaigners are hopeful that recent momentum on this issue around Westminster can be maintained even if the election puts things on hold.
Adam Webb, Campaign Manager of the FanFair Alliance told CMU: "Through its two evidence sessions on ticket abuse, the Culture Media & Sport Committee has helped shed light on what it's Chair, Damian Collins MP, has described as a 'national scandal'. Because of the General Election all current inquiries have unfortunately now ended, but we are optimistic that post 8 Jun a new incoming committee will view ticket touting as 'unfinished business', and consider picking up the reigns. The ongoing concerns about Viagogo, in particular, are still unanswered".
Webb went on: "Elsewhere the fight goes on - and while one door temporarily closes, others remain open. An enforcement investigation by the Competition & Markets Authority is still ongoing, while this Wednesday the Digital Economy Bill returns to the House Of Commons. This bill includes two important amendments that, if they become law, should make life harder for touts and inject some real transparency into the ticket resale market".
"Firstly, are the measures to criminalise misuse of software to bulk-buy tickets, that government has already agreed to. And secondly, a tweak to existing consumer legislation that would require secondary sites to list an original booking reference and any conditions of resale whenever a ticket is offered for resale".
Webb concludes: "At the moment, users of these platforms can never be sure whether a ticket actually exists or whether there are specific terms and conditions around resale, so this kind of information is absolutely vital. If the amendments get through, it would be a real victory for genuine fans".
Efforts to legislate against ticket touting "unrealistic", says Michael Rapino
"As long as the [ticketing] market's gigantic, you'll have sophisticated players trying to figure out how to monetise it", Rapino said at the Canadian Music Week conference last week, reports the Globe & Mail. "My instincts are always on the free market".
"I just think [efforts to legislate against touting are] so unrealistic. I think some of these [efforts] are decent attempts, but I don't think overall, until you start pricing the product better, and/or have better technology to deliver the fan their ticket, that you'll start to make a difference. We're the only industry in the world that has a higher retail value the second it's sold".
If that means Rapino subscribes to the idea that artists are simply underpricing their shows and enabling a secondary market as a result, and should therefore charge more to start with, well, there are plenty who will disagree with him - most bands prefer to play to genuine fans who can't necessarily afford top dollar prices, rather than just a wealthy elite.
Cost of entry to streaming market is stifling innovation, says digital consultant
As part of this year's Global Creators Summit at Canadian Music Week in Toronto, CMU Insights presented a series of sessions on the streaming market. Based on the 'Dissecting The Digital Dollar' reports CMU Insights produced for the UK Music Managers Forum, representatives from the digital market, collecting societies, artist management and entertainment law spoke. The audience heard a detailed breakdown of how streaming services are licensed, conversations about ensuring that the streaming business works for all parties, and a discussion about ongoing transparency issues.
In an interview with CMU Business Editor Chris Cooke, former head of 7digital's US business, now a consultant on digital music who heads up CrossBorderWorks, Nauman spoke about the need for more diversification in the streaming market. Right now, she said, there is a lack of experimentation within streaming, caused largely by the way services are licensed. If that can be overcome, she said, there are a wealth of opportunities yet to be tapped by existing and new digital music platforms.
"I feel like we've been debating for at least ten years: is streaming a business model or is it a delivery mechanism?" she said. "I believe it's a delivery mechanism, and the first business model has been [full catalogue] subscription services".
But what other business models could now be built around the streaming experience? What products could be created that might appeal to those yet to sign up to a $10 a month subscription, and who are never likely to? Nauman believes there are opportunities to create bitesize products that might persuade those currently streaming for free to spend a little money. Which means the next round of streaming music innovation probably won't be full catalogue experiences.
There is also the issue that few start-ups can afford to consider full catalogue set-ups. She explained: "If you want to launch a subscription service, and you need the rights from labels and publishers, and you need a rights management company, you need metadata, you maybe need a backend provider, you need software developers to do the frontend, and it takes about four to six years to build all that, it's a minimum of $50 million. There are not a lot of companies that have $50 million to just put into music. You don't experiment when you have to lay out $50 million".
"When I ran 7digital's US business, when I started out I was really of the mindset that we should support lots and lots of start-ups, and we should really try to foster innovation with full catalogue music", she went on. "At the end of it, I kind of walked away from that experience questioning whether or not that is manageable for start-ups".
However, if labels would consider licensing smaller pay-as-you-go products, then new start-ups could afford to enter the market, and in doing so they could help turn the free streamers into paying customers.
"If we think about the bitesize options, maybe they're subscription-based, maybe they're not", Nauman said. "Maybe we could do one-off purchases of VR or AR or AI, or some other thing we can't quite contemplate today. Maybe the people who are using free services won't go to a $9.99 subscription, but they might buy these little bitesized experiences".
"I think that we need to support start-ups and we need to support innovation, but we probably shouldn't be looking to start-ups to work with a full catalogue of 40 million songs where you have to do thousands and thousands of deals and it's just too complex", she concluded. "I go back to the bitesize idea around a smaller catalogue that's more manageable that maybe start-ups would be able to bring to life a particular genre or a band or something like that, rather than requiring them to organise the entire globe's music".
Samsung makes Google Play Music default mobile music player
"Google Play Music will be the default music player and music service on new Samsung phones and tablets globally", the web giant announced last week. "We're also collaborating with Samsung to create special features in Google Play Music just for Samsung customers".
One such special feature is an expanded digital locker service for Samsung users. If you've just got yourself a new Samsung phone, you can upload 100,000 songs for free to listen back to online at your leisure. You're all still uploading your music to digital lockers, yes?
Google Play Music will also work with Samsung's voice assistant, Bixby. So you'll just have to shout "Bixby, turn this fucking shit off and put something better on" at your phone and all will be well. Possibly. You probably shouldn't have uploaded 100,000 tracks to the cloud in the first place, given that you had so much fucking shit in there.
Anyway, Google is "THRILLED to bring this special version of Google Play Music to Samsung customers anywhere". I hope you're also excited.
Pono is dead, long live Xstream (if it ever launches)
In a post for Pono customers on the service's website, Young explains that after Omnifone was closed, he had begun working with a new content partner. However, it had become apparent that running the service would be too costly. Part of the problem, he says, is that he was never keen on charging high prices for the hi-res content on the Pono store.
"Last year when Omnifone, our download store partner, was bought and shut down with no notice by Apple, we began work with another company to build the same download store", he writes. "But the more we worked on it, the more we realised how difficult it would be to recreate what we had and how costly it was to run it: to deliver the Pono promise, meaning you'd never have to buy the same album again if was released at a higher quality; the ability to access just high res music, and not the same performances at lower quality, and the ability to do special sales. Each of these features was expensive to implement".
Quite why no one realised this wasn't viable first time round isn't clear. Better late than before people have given you hundreds of thousands of dollars to deliver it though, I guess.
Young is also wary of renewed criticism against him personally if prices were to go up again: "I had to put up with lots of criticism for the high cost of music delivered in the way all music should be provided, at full resolution and not hollowed out. I had no control over the pricing, but I was the one that felt the criticism, because I was the face of it. And I pretty much agreed with the criticism. Music should not be priced this way".
So, enter Xstream, a new streaming service that will apparently deliver high quality audio but without users having to pay more for it than the likes of Spotify and Apple Music. Developed with lossless audio delivery company Orastream, it will play back audio to users at the highest possible quality available depending on what internet connection they have access to at the time. All of which, actually, doesn't sound like a terrible idea.
You may have already spotted some issues though, not least the fact that Young is planning to offer a better service than the main streaming platforms but at the same price point - when to date higher-quality streams have been priced at double normal streams. As such, licensing negotiations so far don't seem to be going so well.
"One of my conditions is that it should not have a premium price", says Young. "I've insisted that there be no premium price for this service. Pono tried that with downloads and it's not a good model for customers. And I've told the labels it's not a good model for them to charge a premium for music the way it was meant to be heard. I firmly believe that music is in trouble because you can't hear it the way it is created unless you pay a premium. No one gets to hear the real deal, so the magic of music is compromised by limited technology".
So that's a passionate and actually fairly convincing position. But don't expect this new venture to launch any time soon. "I've been meeting with and speaking with the labels, potential partners such as the carriers, and other potential investors", Young goes on. "For many it's a difficult sell. There are already streaming services, some doing well and others not. While there's nothing as good as Xstream, or as flexible and adaptive, it's still proven a difficult sell for companies to invest in".
While there are still arguments to be had about what levels of audio quality human ears can actually hear (hint: a lot less than that which was offered by Pono), the idea of adaptive audio quality is a good one. And if there is to be a future for hi-res streaming - whether it is priced at a higher rate or not - cracking that is likely a prerequisite.
As the cost of transferring larger audio files comes down, services will naturally move to offer better quality, where possible, just as iTunes did with downloads. Neil Young may get there first, or he may find that he never gets out of the negotiating phase. Bad news for him, but better for everyone else is that this idea is one that will likely be replicated elsewhere in time. Probably sooner rather than later if Xstream does get any traction.
Kraftwerk to catalogue 3D performances with new live collection
Filmed and recorded in New York's MoMA, The Tate Modern Turbine Hall in London, Akasaka Blitz in Tokyo, the Sydney Opera House, Norske Opera in Oslo, Paradiso in Amsterdam, Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris and Berlin's Neue National Galerie between 2012 and 2016, it features full performances of eight classic albums in chronological order - 'Autobahn', 'Radio-Activity', 'Trans Europe Express', 'The Man-Machine', 'Computer World', 'Techno Pop', 'The Mix' and 'Tour De France'.
The release will also act as a precursor to the band's upcoming UK tour in June, which will conclude with three nights at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Frank Ocean, Zayn Malik, Mercury Prize, more
Other notable announcements and developments today...
• Frank Ocean has only gone and released a new song.
• Zayn 'Zayn' Malik has released the video for new single 'Still Got Time'. And you've still got time to watch it before the inevitable destruction of all human life at some point in the near or distant future. Good for you.
• London Grammar have released new single, 'Oh Woman, Oh Man'. Video's out next month.
• Burial's remixed Goldie's 'Inner City Life'. It was a Record Store Day thing, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't listen to it now.
• MØ has released new single 'Nights With You', a co-write with Benny Blanco, Ryan Tedder, Cashmere Cat and Sophie.
• Frida Sundemo has released new single, 'It's OK'. It's actually much better than that. You should also know that she's playing the Victoria in Dalston on Tuesday.
• Nite Jewel has released the title track from her upcoming new album, 'Real High'.
• Highasakite are back, and this time they've been working with Stargate on new single '5 Million Miles'.
• The Mercury Prize this year is going to take place on 14 Sep at the Hammersmith Apollo. It will be covered on BBC Four and BBC 6 Music again, while Apple Music will be doing official streaming stuff.
Ed Sheeran's been making stuff up again. Bloody Ed Sheeran.
So, first it turned out that the best news story of 2016 - that Ed Sheeran got stabbed in the face by royalty - was utter bollocks. Although it seems he actually dropped a sword on his own face, which is still quite good.
Then came the story that actor Saoirse Ronan had tricked Sheeran into getting 'Galway grill' tattooed on his arm, instead of the title of his new novelty single 'Galway Girl'. Not true either. And the real story isn't much consolation this time round. Although he does have a tattoo that says 'Galway grill'.
Speaking to Capital North East, Sheeran explained: "It's not actually what I said it was. It was planned for the ['Galway Girl'] video, she didn't play the prank on me ... She was meant to write 'Galway girl', and then I was like, 'It's gonna be funny if you write something different'. She came up with 'Galway grill' and then we had it done. I think it's just funnier to say that she fucked the tattoo up, but that isn't actually the story".
So, next time you hear Ed Sheeran say something, assume it's not the truth. Ed Sheeran has no respect for the truth. He is truly a fake news artist for fake news times. I hope Facebook does something about Ed Sheeran to protect us all.