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Saturday, November 06, 2004


EVENT REVIEW: NOV 4-5: Billboard Digital Entertainment Conference

by Don Rose

Billboard's Digital Entertainment Conference, put on in association with Digital Media Wire, was not the largest confab this year, but its more intimate size encouraged great networking, and all enjoyed informative talks and panels -- insightful commentary on technologies bound to dominate the near future.

In the handful of exhibit booths, my hands-down favorite belonged to MEDIAPORT, which allowed conference goers to enjoy their spiffy-looking perfectly-named "MusicATM". I love when a concept is easy to understand, and works as you imagine it should. I scanned their list of available artists, listened to a few songs, chose an album to buy (although they were nice enough to pick up the tab for those at the conference!) -- and presto, a CD popped out as well as a jewel case to put it in. Scan, sample, choose, pay, burn and go -- all in about five minutes or less; kudos indeed.

The only thing different between my Mediaport CD and a "regular" store-bought CD is the lack of an official label cover and inserts, just a generic color cover -- but the songs played perfectly in my home CD player, and for most people, that is the main concern. Plus, at ten dollars an album, the price is about as low as you can (legally) get -- about tied with the cost of buying online at iTunes and similar music services. For those who have no PC, or no CD burner (i.e., an older PC or Mac), the MusicATM is a home run -- or, if you just dont feel like going online and downloading, or if you just want a new CD right away, this should prove popular. Universities and coffee shops and other youth hangouts should prove a natural home for the MusicATM. The machine has ports for iPods, memory card, USB -- so you should be able to hook up just about any portable device to get your music. At $15,000 I can't quite afford to buy one of these babies, but for many companies/stores it should prove a great investment, and like all new technologies, the price is bound to fall.

And if you were wondering, I chose a Morrissey CD. And also "Dear Catastrophe Waitress" by BELLE AND SEBASTIEN; if the Beatles and the Beach Boys and Donovan got together and had twins (a messy visual, I admit), it would the B and S duo -- stellar pop tunes perfectly crafted and executed. Mediaport's machine contained music in many genres, I saw dozens of artists to chose from, some known and some lesser known. Other artists the machine had that reside on my personal fave list include Blondie and Nancy Sinatra.

Yes, there WAS other news at the conference. At the nighttime awards held at UCLA's Covel Commons, the INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR award went to XM SATELLITE RADIO. XM truly is the evolution of radio -- from AM to FM to XM, we are talking increasing levels of freedom, choice, and sonic quality. XM's new RADIO POD should prove interesting to watch, or should I say listen to; now radio-heads can take commercial free radio wherever they go for about the price of an iPod (but, unlike an iPod, one still must pay a ten buck a month fee to enjoy it, above and beyond the cost of the device).

If I had to vote for Trend of the Conference, buzzed about most, it would be: the rise of RINGTONES. Billboard even has a new CHART to monitor their popularity (a recent number one charttopper among ringtones: "LEAN BACK", a staple of clubs the past few months, and hence no surprise there). The sister hot trend: the RINGBACK, which people calling you hear -- yes, you heard right, the buyer of the ringback DOESNT EVER HEAR THE PRODUCT THEY BUY! But then again, we dont really see the clothes we wear either, once we put it on --- ringbacks, like clothes, are really a statement for others to enjoy and to tell others about ourselves.

So, in summary, I saw a glimpse, a glimmer, of the future at Billboard's conference, although that glimpse seemed more evolutionary than revolutionary -- for now. But heck, I never expect to witness revolutions at EVERY conference; that would be impossible. Revolutions are often the result of an incremental accretion of successive evolutions, so the best advice may be to keep your eye on the big picture -- that is where be a revolution or two may be waiting for the observant to observe. Perhaps this is what someone meant when he or she said "the revolution will not be televised"; you can't easily televise a revolution that takes place over months and years (and get good ratings). TV wants things that are happening NOW, that happen quickly, that can be packaged, shown and discarded to make room for the NEXT big thing before the old big thing gets stale. No, the revolution won't be televised, because television is the wrong medium. But here's a better prediction: the revolution will be blogged.

Is the MusicATM the next big thing? A revolution, or an evolution? Well, it does work great, and there are great ideas wrapped up in that machine -- and billionaire keynoter Mark Cuban (now a star of his own realityTV Trump-like show) did spend over an hour at the Mediaport booth -- so, you be the judge. One thing is for sure: people, especially youth, love their music, and especially love the ease of buying/storing/sharing digital music, and MusicATM makes it even easier for the "rest of us" to get access to that digital music revolution. So, perhaps the MusicATM is best viewed as an evolution within the larger revolution.

Now, 'scuse me while I go online to buy the ringtone, "The Times They Are A Changin"..... (assuming I can even find such a relic of the Old Epoch of music.........)... wish me luck!

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