As you have probably heard Pandora has been having problems making money, and may need to shut down. Well CBS radio is trying to make money with streaming radio, and may just be able to do that with Play.it . (If you want the basics on Play.it, please see my other blog post. If you would like to read my vision for the future of radio view this post.)
I have been messing around with the beta version of Play.it for a few weeks now. And I must say I am pretty impressed. CBS took the best from the competition, improved upon it, and then added a way for them to make money.
The Interface -
Ok, the interface is not super intuitive, is way more complex than Pandora, and reminds me of the new Last.fm interface. Not surprising since Last.fm is a CBS property as well.
The home page is well laid out and easy to understand. On it you see the stations you have listened to in recent history, and also list of other stations by music type etc. This includes user generated stations, AOL Radio stations and CBS radio stations, so you get a wide selection of options.
What let's me down the most is the player windows. It is ugly, and reminds me of the player you get when you listen to a traditional radio online.
The Player -
The player can do everything other players can do. You can skip songs, rate songs, buy songs from Itunes, share songs etc. Oh, and the sound quality is great.
It is streamed at 128 kbps for broadband connections, and whatever compression they use does a great job. I thought Pandora sounded good from streaming but Play.it has a richer fuller sound. It is not going to replace my CD's or high bitrate MP3 but it sounds way better than FM or Satellite Radio.
The most unique features of the player might be what it could offer in the future. First if you look up at the buy bar, above the album art, you see a few options that are not live yet.
The CD image will probably link to Amazon or some service to buy the CD,
They use a floppy disk icon (when's the last time you saw one of those?) for purchasing songs albums from iTunes.
The film icon must be for buying music videos if they decide to stream that as well,
The phone icon I'm guessing will either let you buy the ring-tone or let you send the song to your phone.
I have no idea what the last icon is, any of you have a guess?
At any rate all these different options for buying not only provide the user with the options they are looking for but give CBS another way to make money from the service.
On the bottom of the player window, you can find other stations, see your history, presets, settings etc. Really you never need to leave the player window unless you are going to program a new station, you can do everything you need right inside the player
Station Creation -
Play.it has two unique features that allow you to highly customize your stations. Target ratings and music variety options.
With the Targeted ratings you simply drag and drop the artist, song or album to a place on the target. The closer to the center of the target, the more impact that selection will have on the music played.
Remember that you must tell it in the properties on the top right of the window to weight the selections, if you choose equal, the target feature no longer works.
It would be great to have this option in the player as you listen to songs. Right now all you get is a 5 star rating method. Let's hope that features is added with the next version.
The second unique feature of the station creation is that you get to choose how adventurous the music selection will be. If you choose The Hits, almost all the music comes from the artist you selected. If you move the slider over to Go Deep, your station will play a wide selection of independent artist, and music formats.
Lastly but most importantly with the correct customization Play.it gives you a good selection of music to listen to. Right now they say there are 1.2 million songs in the database and are adding more everyday. Also, if you request a song/artist to add, they say they will add it.
So far with my experience it chooses good music to play out of that vast selection, which was my biggest concern before I tried it. Actually from what I remember from when I first started using Pandora, and Last.fm, the learning curve of the Play.it is a lot shorter. It started playing music I liked right away, where Pandora took some time, and I never could get Last.fm to give me a station I liked.
You can set Play.it up for music discovery, or simple listening enjoyment, or both. Whatever you want it to do Play.it can do for you.
Widgets? Yes it looks like Play.it is going to offer widgets. Right now this feature is not live, but I am guessing it will be standalone players, Facebook integration etc. I don't know at this point, heck CBS might not even know. They probably read an article about how widgets are the next cool thing. Then the CMO said we need widgets on our new site.
Social Aspects -
One of the more useful aspects of Play.it is that it has several ways to share your station. You can email your station to friends, and you get a customized url for each station you create. I am pretty sure Last.fm does this as well, but I have not given it enough time to figure out.
Play.it seems to push this aspect of the service everywhere it can. It is constantly telling you to share your music, and is telling you to become a DJ. The folks behind it really want you to feel like you are a program director at a radio station.
Next thing you know you will be able to insert your own ads, and even be your own DJ. See this blog post for more on that.
Business Model -
So here is the downer. Are we going to need to listen to radio commercials in the future of streaming radio? Play.it and CBS sure think so. Right now in the beta there are no commercials, but you do get interrupted about every 5th song with a Play.it spot.
In the future you will be interrupted with local and national radio spots, on both the customized stations and the AOL and CBS stations. The key is that they limit the amount of stops in the break to one or two spots at most. Any more, and they are going to turn off users. And no you can't skip through them.
This is a great feature for advertisers, but we will see if users will put up with it. To read more on the business model see this post.
So do all the benefits of Play.it make it worth listening to commercials? Not really, but given that Pandora may go away we may have no choice. Since Play.it will have both national, and locally inserted radio ads, and the possibility for video ads, Play.it may actually have a way to make money doing this.
They already have the sales force, and team working on this for traditional radio, why not for online? We will eventually get all our music that way, so the sooner they transition the better.
Customizability during station creation
They will not go out of business anytime soon
Ads- I don't want any freakin ads!
Player could be more attractive
Only a private beta at the moment.
In the end Play.it is a great service, with several unique features. It's worth trying them out if you are not satisfied with other players, or stepping into this realm for the first time. Heck if things keep going in the current direction for Pandora, and other streaming music services, they may be your only choice.