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Stop selling Ringtones and start selling Frequency Data

At Every Single One Of Us, Dominic Travers gave a rather insightful presentation for a few minutes on the subject of ‘Frequency’ and it’s value to you, me and the wider world. It really caught my attention and I asked Dominic to convert his thoughts into words.

Here’s part one…

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Last week I gave a brief presentation at the Every Single One Of Us Powwow held in the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Hopefully you are aware of this project from the current series of MIR shows with Jonathan MacDonald.

I believe that we all hold a valuable asset in our mobile devices. This is the information about what we do with them every day. Each action you make more than once on your mobile has a frequency, some things you do often creating a high frequency of occurrence. This could be playing a game, listening to your favourite song of the moment or accessing Twitter. Precise measurement of the frequency of all this activity would create a unique, detailed, and intimate profile. Each one would be a unique record of preference. I proposed that in the near future this information will become very valuable to the vendors of mobile content and services.

For a specific example of what this could mean I used the example of music services aimed primarily at mobile users. Many Operators and device brands have tried to interest their customers in paying for downloading music to their mobiles and personal computers. None of the services so far have gained much traction because of some deep flaws in their models. Some are stymied by the vagaries of streaming over 3G networks and others by Digital Rights Management protocols that annoy customers into abandoning the service.

Apple have achieved success way beyond anybody else in this field because of their iPod domination of the mp3 player market. Their customers are now buying iPhones in droves and the familiarity of doing all their content management through iTunes is a winning formula. It is very significant that in a recent announcement at Mac World Apple have removed all their DRM restrictions from the music they sell. Customers want no restrictions imposed on the music files that they pay money for and music publishers are slowly realising that they will have to bow to this.

Nokia, as ever, are going about music services in a different way. The recently launched Comes with Music service allows for unlimited music downloads from an impressively large catalogue. The service comes with a content management application for use on computers running MS Windows only. The music files themselves are locked with a DRM system to the mobile handset and the computer partnered with it. The scheme allows users to keep the files beyond the one year duration of the subscription, however moving the music on to another device in the future without additional payment looks to be complicated and possibly illegal.

At the launch of this service many commentators asked how much the labels and most importantly the artists will get from this service for their work. The initial answer was £31 and an undisclosed deal with MCPS / PRS which is likely to be in the fractions of a penny scale similar to the deal they have with YouTube. This £31 is literally divided by the number of tracks the subscribers download in a year. If an average user downloads 10 tracks per week this is roughly sixpence per track, as the service appears to be genuinely unlimited it is likely that the real figure of remuneration per track will be very low indeed.

Secrecy surrounds the deal done between the record labels and Nokia for this service, neither appear to be willing to answer journalists questions about the intricacies. This got me thinking about why would the labels accept such a low price for their content.

I started to think about this from the mentality of the big labels, what if they could see the frequency information from the phones and PC’s of the Comes with Music subscribers. This is a gold mine of information for the major record labels who spend large sums to manufacture pop music success. If they could see beyond the simple fact that the track has been downloaded and into it’s usage frequency it could be very interesting. Potentially the Comes with Music software could provide data on…

• How many times the track is played stamped with the time and date of each play.
• How many times the track is shared with other users of the service.
• Where users are placing tracks within the playlists they are creating.
• The longevity of artists based on the time cease to be played.

This information would represent a very powerful social metric to measure and apply to the investment in new artists and content. I would like to read the EULA for the service to see if there is a mention of the ownership of user data from the service, but I am not about to sign up.

The web has seen growth in music discovery sites where we can go and listen to new music and see what our friends are listening to on the same service. Last FM is a good example of this, with many thousands of people using and defining the music, and the site immediately showing the overall frequency of plays on each track it carries. They also have an API which enables services like Last Graph to plot a users frequency data from the site in graphic form. This is both beautiful and very interesting to look at. It provides an apt illustration of what this information looks like. If you use Last FM you should check it out.

This is an illustration of the fact that people need to become aware that marketeers across the media industries are very interested in our behavior, particularly on mobile devices. I advocate the development of systems that allow people to take control of their own frequency data to decide what they are prepared to exchange it for, and who to barter it with to receive value. My hope is that this year will see the ground work for sophisticated systems for these expressions of preference. Once we exert control over our active digital footprint, perhaps we can acquire the vast amounts of data that make up our passive digital footprint and move in to a media world of much greater relevance.

Relevant Links:

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If you’d like to see what one of those Last Graphs looks like, here’s a snapshot from mine:

Fascinating, Dominic. I’m looking forward to Part Two!

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