DENVER (Billboard) - The app is far too powerful a tool to be limited to mobile phones.
In 2010, the developer and music industries took bold steps to apply this burgeoning distribution model to a range of new devices and platforms. Take Pandora, the personalized Internet radio service that became the killer app for music on the iPhone when it was first introduced in 2008. Having expanded to every available smart-phone platform, the Pandora app has since jumped to such new devices as the iPad, Internet-connected TVs and even automobiles, as more consumer electronics device manufacturers eagerly enter the app game.
“The smart-phone phenomenon is the catalyst for all this stuff,” Pandora founder Tim Westergren says. “It got consumers to begin using apps in all of these places, whether it was taking an iPhone and plugging it into the dashboard or docking it into your stereo system. So that caused all these other device manufacturers to accelerate their own app plans.”
At the same time, record labels seeking new methods of distribution and marketing found the multiplatform app environment a perfect solution for reaching fans across the digital landscape. Artist apps that began as simple website clones are now far more engaging experiences — be it a mobile app, a social game or a dedicated channel on Internet TV services.
“It’s my focus and my team’s focus to extend app development to all platforms,” Island Def Jam (IDJ) senior VP of digital and business development Jon Vanhala says. “It’s especially important to find fans where they’re living.”
Where are they living? Here’s a quick snapshot of the new app platforms that emerged this year and how they’re shaping the future of digital music strategy.
“I’ve got 50 app treatments in my inbox for the iPad,” Vanhala says. “If this was all I did, I’d be busy.”
The iPad’s larger screen, higher resolution and unique positioning as both a home and mobile device has labels, artists and developers excited about its potential as a source of music discovery, engagement and even creation.
Tap Tap Revenge 3 developers Tapulous expanded the iPhone rhythm game to the iPad in Tap Tap Radiation. Ocarina developers Smule created the Magic Piano simulation app in time for the iPad’s launch and has since developed a sequel in Magic Fiddle. And there have also been a number of other music-based apps — such as the critically acclaimed Aweditorium app, which lets users stream artists’ music while also browsing high-resolution photos, reading lyrics, discovering related artists, watching video interviews and more — that demonstrate how the iPad could provide consumers 360-degree engagement with an artist’s creative output.
“We are actively looking at how an app provides a new experience for delivering music,” Vanhala says.
While Facebook isn’t a device like the iPhone or the iPad, it is a platform for app development, and one the music industry is becoming increasingly interested in exploiting. So far music apps are few and far between. There’s Nightclub City from Booyah, Platinum Life from Heatwave Interactive and a smattering of others. But what activity there is has proved effective.
For example, during the summer, Kiss’ management firm McGhee Entertainment promoted a concert by the band to Nightclub City’s 14 million members, which included streaming the concert live within the app, making several tracks available as playable music within the game and selling such virtual merchandise as Kiss masks for users’ avatars. During the three-week campaign, Kiss songs were streamed more than 16 million times, and the promotion resulted in a 750% increase in Kiss’ Facebook friends.
“A lot of people in the music industry don’t realize how many people are playing these games,” McGhee Entertainment head of strategic marketing Nathan Gregory says. “If that’s where they are, that’s where we need to be to promote artists.”
Elsewhere, Universal Music Group struck a deal with Conduit Labs to license music for sale in the games Music Pets and SuperDance, while IDJ partnered with Facebook game developer CrowdStar to sell a bundle of tracks from the new Bon Jovi greatest-hits album in games like Happy Aquarium, Happy Island and It Girl.
Today’s TVs are increasingly connected to the Internet, allowing them to feature content menus where users can select various types of apps. Pandora leads the way in terms of music apps, with deals with Samsung, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Sharp, Sanyo, Sony, Toshiba, Vizio, Heier, Hitachi and others.
While the volume of Pandora traffic generated by TV apps remains relatively low, Westergren expects this holiday season to mark the beginning of a surge as more Web-connected sets find their way into users’ living rooms.
A recent Parks Associates study found that nearly 25% of U.S. homes with broadband Internet access already own at least one Internet-enabled TV set and another 3 million plan to buy one this month. So far this year, it’s streaming music services like Pandora and MOG that have made moves to get their apps included, but the labels aren’t far behind.
“By mid-2011, you won’t be able to buy a TV that won’t be Web-enabled and therefore has software in it we can call an app,” IDJ’s Vanhala says.
Most of radio listening takes place inside a car. So it stands to reason that music services are chomping at the bit to get their apps inside the automobile to compete with terrestrial radio for fans’ attention — and ad dollars.
Naturally, Pandora is the furthest along here, signing deals with Ford, Mercedes-Benz and General Motors to install its service inside select Web-enabled vehicles. According to Westergren, 50% of all Pandora iPhone app users use it inside their vehicles already. “It’s a potent category,” he says.
It’ll get more potent as more cars gain Web access. According to iSuppli, global shipments of built-in Wi-Fi systems for automobiles are set to explode — from 174,000 cars in 2010 to 7.2 million by 2017 — as wireless Internet access becomes a key selling point.
This gamut of app platforms presents exciting opportunities for labels keen on keeping up with music fans wherever they are. But this broadening brings challenges as well, such as fragmentation. Labels need to support and maintain multiple points of presence across these various apps, which puts a strain on already thin staffs. And developers too must decide which of the app platforms to support.
“The investment to reach multiple platforms adds complexity in building and supporting those platforms,” says Jim Lucchese, CEO of music app development platform the Echo Nest. “Building and maintaining multiple versions of the same experience, not to mention marketing them, becomes much different. Navigating that landscape will be the challenge in the year ahead.”
That’s a nice problem to have, though, as apps become a staple of today’s new-media diet.
“Consumers have internalized that apps make their lives better,” IDJ’s Vanhala says. “And if apps make our lives better, we hunger for more.”