Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran an interesting story. It was one that should have been ran several years ago – before RIAA started it ridiculous campaign of filing lawsuits against its consumers for downloading music through P2P services.
Here's the gist: radio stations across the country are now tailoring their playlists to what is being downloaded, both legally and illegally. The article by writer Sarah McBride (which I would link to, but I think WSJ.com requires a paid registration) says:
Earlier this year, Clear Channel Communication Inc.'s Premiere Radio Networks unit began marketing data on the most popular downloads from illegal file-sharing networks to help radio stations shape their playlists. The theory is that the songs attracting the most downloads online will also win the most listeners on the radio, helping stations sell more advertising. In turn, the service may even help the record labels, because radio airplay is still the biggest factor influencing record sales.
Joe Fleischer, BigChampagne's vice president for sales and marketing, adds that the legality of grabbing music is a separate issue from the insight into peoples' taste the downloads offer. He also notes that the company incorporates legal, paid downloads from sites like iTunes into its data, though they represent a tiny fraction of all downloads.
Currently, says Emmis radio head Rick Cummings, the downloading information is one more tool to figure out what to play. It's not yet as helpful as the phone calls known in the business as "call-out" research, in which people listen to clips of songs and rate them, he says. But at some point, the download data are "going to be the primary method of research."
It's getting harder and harder to do passive call-out research, Mr. Cummings says, because "people don't have time, they have their phone blocked." He notes that it also "takes a while to play 20, 30 hooks," a reference to researchers' practice of playing the catchiest part of a song for survey participants.
The article goes on to mention a few songs that were not being requested often and were not testing well with focus groups but were added to "heavy rotation" playlists due to data from downloading.
I may be the only one here who listens to pop radio (I'm in my car less than 8 hours a week and most of the time I drive to and from work during the times KEXP plays their specialty programs), but I find this encouraging. I'm hoping that the recording industry will stop with lawsuits for downloading, thinking they can somehow put the genie back in the bottle, and instead use downloading as a means of attracting consumers, not alienating them.