[JPL] A "Big Data" Problem Could Be Starving Artists of Revenue

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Fri Mar 30 19:51:30 EDT 2012

A "Big Data" Problem Could Be Starving Artists of Revenue

For nearly 100 years, performing rights organizations have tracked the 
music played on the radio, then the television, and now the internet. 
Their goal: to figure out who should get paid.

These organizations - ASCAP and BMI are the big ones - have 
traditionally relied on the radio, television, and internet music 
companies they monitor to report what they played, and to how many 
people, then they cross-reference that with random sampling.

In 2012, there is no longer a need for either of those ancient 
approaches. Back when I did college radio, we used to write down each 
song we played to submit them to these PROs, and to a great extent, that 
is still how they work. To borrow a phrase from the old Six Million 
Dollar Man television show, "we have the technology" to fix this: audio 
fingerprinting, which can identify every song and snippet of a song that 
plays on every radio station, television channel, and streaming radio 
company. Why guess when you can know?

This is why we've been intrigued by TuneSat, which actually sets up 
televisions, radios, and computers, and feeds those into other 
computers. The computers actually identify what is being played, rather 
than counting on broadcasters to report things accurately.

I saw TuneSat's Chris Woods explain what his company does at a MusicTech 
Meetup in Brooklyn last month, after which I posed a question: "Why 
don't ASCAP and BMI use this technology, or simply buy TuneSat 
outright?" My question was met with knowing guffaws. Someone else in the 
audience piped up, "Where do we start?"

Woods went on to explain that those organizations are too slow, too 
mired in the past, and "not nimble enough."

I've heard startups lob similar accusations at the establishment for 
years, and not always with merit, so I checked with BMI and ASCAP to see 
how they felt about these accusations - one reason we've been sitting on 
this story for so long. (We're also quite busy.)

BMI, which apparently uses technology created by Shazam to find its 
clients music in broadcasts, declined to comment on the record. A 
spokesman sent Evolver.fm a lengthy email citing the fact that 
Information Week called it the 74th most innovative user of business 
technology and that it delivered $796 million to its clients out of the 
$931 million it collected last year.

ASCAP senior vice president of marketing Lauren Iossa was more forthcoming:

     We were genuinely surprised to see those comments as ASCAP has been 
utilizing audio fingerprinting technology for over 15 years, as well as 
pursuing and utilizing technology solutions from various sources to 
track performances of our members' works.

     ASCAP has always sought the most advanced methods to monitor 
performances and we are constantly evaluating different technologies and 
solutions to enhance the service we provide to our members. ASCAP 
processes over 250 billion performances annually and we set a high bar 
in terms of the standards of accuracy and cost effectiveness before 
choosing a technology solution. This path has allowed us to distribute 
royalties exceeding $800 million annually to our songwriter, composer 
and publisher members, which we have done for the past four years, 
delivering a total of over $3.3 billion to our members.

There's one big problem with both responses.

If ASCAP and BMI aren't missing anything, there would be no reason for 
TuneSat to exist - or if it did, it would have no clients. Instead, it 
has many, including heavy-hitters such as The Orchard, Universal Music 
Publishing Group, NBC Sports, and around 250 more - up from around 100 a 
year ago, an expansion financed in part by a $6 million investment from 
General Electric.

"I don't know what to say," said Woods after we read him the responses 
from ASCAP and BMI. "I don't want to speak disparagingly of the 
performing rights societies, but the fact of the matter is, as you said, 
if they were doing their job properly, there would be no TuneSat and we 
would have zero clients. There is beyond a lot of room for improvement 
in the process. It's been a manually-reported process since the 
inception of performing rights organizations. A lot of the societies 
have postured that they are using technology, whether ASCAP with 
MediaGuide, which was actually just sold to Media Monitors and ceased 
operations on March 1, or Landmark Digital with BMI (which uses 
Shazam)... what they're actually using that technology for, I can't tell 

Woods is not just a critic of these organizations; he's been a client of 
BMI since 2004 as a music composer with "thousands and thousands and 
thousands of performances" of "nearly a thousand works" on television 
every quarter, such as theme songs and network identification packages. 
He helped launch TuneSat in 2009, in part, to solve his own problem. 
Sometimes, entire quarters would go by without a single reported use of 
his music, when he knew it was being played.

Identifying music on broadcasts would seem to be a perfect application 
of "big data" - analyzing all media to find the songs and pay the 
pipers. But to Woods, it clearly wasn't being used properly.

"I can tell you for a fact that they have never used technology to 
report the use of my music on any of the broadcasts," he said. "They 
have had the technology to do so since 2005, and it's now 2012, so 
something's not right here. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure 
that out. I don't know what the real issue is - maybe they're too big, 
or slow to adapt to new technology, or maybe it represents exposing 
their formulas or how they collect and distribute royalties...

"Only they know why they don't implement technology in a way that is 
transparent and that benefits the affiliate members [more on that 
below]. That being said, until they do, TuneSat's in business. Any 
content owner can come to us and receive that information, and more 
importantly, we'll compare their performance royalty statements to 
TuneSat data as part of the subscription as Deltas to support our claims 
that as much as 60 to 80 percent of all music broadcast on television is 
never reported to the societies, and hence never accounted for in a 
royalty distribution."

When TuneSat finds money that ASCAP and BMI have left on the table by 
failing to notice that a song or a snippet of a song has been 
played---something that typically happens when an intern or production 
assistant fails to note the song, publisher, and duration of playback 
manually, on what's called a cue sheet---the client is on their own when 
it comes to getting that money. But at least they know they are owed.

What about the technology ASCAP and BMI say they are using to detect 
plays? Woods says that if they were using those properly, they would 
show their clients the results, which is a good point.

"If their true intention was to buy technology that was going to benefit 
their entire affiliate base and create accurate performance royalty 
distributions based on detected performances, would they not make this 
information available to the people who paid for it in the first place, 
their affiliate base? I'm sorry, but there's some smoke-and-mirrors and 
cloak-and-dagger going on here, and I'm not trying to create a 
conspiracy. This is just a fact in the music industry," he added. 
"Everybody knows there's a problem with how performance royalties are 
reported and distributed. Some people think it's a small problem and 
some people know it's a large problem."

TuneSat's plans start at $10 per month to monitor television broadcasts 
in the United States for up to ten audio tracks, and increase based on 
media, territory, and volume. Woods says its clients can increase their 
royalty revenues by as much as 300 percent with the technology.

Dr. Jazz
Dr. Jazz Operations
24270 Eastwood
Oak Park, MI  48237
(248) 542-7888
SKYPE:  drjazz99

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