Becoming Your Customers’ Expert on Streaming Audio Services

What You Need to Know About the Changing Landscape of This Wildly Popular Platform
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A large number of consumers served by professional integrators are seeking to access streaming content both in the home and on the go. There are also a great many service providers to be considered, each with their own story to tell and unique feature set. As the technology expert that they have turned to for their whole-house entertainment system, your clients may well expect you to provide a degree of guidance when it comes to sorting out and subscribing to various streaming services.

Integrators of all sizes are busy designing, installing, and servicing entertainment and smart home technology, so it may be challenging for the entire staff to get up to speed as qualified authorities on streaming service providers. But what if each company had one or two designated experts that used streaming music as part of their daily routine and took time to understand the differences between each offering? This way, the client has access to the information, and the integrator is the shining star. Another option might be to assign each employee with the task of choosing and operating the in-house music for a week. Let them get some hands-on experience by subjecting the team to their playlists, their choices.

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The objective for the integrator should be to deliver a completely immersive entertainment experience to their customers. Maybe that means selecting one streaming service from each of the categories (as noted below) to create a tailored listening experience that can be enjoyed by every member of the family in different zones (rooms). The entertainment system should provide easy access to a local digital music library along with streaming content, enabling listeners to discover new artists and create custom playlists.

When clarity and musical detail is important, high-resolution 24-bit audio, along with services such as Tidal and Deezer (16-bit CD quality), offer best-in-class performance. There are, however, many other competitive streaming formats to consider.

The objective of Autonomic’s TuneBridge technology is to bring local and streaming content together, erasing the barriers between services, and giving users a seamless interface so they can instantly access their music at the touch of a button. As an example, while SiriusXM is playing, the user can identify a song they like, jump to any subscribed service to retrieve it, kick off a customized radio stream based on that artist and then save the album or search for similar content. All of this functionality with no interruption of their current stream; this is one example of how users can effortlessly construct and save a playlist of newly discovered music on the fly. And here is where the integrator brings added value: by introducing functionality to the client that lets them simply enjoy the music. Big box consumer solutions can’t match a professionally designed and installed whole-house entertainment system that comes complete with expert guidance. This is an opportunity for the integrator to earn greater profit margins along with referral business based on a superb end result.

The streaming service market took its very first baby steps in 1990 with a Washington, DC-based startup called CD Radio that evolved to become Sirius Satellite Radio and finally SiriusXM. Today, there are essentially three categories of content providers–virtual library, custom radio, and broadcast radio–and for the sake of this conversation we are referencing their premium (for-pay) services and features rather than any free versions that may be available. The virtual library universe is led by Spotify and Rhapsody, with other services available such as Napster, Tidal (better quality available at 16 bit/44kHz), Deezer (also 16 bit/44kHz), and Murfie.

The custom radio concept, where a listener feeds an artificial intelligence engine critical preference data so that the service can generate compatible content automatically, enables users to discover new artists and broaden their musical landscape. Pandora led this market with its Music Genome Project that uses sophisticated analysis protocol created by musicologists to “recognize and respond to each listener’s tastes to create a more personalized radio experience.”

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There has been slower than anticipated adoption of Apple Music largely because consumers had already gained comfort with other solutions.

Slacker is another option in the custom radio category and each service offers its own unique approach to analysis. New music discovery is a key element of the custom radio experience, and may be favored by one or more members of the household seeking exposure to new artists. The broadcast category is highlighted by SiriusXM, with TuneIn Radio and iHeartRadio also giving listeners access to terrestrial content that includes news, talk, and sports, as well as music.

Integrators should be particularly aware of how they are delivering streaming content to their clients. Some hardware leverages contractual agreements with the streaming service providers and thus can take advantage of ongoing relationships that includes firmware updates and ongoing two-way dialogue. Less desirable are hardware solutions relying upon third-party relationships to deliver content. Users are less likely to have the latest updates and features within this scenario and could even potentially risk losing a service in its entirety without advanced warning.

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The broadcast category is highlighted by Sirius/XM, with TuneIn Radio (pictured) and iHeartRadio also giving listeners access to terrestrial content that includes news, talk, and sports, as well as music.

Competition is good, and we see many of the best features from each service migrating to competitive offerings. SiriusXM and Pandora have both improved their resolution, and content discovery algorithms have found their way into some of the virtual library-based services. Pandora has publicly discussed a plan to build an on-demand service to complement its streaming radio platform–another example of how each service is seeking to attract new audiences.

Despite all that is new from each provider, many users gain a comfort level using a particular app on their phone while on the go, and unsurprisingly make their choice of service based on familiarity. There has been slower than anticipated adoption of Apple Music, largely because consumers had already gained comfort with other solutions. It is likely, however, that Apple will gain market penetration gradually over time.

Integrators should understand and embrace streaming services because whole-house entertainment is such a sought-after feature as part of the modern smart home–both in the new construction and retrofit market segments. Bringing a high level of expertise as well as the finest hardware solutions will enable integrators to operate a profitable business model, differentiate themselves from competitors, and earn valuable referral business.

Michael de Nigris is CEO of Autonomic.

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