PenguinRadio is no more. is where it's at.

Nearly 12 years ago I was working as an attorney for the US Congress.  Boredom does not begin to describe my life back then.  I was writing a memo on a health insurance case we were investigating in Japan, when I happened to realize that Arsenal v. Manchester United in the FA Cup was on the BBC online stream.  Our rather moronic office policy forbid speakers in the office, but as a lawyer who really didn’t care about bureaucratic rules I brought in some headphones.  No one ever challenged me. Anyway, I was listening to this game…yes–it was the Giggs goal game of 1999, when something annoying happened.  My stream from the BBC started to sputter as the computer couldn’t handle my working on a memo in MS Word and running Real Player at the same time.  I thought to myself, as I closed the MS Word file :-p “What I really need is a bigger computer.” But then, as lightning bolts off do, it hit me.  “No, I don’t need a computer.  I need something that just does Internet audio–no PC needed”.  And with the pain of listening to that game (Arsenal lost in extra time) was relieved by the thoughts of a really new hot idea. Internet radio, no pc needed.  The PenguinRadio. The next 12 years have been a roller coaster.  I got angel funding, I got VC funding, I got an office and staff, we built prototypes and websites, we tried raising more money in the US and UK and then, 9-11 hit.  As you may remember the days were dying before the World Trade Center was attacked but those incidents put the kibosh on any new VC funding for a few years.  I put PenguinRadio on hold and concentrated on some other things. PenguinRadio was basically brain dead for a bit. But then I came back to the idea a year or so later.  Prices for parts had come down.  Everyone was listening to streams.  The idea of Internet radio, and more particularly, of .mp3 audio was growing larger and larger.  With a new round of funding I launched a few radios, rebuilt the website, and then attracted the interest of some folks in the UK who were thinking much the same as me. So PenguinRadio was reborn into a new company, that, unfortunately, managed to reach the prototype stage of a really neat player device at basically the same time as Apple introduced the iPhone.  This meant that there were suddenly several million devices out there that could do Internet radio without a PC at a cost just about the same as our device, though with the marketing and support of Apple Inc behind them. Thus PenguinRadio died a second time. The website stayed up for a few years after this latest adventure, but the new new owners of the domain recently completed the sale of PenguinRadio to another party (hint: they also have Penguin in their name).  As I sat on my couch in Hong Kong at 1:00 am in the morning watching, guess what, Arsenal once again (a nil-nil disaster against Newcastle) I went to check the PenguinRadio site and got a DNS error.  The transfer of the PenguinRadio domain name had taken place.  It was no longer there on the web. Truth be told the site died a long time ago, but the site was out there as a reminder of my first startup and the great adventure.  It’s a tad weird to think it’s no longer there.  That the logos and t-shirts and links have all turned to dust.  I have other sites, such as that continue to host radio streams, but the closure of the site is like the end of a large chapter of my life. On to new and more interesting things I guess. RIP my Penguin. *PenguinRadio is (now) a registered trademark of Penguin Publishing.]]>

Pandora Internet Radio to shutter their service soon?

A pretty interesting tech article in the Post today about the 900lb gorilla in the room for Internet radio. Despite some of the best traffic numbers in their company’s short history (thank you to the iPhone) the start-up company Pandora may soon have to shutter their service.

“We’re approaching a pull-the-plug kind of decision,” said Tim Westergren, who founded Pandora. “This is like a last stand for webcasting.”

At issue is the onerous rate that Internet radio stations have to pay for their services.

Last year, an obscure federal panel ordered a doubling of the per-song performance royalty that Web radio stations pay to performers and record companies.

Traditional radio, by contrast, pays no such fee. Satellite radio pays a fee but at a less onerous rate, at least by some measures.

As for Pandora, its royalty fees this year will amount to 70 percent of its projected revenue of $25 million, Westergren said, a level that could doom it and other Web radio outfits.

I’ve always said the short term greed of the existing content players could kill the medium of Internet radio before it really got its start. No where in the computations are the added per listener cost of Internet radio–it costs more to have more people listen, unlike traditional radio which has a one off broadcasting hardware cost no matter if 1 or 1000 people listen to their station.

Sen. Jesse Helms brokered the last Internet radio survival package but he has passed away. Some on Capitol Hill are trying to find a solution, but the recording industry’s deep pockets full of cash going into the re-election campaigns of many members is hard to ignore. This is one issue in which money talks far more than Republican or Democrat (one of the worst on this issue is the Democrat John Conyers but one of the ones trying to save Internet radio is the Democrat Howard Berman)


How the iPhone is changing radio forever.

Steve Jobs doesn't need an anti-satellite missile to knock out XM & Sirius

I’ve already written a bit about my thoughts on the iPhone and how it will kill Satellite radio and a review of the iPhone radio applications, but Doc Searls is writing today about his similar experiences using the iPhone as the radio interface in his car. He raises a number of interesting points including:

4) The cell phone system will become a data system that carries telephony, rather than the vice versa we have now. The same goes for the Net at home as well. What we still have in both cases is dial-up: data piggy-backing on telephony or cable TV. In terms of provider priorities, that’s the way it’s been for awhile, but the flip is going to come, and the sooner we all adjust to that, the better.

5) The iPhone is less a phone than a platform for mobile Internet applications that start with telephony. Voice will always be the primary personal mobile communications activity; but it will be one application, or set of applications, among many. Radio is another of those applications.

Radio has had a decade of on again off again experience with the Internet and streaming, but it’s just never caught on due in large part to the ‘tethered to the computer’ experience that was required. People simply weren’t about to replace their clock radios with a PC and Internet radio devices just never could get a hold into the market (despite a lot of us trying). And on top of that, it didn’t work in the car (where many people do their radio listening). In short, the radio stations had it easy because it was so hard to listen to the competition.

But that’s over. The iPhone changes EVERYTHING. Yea it’s not the first to do streaming, nor is it the fastest of cheapest platform, but it is the first MASS MARKET adaptation of Internet radio to the car and other places that we’ve seen. You take all the Internet radio devices sold from when I came up with the idea nearly 10 years ago to now and you have less than the number of people who downloaded the Pandora radio application for the iPhone in the first six days. There are now nearly 4 million iPhones out there in the last year, with some of the free radio applications being the top downloads. It took XM six years to get to that number of subscribers. Who do you think is going to win the race for a listeners’ ears?

Quite simply, radio stations who are not paying attention will be radio stations who are out of business in the next five to ten years.