By Anya Sacharow
Amid all the noise on the Web, one sound stands out. Music is a huge Web presence, with as many as 75,000 sites already dedicated to various formats, according to one estimate. As software tools and PC chips to play or download music clips become commonplace, the number and variety of music sites will continue to proliferate. And that should be a harmonious sound to advertisers, since much of the traffic on these sites comes from the elusive Gen X ranks. Because the Web's technology and demographics mesh so well with the needs of the record labels, new media and music executives are scrambling to stake out their Web claims.
'Because music can be converted into a digital format, the music industry is a good testing ground for moving to a Web environment,' says Joanne Marino, editor-in-chief of Webnoize, a site that offers music news and music Web site guidance. 'The product can get manufactured and shipped electronically. It's not just a trend. It's changing the way people conduct business.'
Several of the established media names in the music business--MTV, Rolling Stone and Billboard (part of BPI Communications, which owns Adweek Magazines)--have dedicated substantial resources to their Web sites, while newer entries to the field are carving out turf.
Any degree of financial success, however, is still to be determined. In that sense, the well-known brands do have an advantage. 'As far as who'll be successful on-line with music, everyone says 'other than MTV,' ' notes Patrick Keane, a Jupiter Communications analyst who is working on a survey of the music industry and the Internet. 'It admits the fact that MTV is going to be a player by the significant (audience) they command off-line.'
MTV uses both its on-air network and various on-line outlets to attract visitors to its site. Www.mtv.com is promoted heavily on MTV shows and on M2, its new sister channel. The site also runs advertising banners on N2K and Yahoo! (both are partners with MTV Online).
Although MTV uses on-line focus groups to shape its network programming, the Web site is meant to be an electronic channel on its own, not just a research tool or a TV adjunct. 'It never was a promotional site,' says Matt Farber, MTV senior vp for programming and new business. 'We wouldn't have the staff we have or be doing what we're doing if it was.' MTV has about 50 employees working on the site and other interactive projects.
That said, crossover between the Web site and MTV programming is frequent. The interactive forums Yack Live and Online On Stage are run concurrently with the MTV shows Singled Out and The Real World and after live concert broadcasts. During the shows, people in the chat rooms may get to see their commentary on the network. With Yack Live, MTV Online hosts keep adding chat rooms to accommodate users, which typically draw about 1,000 people in 20 rooms. On average, the MTV Online Web site and MTV's America Online area claim 16 million page views per month. That level of traffic has attracted interactive ads from Pepsi, Sony Pictures and telcos.
Along with MTV, other top-tier music sites include SonicNet (www.sonicnet.com) and N2K (www.n2k.com). JAMtv (www.jamtv.com) is in the process of launching. Starwave's Wall of Sound (www.wallofsound.com) recently went up. MJI Broadcasting's RockNews (www.rocknews.com) pulls in daily music news samples and links to other sites.
New York City-based SonicNet, an edgy alternative music site, launched as a BBS in 1994, went onto the Web in 1995 and already has changed ownership three times. In January, Paradigm Entertainment, also in New York, bought the company for an undisclosed amount from founder Tim Nye and Prodigy. Paradigm also recently acquired a San Francisco-based music news site, Addicted to Noise (www.addict.com), which operates as a sister site to SonicNet. Advertising, syndication to other Web publishers, cable and radio stations as well as CD sales through CDnow (www.cdnow.com) are all part of Paradigm's multiple revenue streams. For the last week of March, SonicNet and Addicted to Noise (ATN) received 4 million page views, says David Friedensohn, chief executive of SonicNet. The audience is 18-28 and heavily male.
Friedensohn says the business model for music sites has changed, even during their infancy. 'If you'd asked me yesterday, I'd have said syndication,' he relates. 'Now I'd say advertising.' ATN signed Ford Motor Co. through September at a standard rate card CPM of $40. The Gap also sponsors an area on ATN; to get the answer to the 'question of the day,' users have to click through one full page of a Gap impression. 'Our audience isn't offended by these things, and it gives them something fun to do,' says Friedensohn.
While SonicNet seems to be on its way to cornering the alternative market, New York-based N2K Entertainment, backed by investment bankers Allen & Co., focused initially on jazz and classical audiences. N2K does have an alternative music site, Rocktropolis, and it sells all genres of music through its on-line CD sales site, www.musicblvd.com. For now, jazz and classical account for 30 percent of on-line CD sales. 'Music Boulevard's demo is traditionally the on-line shopper who's male, 30-plus, fairly affluent and educated,' says Debbie Newman, vp, marketing, advertising and sales for N2K. 'But the relationship with MTV and VH-1 is changing our demographics.' (Those networks recently signed with Music Boulevard as a music sales arm.)
JAMtv, a Chicago-based partnership between Jam Productions and Digital Entertainment Networks, is billing itself as a Webcaster. Users can access interactive concerts through a software device called a JamCam, sort of a zoom camera lens operated with a mouse. JAMtv, now in negotiations with Ticketmaster, is expected to move into on-line ticket sales.
The record labels are starting to wake up to the Web as well. Every label either has or is creating a Web site, most of which include a roster of artists and links to their sites. BMG is using its artists to create lifestyle Web sites, such as the urban www.peeps.com and rock/pop www.bugjuice.com. BMG's Loud Records released Mobb Deep's Hell on Earth with hidden audio, accessible by playing the CD on a computer CD-ROM.
Creating such enhanced CDs that integrate audio tracks with the Internet will be part of the Web's role in music promotion. Yet Kevin Conroy, senior vp for marketing at BMG Entertainment, isn't ready to rely on the Web for a sales boost. 'We still need to reinforce the traditional means of selling the music,' he says. 'The Internet can be an effective means of targeting the consumer. But purchasing should still be traditional.'
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