The Internet has undoubtedly diminished the influence of journalists, DJs, and TV personalities, as the industry and consumers alike turn instead to Amazon, Spotify, Netflix, Facebook, and Twitter for recommendations about what to listen to, watch, or read. But that doesn’t mean that the business of taste is destined for a totally democratic future, where all critics – human or otherwise – are equal.
Take Apple. It seems certain that professional tastemakers will play a major role in the consumer technology giant’s strategy to challenge Spotify’s crown in the music streaming market. Alongside the well-publicized appointment of Zane Lowe, a prominent BBC Radio 1 DJ, Apple has reportedly poached a number of leading Radio 1 producers and is looking to hire people with journalism skills to work for the long-awaited re-launched version of its Beats service.
Apple is not the first Internet company to employ real humans to curate and editorialize content to augment investments in big data analytics. Spotify employs a number of genre experts to create playlists for its service, as do a number of record labels and industry organizations. Part of Netflix’s reported $150m a year investment in content discovery and recommendation systems goes to a team of experts that look for common qualities between TV shows and movies.
But these efforts – and people – are largely at work behind the scenes. Apple’s recruitment strategy suggests that it will bring personalities to the fore, and adopt techniques which have more in common with DJ-ing and journalism than artificial intelligence and machine learning. Significantly, Spotify and its rival Deezer have also made moves to bring more traditional “lean-back” listening experiences to their services, such as podcasts and talk radio.
As always, the rest of the music industry is likely to watch Apple’s latest moves with intense interest. But companies from across the media and entertainment business should also be looking to learn how they might benefit from bringing a more human face to their digital media offerings. Apple’s strategy is not just about setting its music streaming service apart from those of rivals; it’s an attempt to give it a real mass-market appeal, a challenge all kinds of digital media providers continue to struggle with.
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