No, Electric Jukebox isn’t a joke. But it probably should be.

MBW review-1Each Friday, The MBW Review gives our take on some of the biggest news stories of the previous seven days. This time, we’re all about one event: the unveiling of plug-and-play TV music streaming device, Electric Jukebox.


If you’re being charitable, it looks like the BFG’s lipstick.

If you’re being juvenile, it looks like a three-speed Ann Summers special.

If you’re being sensible, it looks like the most ridiculous digital music launch in history.

Electric Jukebox was revealed in London earlier this week via a synapse-splittingly nuts presentation that made TIDAL’s New York fiasco look like a TED Talk.

I know what you’re thinking: aren’t all jukeboxes electric?

Good point. But this one is extra special. On a number of levels.

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Electric Jukebox’s headline pitch is that it’s taking ‘streaming to the mainstream’. It’s doing so via an unlikely proposition: a music app locked to your TV, marshalled via a motion and voice-sensing controller which magically syncs ‘straight out of the box’.

(Unlike those other infernal modern gadgets, of course, which so rebelliously refuse to part from their packaging.)

The price-point of Electric Jukebox is definitely enough to get any sane person streaming –  right out of their tear ducts.

Electric Jukebox will cost you £179, for one year of operation, after which you’ll have to fork out another £60 per annum to keep it operational.

Oucha.

You get no music videos for that megaton fee, and you can’t even use it on your mobile.

Meanwhile, a Chromecast will set you back £30, and allow you to ping YouTube direct to your telly. Watch out for Lily Allen’s cameo in this suspiciously Electric Jukebox-esque ad from last year:


At least Electric Jukebox’s British owner – Magic Media Works Ltd. – has some celebrity endorsements up its sleeve.

Sure, they might not quite make the cut of Jay Z’s little black book. But, by gosh, are they worth their weight in absurdity.

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The big transatlantic draw there is Sheryl Crow.

She reckons that the Electric Jukebox: “reminds me of how I grew up listening to music”.

On a radio, presumably. Which remains the world’s most popular option for listening to music. For a lot less than £179.

(What is this modern obsession with badges of ‘heritage’ somehow equating to assumed authenticity? If you only appreciate the way things were in the past, you’re literally an enemy of evolution. You know what else your generation grew up with, Sheryl? Inaccurate weather forecasts and a nagging fear of smallpox. How we miss such vintage delights.)

According to the suspect fawning of another celeb patron, Stephen Fry, Electric Jukebox is “the ultimate music machine for your home”.

Right. What a carefully-constructed line of argument.

Spotify, for instance, gives you 99% of songs ever recorded at a touch of a screen, on a range of household and personal devices.

The first time you use it, it blindsides you with overwhelming sorcery.

Ah, but does it give you a plastic wand reminiscent of a highlighter pen/sex toy hybrid; yet cunningly devoid of any of the pleasures of a highlighter pen/sex toy hybrid? Admittedly not.

Fry’s earnestly-delivered fluff extends to the mawkish misnomer that “a life filled with music is a life filled with joy”.

Not in my world, mate. In my world it’s all Aphex Twin and cloying paranoia.

Thankfully I can just about keep the demons at bay if I focus on Robbie Williams doing this.

Robbie


Might we suspect that Robbie – a man rather gifted at sifting out mirth from questionable commercial duties – is entirely self-aware enough to celebrate the hilarity of his advocacy?

Electric Jukebox’s £179 price point, though, is anything but hilarious. Especially at a time when the average Briton is spending a measly £13 a year on music.

To justify its cost, Team Electric Jukebox need a bulletproof, beguiling marketing pitch. Here it comes.

“Electric Jukebox gives you an Internet of Things for music – the modern hifi – for the whole family to share,” says Rob Lewis, CEO of the Electric Jukebox Company. “[It’s] the streaming equivalent of a radio or a fridge freezer.”

Ah, yes. A moment, please, to marvel at the otherworldly hocus-pocus of the everyday fridge freezer.

You want real mass-market adoption? Turns out you gotta hit ’em right in the Findus Crispy Pancakes.

Not quite ‘1,000 songs in your pocket’, is it.

We can only imagine the mind-blowing outcome had Steve Jobs been introduced to Captain Birdseye.


Lewis does have a slightly more compelling assertion in his arsenal.

He notes that 200m people around the world used to buy CDs every month, yet only 40-odd million are now paying for streaming subscription services.

This, he reasons, is “because of complexity, set-up difficulty and… the fear of recurring credit card based subscriptions”.

It’s a cute theory. Yet it completely cold-shoulders the fact that mobile phone billing is significantly more complex – and requires significantly more fearful credit card-based subscriptions – than any streaming music app in existence.

So how come 6.8bn people around the world pay for mobile phone coverage every month?

So far, approximately 0.00005% of those fabled 200m ex-CD consumers have been mesmerised by Electric Jukebox’s wand enough to follow the company on Twitter – a grand total of 149 people.

(I would appreciate any of those 149 people explaining to me why Robbie and Alesha Dixon are singing into Electric Jukebox’s remote microphone in press images; a microphone which seems to exist solely for Siri-esque voice commands.)


As such, Electric Jukebox looks to be a gallant but deeply flawed example of a music industry tech crusade.

In a post-Apple, post-Nintendo world, it’s tempting for entrepreneurs to con themselves that simplicity is the same thing as convenience. It is not.

That’s why the “ultimate music device” already exists. It’s called a smartphone.

What usually accompanies this ideology – that the absence of complication is in itself enough to penetrate the public’s commercial membrane – is a condescending marketing approach; one which spoon-feeds simple tech concepts to the middle-aged, and promises to overcome the supposedly intimidating hoodoo of Apple, Google et al.

Electric Jukebox is guilty as charged.

Whilst some may be comfortable with Spotify and Apple Music and spending hours configuring these services on specialist streaming devices, the vast majority of consumers really want something that works instantly, out of the box, without a monthly subscription or credit card,” argues Lewis.

What!? Talk about offering a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

I know of literally no-one who has ‘spent hours’ setting up Spotify or Apple Music accounts.

(Come to think of it, don’t both of those apps work seamlessly on myriad devices which offer a wealth of work, play, entertainment and utility functions? In fact, isn’t Electric Jukebox now the only ‘specialist streaming device’ in the whole marketplace?)

As for something that works instantly without a monthly subscription, let’s talk YouTube.

Because the ‘lost’ 160m ex-CD buyers who aren’t paying for a music streaming service right now don’t seem to be having too much trouble getting to grips with the Google-owned video giant.

The merit of YouTube’s billion monthly users – and its stranglehold on the entertainment streaming market in general – is a worrying headache for traditional music business rights-holders.

But, please, let’s not pretend it’s not happening.

(Robbie Williams will recognise the YouTube phenomenon better than most: his Vevo channel has attracted over 265m views to date.)

Then again, maybe I’m completely wrong.

Maybe there really are an ocean of idiots out there who haven’t yet worked out how to press ‘play’ on a screen, or type in a four-syllable web address.

I mean, look at this lemon. He literally thinks he can pour a glass of champagne without popping the cork.

Champagne boy


Electric Jukebox founder Rob Lewis will be familiar in music biz circles: the exec has form with a fervent ‘mainstream music streaming’ pitch.

Lewis was the entrepreneur who launched Rara.com in 2011, promising – you’ve guessed it – to lure millions of tech-averse customers into the access-based music ecosystem.

Unfortunately, Rara attempted to do so without being licensed by Merlin and independent labels.

Even more unfortunately, it failed.

Earlier this year, MBW discovered that Rara owner Omnifone – also founded by Lewis – was going to close the platform if it couldn’t find a buyer. 

Today, four years after it came to market, Rara.com doesn’t seem to exist at all.

Lewis also helped power another mainstream pitch – Nokia Comes With Music – until it shuttered in 2011. (Interestingly, the project left behind MixRadio – a digital service now genuinely making impressive inroads with the masses.)

Lewis clearly senses that there is an opportunity to mainline the average consumer’s wallet without entertaining the murky fractional payments of freemium services.

That is to be applauded.

He’s also correct in his belief that, in order to really take streaming mainstream, the format’s plus-points must be thrust where the consumer feels most comfortable: their car, their office, their kitchen and, yes, their living room.

Sadly, I just can’t see any world in which the Electric Jukebox is the answer. Or in which the TV is the best device on which to bet the farm.

Just ask Spotify, whose TV bundle tie-up with Virgin Media a few years ago was a dud, and actually precluded the Swedish giant from partnering with valuable telco operators for a sustained period.

It is perhaps not a surprise that Electric Jukebox is backed by veteran music industry heavyweights like ex-U2 manager Paul McGuinness and ex-Warner boss Rob Dickins.

It is riddled with big-picture music biz thinking: raising a smart question, then answering it with a brave but hair-brained solution.

Visit the Electric Jukebox website today and Stephen Fry will immediately proclaim, in that trustworthy plummy baritone: “It’s a funny thing, music…”

Spot on, Stephen.

I just fear that this time, old bean, the joke’s on you.Music Business Worldwide

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