One of the marquee features of Apple Music is Beats 1 radio. Marketed as “Worldwide. Always on.” – though they’ve removed that tagline now from its main display in iTunes – Beats 1 is a “radio station” manned by “human” “DJs;” you know, kind of like what “radio” is. I was very surprised by the reactions of some people to this idea: an actual live radio stations without 20 minutes of ads an hour. But to those of us who grew up in the days before radio started really sucking, it’s just a radio station, like we used to listen to. There are ads, but they’re low-key sponsorship ads, like the kind you get on public radio or TV. At least for now.
Beats 1 radio is clearly a loss-leader. Apple has designed it to draw people into Apple Music and get them interested. But the station is designed for just one demographic: the young, pop/rock/hip-hop listener. As such, it’s a non starter for a lot of Apple Music customers, and that’s a shame.
Sure, there are other Apple Music Radio stations, but this feature – previously called iTunes Radio – has been whittled down from what was available before. The other stations are all machine-programed, algorithmic playlists based on specific songs or artists. The genre stations are most likely programmed directly by Apple, but are there just to deliver popular music: what’s new, and what’s hot. The customization features that made those stations interesting are gone.
It’s no surprise that this is called Beats 1 radio; Apple is clearly planning more radio stations like this, if Beats 1 proves successful. However, I would have expected that, at the launch of Apple Music, Apple would already have more such stations, in order to attract the largest number of listeners.
Beats 1, as I have written previously, “this international radio station will be in English, at least at first. It may be broadcast to 100 countries, but it won’t have local content from those countries: no chanson française, no K-Pop, no Afrobeat.” There’s nothing for the large Chinese market, no Bollywood music, nothing that’s not over-produced, formulaic, music from the US or UK. Granted, if you take the admittedly overused 80/20 rule, Apple is probably targeting 80% of their audience; but only in the US and UK, and, perhaps, a few other western countries. Sure, Taylor Swift is a global phenomenon, but Beats 1 radio is designed with the basic assumption of cultural imperialism.
If Apple finds that Beats 1 works well, they will certainly expand it. I could see the following stations:
- A rock-only station. Rock is still the most popular genre in the US, and not all rock fans want to also listen to disco-pop and hip-hop.
- A country station. Because U-S-A.
- A classical station that plays complete works, not just isolated movements, such as all the Apple Music playlists, and the Classical Apple Music Radio station contain.
- A jazz station that plays more than the latest smooth jazz hits.
- A blues station, covering the broad extent of the genre.
- Specific stations for the large markets of China, Japan, Korea, and India. While these markets may not have high penetration yet, when Apple releases their Android app in a few months, it’s possible that they’ll get a lot of listeners in these countries. And they clearly need a station in Spanish for Central and South America. And one in Brazilian Portuguese; that’s another huge market.
- Perhaps even specific stations for other languages, such as French, Italian, German, etc.
I doubt these stations cost a lot to produce. There is certainly a cost to recruit the talent, though I still don’t get Apple’s hiring of Zane Lowe. While he was (I’m told) quite well known in the UK, and even in Europe, hardly anyone had heard of him in the US, which is the main market for Apple Music and Beats 1 radio for now. (But I guess he’s Apple’s nod to the international audience.) I’m sure Apple can find other local talent, but they don’t even need recognizable names; I think listeners in other markets would be happy enough just to have music closer to what they listen to.
(An aside: I wish Sirius XM were available outside North America; their programming looks interesting. Perhaps Apple could emulate that model, with a series of channels, some of which have well-known DJs or presenters. After all, they’ve got a Grateful Dead channel.)
Beats 1 radio may be the first in a wide range of radio stations, and Apple could reshape the landscape of radio with these stations, all while attracting paying customers to Apple Music. It seems like an oversight to only have one live radio station. I’m sure we’ll see others, and soon.