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TheStreet Open House

Beats Disrespects Pandora, Talks Too Big a Game

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As I noted Tuesday at TheStreet Beats Music is a welcome and, most likely, successful entry into the Internet radio space. As a consumer, I'm not sure why you would cop an attitude other than the more, the merrier.

Even competitors should be happy when legitimate players invade the sector.

From both consumer and competitor standpoints, I actually find it more annoying when companies such as Samsung, Nokia (NOK) and Blackberry (BBRY) do Internet radio and it flops. But, for as annoying as that can be, it also validates the notion that white label, part-time efforts simply do not work. You have to be a music-centric technology company first (like Beats, Spotify, Pandora (P)) or Apple (AAPL) to make it work well and/or achieve scale.

In other words, the crowded space and subsequent failures by massive corporations lends credibility to Internet radio's present leaders. It remains to be seen if Beats can join that club.

But the founders are certainly talking a big game. And I can understand why. They're smart guys with proven track records -- Dr. Dre, Trent Reznor, Jimmy Iovine -- and genuine interest in making this thing work for the benefit of musicians and listeners. It's actually pretty cool to see these guys giving it such an aggressive and enthusiastic go.

But that enthusiasm and its attendant tunnel vision leads to these ultra-successful and confident men talking a book that's really a bit misleading. Consider this excerpt from a The New York Times story on Beats Music:

The idea is that bold visual appeal and the expertise of its programmers (or -- curators, -- in its preferred buzzspeak), in serving up just the right song or playlist, will create excitement among the millions of listeners who have been unseduced -- or just confused -- by streaming music ...
To hear Mr. Iovine and his colleagues tell it, the world of online music is a letdown, full of bland websites, robotic recommendation programs and not enough soul in the machine. Pandora, for example, uses automated musicological analysis to decide what songs to play, and Spotify and others recommend music to users by parsing huge pools of data.
Ian Rogers, the chief executive of Beats Music, argued that these systems inevitably fail because they rely too heavily on computer algorithms and because the people behind them just misunderstand music. He cited one typical, so-obvious-it's-wrong recommendation as proof of the problem: Paul Simon fan? Check out Art Garfunkel! ...
But Beats uses algorithms, too, as part of how it customizes the songs it sends users based on their profiles and listening habits. The difference, Beats executives say, is that their service makes greater use of its editors and guest programmers like Rolling Stone, Rap Radar and Pitchfork, and only recommends the good stuff.

Let's go paragraph by paragraph to cut through the aforementioned enthusiasm, which has a way of creating euphoria, which has a way of creating myths that perpetuate without context and proper pushback.

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