Video saves the radio stars!

24 Jul 2008

A new music video web service out of Dublin could provide the music industry with the monetisation strategy it dearly needs.

Someone had to save the music industry from itself and it seems fitting that the city which brought the world U2 and Thin Lizzy is the place to start arresting the steep decline the industry has allowed itself to fall into.

The advent of the internet sounded the death knell for the fat margins music labels used to enjoy on the back of CD sales. The industry’s inability to firstly acknowledge the internet and secondly to exploit it with a credible business model left the gates open for pirates and file sharers to do their worst.

While efforts like iTunes from Apple and the explosive growth of YouTube have focused minds, a two-year-old company based in Dublin and backed by €6m from private investors, plus Oyster Capital and Enterprise Ireland, has a proposition the industry is warming to.

Big-four label Sony BMG has already signed up and the other labels Warner, Universal and EMI are tipped to join in the year ahead.

The Muzu TV service launched in Dublin last week and promises to create a personalised TV channel for music fans to manage their favourite music and present it on their various social networking sites, such as MySpace. Users can also interact with bands and labels and share music legally and at no cost.

But what’s in it for the hard-pressed music industry? Muzu TV has created a platform that allows labels like Sony and bands such as The Ting Tings to develop a homepage but also generate revenue through an ad-supported model created by the company where revenues from ads are shared 50/50 between Muzu and the labels/artists.

Another aim of the site is to allow unsigned bands to generate revenue from advertising and possibly sign record deals. The company’s Dublin headquarters boasts a recording studio where bands can drop in and create videos.

Muzu is the brainchild of Ciaran Bollard and Mark French, and so far a wide cross-section of the industry including artists, venues, festivals and music magazines have signed up.

These include over 200 labels and content producers such as Ministry of Sound, Defected Records, Cherry Red Records, Eagle Rock, Planet Rock Profiles, SPV, Hollywood Music and Ninja Tune, to name a few.

The site includes rare footage, such as interviews and documentaries about Phil Lynott and Bob Dylan.

Artists from Sony BMG who feature on the site include The Ting Tings, the Foo Fighters, Kylie, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce and MGMT.

Muzu, which has offices in Dublin and London, as well as an R&D base in Waterford, is quickly generating a buzz in the technology world, having already presented at the prestigious TechCrunch event in Silicon Valley.

Co-founder Mark French explains that the company has spent the past two years building technology, negotiating with labels and artists and having built up a strong digital content library is ready to hit the road.

“We are officially live in Ireland and the UK and the plan is to go live in mainland Europe in the third quarter and in the US in the first quarter of 2009,” he says, adding he is confident that the other big-four record labels will join the Muzu TV revolution. “We are in negotiations.

“Bands are creating a lot more content than what’s on albums. They are on the road, there’s behind-the-scenes stuff, such as how a guitarist came up with a riff or bass line. In many cases, bands have a lot of content they haven’t had the opportunity to digitise yet and which could be worth potential revenue through ads viewed by fans as they consume the content.”

Co-founder Ciaran Bollard described Muzu TV as an artist-led initiative where artists’ and labels’ concerns about copyright and quality of content can both be addressed..

“We built this as a communications platform for the music industry. It’s unique insofar as we are a video site for fans that results in sharing revenue with the copyright holder.”

Bollard said the company is currently working on optimising Muzu TV for the mobile phone and predicts the service will be available on alternative platforms such as the Xbox 360 within a year.

Another innovation on the way is the ability to make music videos more interactive and allow for product placement within the video. For example, Muzu has done some work with an Avril Lavigne video whereby items like the clothes the artist is wearing or a mobile phone in the video can be clicked on by viewers, which will bring them to a River Island or Nokia website to buy items they saw in the video.

In the Eighties – at the height of music industry excess – a band called Boggles sang Video killed the radio star. In 2008, it seems video could be the radio stars’ ultimate salvation.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: Minister in a jam: Muzu founder, Mark French; Communications Minister, Eamon Ryan TD; Muzu co-founder, Ciaran Bollard; and Darragh from The Dark Room Notes at the launch of Muzu TV

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years