Who needs an electric jukebox?

The loop on the homepage of the recently announced Electric Jukebox kicks off with a couple and their grandchildren having a great time listening to a mixtape that either Sheryl Crow or Stephen Fry or Robbie Williams’ wife made. It’s clear they are trying to push the product to an older, supposedly less tech savvy audience who, to date, haven’t been targeted by streaming services.

According to the CEO of Electric Jukebox, Rob Lewis (the former head of Omnifone has thrown some shade by using 7 Digital to power the back end), existing services are too complicated for people over the age of 65 to use. His solution to this hypothesis is a remote control with a microphone that costs £179 (retail) and has a £60 p/a streaming contract just to play music.

Is the 55+ ABC1 market put off by the youth messaging associated with existing streaming services? Do they already have a music library they are happy with, as they’ve spent 40+ years buying albums and singles and aren’t that bothered about having access to 30m tracks and smart radio and algorithmic playlisting and #curated #trendsetter #fullstack music apps? Or maybe they just use Amazon Prime, which is now the largest streaming service in the US? Or, hell, maybe they have been waiting for a single purpose remote control with a microphone that attaches to their television and this thing is going to fly off the virtual shelves.

“Gentlemen, there’s only two ways I know of to make money: bundling and unbundling.”

There are plenty of other smart devices aimed at streaming content on a television. Apple TV, Chromecast, and Amazon Fire are products that bring together multiple kinds of media into a single device that is controlled either with a physical remote or with a mobile. The companies building these are Apple, Google and Amazon, so three of the biggest digital companies believe that we are in a cycle of bundling entertainment for the living room not unbundling single services.

There is no way EJ have the data that three of the largest e-commerce companies in the world have access to and generated themselves. Unbundling a music service into a single purpose device seems to be heading in the opposite direction of all attempts to win the battle for the living room.

(NB: Google has created a Chromecast Audio for speakers, which removes the need for a television.)

“You can’t sell sameness”

Here’s a breakdown the competition in the following categories: one off cost, annual subscription cost, services and physical remote:

Electric Jukebox:

£179; £60; limited music catalogue with ‘mixtapes’ by a few artists; voice controlled remote.

Apple TV:

£179 for the new version and £59 for the current version; Apple Music is £120; full catalogue with many ‘mixtapes,’ films/tv, apps, games; voice remote control with Siri.

Chromecast:

£30; Google Play Music All Access is £120; full catalogue of music, films/tv, apps; needs smartphone to use as a remote.

Amazon Fire TV:

£79.99; Amazon Prime is £79.99; 1m song catalogue with curated playlists, films/tv, apps, games; voice controlled remote.

The most obvious competitor is Amazon Fire TV, which compared to a device that does one thing, looks like a total steal. At launch, Electric Jukebox is not creating a leap in value for buyers and opening up a new and uncontested space in the market. While it certainly isn’t aimed at the same market that streaming apps like Spotify, Deezer, Tidal or Apple Music (standalone) are, it’s not far enough away from the actual competition to make it a standout product. In spite of what the company claims, IT DOES HAVE A SUBSCRIPTION MODEL. The double speak on the website is out of control. Here it is at the time of writing:

“Electric Jukebox comes with a one year Premium Music Pass straight out of the box. No Downloads. No sign-up. No credit card. No monthly subscription. No laptop or smartphone needed.

You get unlimited music streaming and can choose from millions of albums on demand — absolutely no adverts intrude on your listening.

One year after activation you can carry on listening to our fabulous expert channels, radio stations and Mixtapes… or for the full ad-free on-demand functionality you can buy a 12 Month Premium Music Pass, available for just £60 per year.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Dumbing down tech and hoodwinking people into subscriptions is not the way to get more people to spend on digital music. Driving mainstream adoption of streaming music is completely possible and absolutely necessary, but the solution needs to be affordable, portable and value generating. The launch version of this product isn’t any of those things.