Apple TVWith Apple promising ‘the future of television’ with the latest-generation Apple TV, the race is on for music streaming services to get onboard. Being Apple, this isn’t easy, but Mixcloud has secured an early win for its 13m monthly listeners.

Ahead of SoundCloud, Deezer and Spotify, Mixcloud looks set to help shape broadcast’s latest reinvention along with its streamed delivery, multi-device integration and new control models.

Freshly launched, the fourth generation of Apple TV packages a set-top box running tvOS with a remote control that now incorporates gesture and Siri voice control. Like the dedicated NowTV (Roku) and Amazon Fire boxes, and the likes of the agnostic Roku box, the add-on nature of Apple TV tells us that we’re not yet ready for ‘platform dedicated’ smart TV sets, but that we’ve bought into streaming as a legitimate alternative to terrestrial and cable delivery. Can music services define a new role for themselves here, beyond the template first cut by MTV in the early 1980s? Could they even help restore musical fidelity?

Mat Clayton

Founded in 2008 in the UK by Nikhil Shah, Nico Perez, Mat Clayton and Sam Cooke, Mixcloud had recruited 3m active users and more than 500,000 registered Facebook users by 2012. The service hosts radio shows, DJ mixes and podcasts that are sourced by these users – who include Wired, the Harvard Business School and TED Talks.

Research conducted by UK radio audience research specialist Audiometrics suggests that 77 per cent of UK adults listen to audio at home as against 51 per cent in a vehicle car and 17 per cent in the workplace. In the US, Edison Media reckons that the Generation Y demographic is leading the way with a 63 per cent uptake among 18-34-year-olds. By comparison, 46 per cent are streaming radio while working out and 44 per cent on the move.

‘The living room is a big opportunity for Mixcloud,’ Mat Clayton asserts. ‘We launched our Sonos app in beta earlier this year, and Apple TV is the next part of our strategy to go big in the home. We’ve got a great catalogue of shows to entertain people at home both alone and with friends, and we’ve built the product to be simple and intuitive with a more “lean-back” experience than our other apps.

The Mixcloud app provides access to audio via shows, reposts, favourites and playlists on any host’s profile page. It also sees Mixcloud playing up its catalogue of talk podcasts alongside its music content – spanning science and education to technology and food.

In the bigger picture, becoming part of Apple TV places Mixcloud in the company of the likes of Netflix, Vimeo and YouTube, hitting the mainstream TV market ahead of its immediate competition and putting it in front of a broader audience than it has previously enjoyed. Here it can showcase long-form radio and music content, as well as introducing features such as track list fingerprinting, time stamping of shows and ‘listener engagement statistics’ for radio stations.

The argument for more highly integrated and interactive services is more than persuasive. But this same marriage of accessibility and convenience has already badly lowered popular audio quality expectations through the uptake of portable media players – not least, Apple’s iPod. Does home music streaming threaten more of the same, or is it an opportunity to reinstate something of audio’s former dignity?

‘Consumers are increasingly investing in high-end TV/AV systems for their homes in place of pure audio systems,’ Clayton assures.

Sennheiser OrpheusWhile treated with suspicion by some of the old school, the effort being invested in new format mix and mastering processing from the likes of TC Electronic, Nugen Audio and iZotope may help us win back the passion of music fans through home TV. And at around €50,000, the very recent launch of an updated version of Sennheiser’s Orpheus headphones strongly suggests that there’s still life in the audiophile market.

Further assurance can also be found in the equally recent opening of a new US mastering facility: ‘We are carrying on the legacy of my previous San Francisco studios and taking it into the future with Coast Mastering,’ says owner Michael Romanowski, ‘while also bringing the same aspects of audio quality, community and a love of music into our new facility.’

While it pushed the boundaries of fidelity, hi-fi failed to penetrate the home market with surround/quad systems when it tried during the 1970s. But now that sound is an essential part of family entertainment, rather than an esoteric indulgence, it could be preparing for another assault.

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