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The surprising genius of Apple's Beats 1 radio

Mike Elgan | July 7, 2015
When Apple announced it was creating an Internet radio station called Beats 1 to go along with its Apple Music service, I was dismissive.

When Beats 1 was announced, it seemed ordinary and unremarkable -- and it would have been if Apple had followed the common path, which is to create a separate radio station for every genre. Instead, Apple came out with one station. In doing so, it set that station apart from all others in a major way.

Why Beats 1 is pure genius

Beats 1 is a regular Internet radio station. At the same time, it's completely unique for two reasons. The first is that it's got massive scale because Apple is behind it -- it broadcasts live to 100 countries. Numbers have not been released, but there's no question that it's by far the most widely listened-to streaming radio station ever.

The second reason Beats 1 is unique is similar to the reason the iPhone is unique: Apple offers only one, which focuses and concentrates the world's attention on it.

Because of Apple's prominence and marketing mojo, Beats 1 instantly became the official radio station of Apple users worldwide, and secondarily to Windows PC users. The social networks, and especially Twitter, are chattering endlessly about Beats 1.

The Internet (and to a lesser extent cable TV) has destroyed something everyone over the age of 40 used to experience all the time, which is a universal and consistent shared media experience.

For the past couple of decades, everybody who is consuming content is consuming something different from what everybody else is consuming.

The only time that changes is around "events," such as the World Cup, the Super Bowl or the Oscars, or catastrophes like 9/11.

Beats 1 is the only medium that offers an always-there global shared content experience. For example, when I listen to Beats 1, I can assume that some percentage of my colleagues in the tech press are listening to the same thing I am. One of my kids might be listening. And I know that at this very moment, a non-trivial number of people in India, Mongolia, Egypt, Fiji, Sweden and dozens of other countries are listening to the same song at the same time. And that knowledge changes the experience of listening.

Because Apple has just the one radio station, and because it has deep pockets and a wide reach, it can do things no one else can do.

It can attract the world's best or most famous DJs. It can also attract the world's biggest musical artists. But more importantly, Beats 1 makes Apple the world's top musical king maker.

If and when, say, Zane Lowe drops in a previously unknown artist, that person's career can be made instantly.

The power of Beats 1 won't be lost on the music executives Apple negotiates with for licensing deals.


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