Sunday, December 11, 2011

TUN3R is signing off at the end of 2011

The headline says it all. Peter and I have decided to shut down TUN3R - the web site and the iPhone App will no longer be available by the end of this year.

TUN3R was officially launched in July 2007 with respectable fanfare. In 2006, when Peter showed me a demo of the technology behind TUN3R', it was one of those rare moments that seemed like magic. The ability to move around a mosaic of stations, hearing the sound flip in real time - just like a traditional analog TUN3R - was exhilarating. The Internet has always been a great place to find "long tail" nichey stuff, but I've always found the rigid organization and latency in browsing to be off-putting. Searching has always been a necessary evil, but TUN3R made it fun to find stations on the web. Serendipity was reborn. There were other things that made TUN3R more useful than the average radio aggregator: We we the first to crawl playlists, and allow users to search against them (also the station's web site). Later we added the ability to browse major city's AM/FM dial which we called "City Dials". Finally, we (well, basically Peter) released an iPhone App.

Others were impressed too, and for a while it seemed like TUN3R had a very prosperous future ahead of it. So why didn't things play out this way? I'll be the first to admit that under different, harder nosed, sharper elbowed management it may have done better. Although there were a few major obstacles we encountered along the way which I'll explain...

First, we thought it would be possible to make TUN3R a consumer company driven by business-to-business revenues. The original idea was that stations would pay to appear prominently on TUN3R's Dial. Unfortunately, the stations that most wanted to be on TUN3R's Dial were Internet based stations running on a very limited (if any) budget, and could barely afford their streaming costs, let alone a marketing budget (some stations even ask to be removed from TUN3R for fear of running out of bandwidth for their more loyal listeners). The stations that were well funded (i.e. the big FM stations) were and are as clueless about the impact of the Internet to their business as the music labels were and still are. Most of these stations outsourced their Internet strategy - that is to say their future business strategy - to data streaming and web site building job shops. Sigh.

The underlying problem wasn't so much that we couldn't sell into AM/FM stations - it's that these stations are not very interesting to Internet radio fans (i.e. TUN3R's fanbase). FM stations have too many commercials (most of which are still localized), antiquated restrictions preventing them from being heard outside their country, a looming reputation for accepting Payola bribes, limited playlists, too much empty filler, and inconsistent proprietary streaming formats. At most Internet stations, the DJs are in charge. At most FM stations, there is often no human DJ to speak off.

Internet radio has flourished somewhat in the free market of radio. But sadly, Internet radio is increasingly being seen as synonymous with Custom Radio - that's what Pandora and Last.FM are selling. It's a neat idea with huge appeal. But, it's one of those situations where the idea sounds better than it really is. A great DJ must be heard to be believed: I can talk to you until you're blue in the face about a great Internet radio stations (like the Soma stations or Radio Paradise, or the Swiss BigBeat), but until you listen to these stations you won't know to even look for them. Pandora knows this all too well, and has since launched non-custom pre-programmed genre stations. In the future, I wouldn't be surprised if Pandora had more listeners listening to DJ led stations than its Custom Radio offering - especially given the social direction the web is moving. Custom Radio == Lonely and Isolated Radio.

Therefore, we concluded that for TUN3R to be successful, we would have to focus solely on the listener. That is to say, TUN3R would become a pure Business to Consumer (B2C) business.

B2C is an arena that typically requires a combination of a lot of capital and/or guerrilla marketing. We did get approached by a well heeled VC from the US (it's been a nuclear winter for VC here in Canada since the dotcom bubble burst), but they came to us before we had any revenue to speak of, and since moved on by the time our iPhone App began bringing in cash. As for guerrilla marketing - it's for better or for worse a necessity. There are so many iPhone Apps now available that most App bloggers (and magazines) can and do charge for coverage. Translation: there's very little honest coverage of iPhone Apps out there as most of it is dictated by Payola. Generating grass roots buzz often requires various forms of spamming, something which we never felt was well suited to TUN3R's ethos.

But, word-of-mouth still serves us well.

Speaking more frankly, we both have families to support and bills to pay. Without quitting our jobs and getting funding, there's not a lot of time left in the day to build out the product and brand. There was certainly no shortage of good ideas.

Without trying to sound pedantic, it's not possible to pursue new ideas without freeing up time and money from ongoing projects. And for this simple reason we are putting TUN3R on an indefinite hiatus.

But hey, if you're reading this and disagree, feel free to express your ideas. But I should warn you: At this point we're not short on ideas; just time and money.

What then will become of this blog? Given that it's free to host, I'll probably just leave it up for posterity. Who knows, maybe I'll throw up one more post before the year is out.

A final shout-out to all the great Internet stations and DJs - you know who you are. It's been our pleasure to see you on the TUN3R Dial.

Signing off now.