More on the Sonic Environment and Retail

The Basics: The Muzak of Ka-ching!

“Christmas music works,” said Georgeanne Bender, a retailing consultant in Chicago. “When we hear the old songs it puts us in the mood. It’s all about making people feel comfortable and stay and shop.”

It works so well that some retailers are playing holiday songs as early as Nov. 1, “to get people into the holiday spending mode,” said Dana McKelvey, a music programmer for Muzak, based in Fort Mill, S.C.

[…] Ms. McKelvey said Muzak recommends to its clients that they don’t start playing holiday music until the day after Thanksgiving, and early in the season holiday songs only make up a portion of some custom programs. “The closer we get to Christmas Day, the percentage increases,” she said.

She and other Muzak “audio architects” also work at avoiding repetition. “If you walk into a grocery store and hear ‘Jingle Bell Rock,’ you won’t hear that song again in the time you’re there,” she said.

[…] But even shoppers get tired of the same old songs, Ms. Bender said. “It works on the majority of customers,” she said. “But some of us will get sick of it.”

Some chains, notably Starbucks and clothing stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, offer more eclectic mixes. “Stores are definitely getting smarter,” Ms. Bender said. “They’re mixing in more sophisticated music.”

Satellite radio, with its ability to devote channels to specific music genres, has broadened listeners’ tastes as well. […]

[…] Mr. Rodgers, however, is never satisfied. Having to listen to piped-in music at any time of year, he said, leaves a feeling of powerlessness. “It’s rather like having your neighbor’s dog barking,” he said.

Video Games and the Record Industry

A game author tweaks an industry and everyone gets het up: Link by Link: Social Commentary, or Just a Dog’s Opinion?

If that’s true, the music industry – another purveyor of digital goods – could not have been very happy when bloggers last week began sharing screen grabs from a popular new Nintendo game, which includes, among its many characters, a guitar-toting puppy who seems to extol the virtues of file-sharing.

“Those industry fat cats try to put a price on my music, but it wants to be free,” the canine bard says in a dialogue bubble at the bottom of the screen, after performing and giving away “copies” of a tune.

The character is K.K. Slider, an insouciant inhabitant of the sprawling universe that is “Animal Crossing: Wild World,” a deeply layered community-building game released two weeks ago for the Nintendo DS, the hand-held gaming console introduced last year.

In an e-mail message, Nintendo’s vice president for marketing and corporate affairs, Perrin Kaplan, said that “no real social commentary was intended.”

[…] While the joke may buzz a bit high over the heads of the game’s 8-year-old fans, 14-year-olds have heard enough antipiracy messages in their schools, seen them on their CD’s, encountered them online and chattered about file-sharing among friends to know that K.K. is expressing a subversive idea – that he is speaking their language.

He’s winking at them. He’s cool. He’s hip.

No doubt there’s a calculus in that, to keep young customers paying for more Nintendo games.

If not paying for music.

So, Is the Future Really a Google v. Microsoft Story?

Certainly that seems to be the message of this article — that, and the notion that “search is where it’s at” these days: Advertising: AOL’s Choice of Google Leaves Microsoft as the Outsider

The turn of events shows just how much Google – hotter now than Netscape was nine years ago – has supplanted Microsoft as the force to be reckoned with in technology. And it raises questions about Microsoft’s stated goal of becoming the leader in Internet searching, as well as about its emerging plans to offer more online services under a new brand, Windows Live.

“I thought Microsoft would pay just about anything to get this,” said David B. Yoffie, a professor at Harvard Business School. For Microsoft, he said, “AOL was the single best way to gain market share.”

Yet Google found a way to trump Microsoft’s hoard of cash, in part because losing to Microsoft was a strategic risk. Mr. Yoffie characterized the deal as “crucial and purely defensive” for Google because it “prevents Microsoft from being credible in search.”

Small Fix To Bayh-Dole’s Effects on Academia

At least it’s a start: Guidelines Set on Software Property Rights

To remove obstacles to joint research, four leading technology companies and seven American universities have agreed on principles for making software developed in collaborative projects freely available.

[…] The companies involved in the agreement, which will be announced today, are I.B.M., Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Cisco. The educational partners are the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the universities of Stanford, California at Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Illinois and Texas.

[…] The current problem, said Lesa Mitchell, a vice president at the Kauffman Foundation, was partly an “unintended consequence” of policies meant to encourage universities to make their research available for commercial uses, thus stimulating innovation and economic growth.

The tone was set, Ms. Mitchell said, by the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, which allowed universities to hold the patents on federally funded research and to license that intellectual property to industry.

When available, the policies will be posted here and here.

More Experiments in Distribution: Movies

Before You Buy a Ticket, Why Not Buy the DVD?

Mr. [Morgan] Freeman said in a phone interview Wednesday from Dubai that the industry practice of showing feature films in theaters first, then selling them later on DVD, was outdated. With new advances in digital filmmaking, he predicted, consumers will demand better access to movies.

“We want to give people what they want, when they want it,” said Mr. Freeman. “We are following the wave.”

Mr. Freeman is not the only entrepreneur riding the digital technology surf. In the last several months, a handful of new ventures have been formed to help filmmakers find their audience – online, on DVD and at the movie theater.

Naysaying Digital Distribution: Films

Digital Domain: Is Mark Cuban Missing the Big Picture?

The Internet was very, very good to Mr. Cuban, so it’s perfectly understandable why his subsequent business ideas circle around digital themes. Upgrading theater projectors, which use film technology that has not changed much since Thomas Edison’s time, to digital technology would seem perfectly matched to Mr. Cuban’s interests. Digital projection is coming, not only to Landmark Theaters but to the larger chains, too. It is Mr. Cuban, however, who was so eager to have his theater chain credited as the first to adopt a costly new line of Sony projectors with the highest resolution (4096 x 2160 pixel, or 4K) before they were even complete. Actual installation of the first machines, each of which costs about $100,000, has been repeatedly delayed while Sony works on debugging.

People in the theater exhibition industry know what many outside it may not: that the transition from film to digital will not improve the visual experience for theater customers. Nothing yet invented can match the richness of film. When digital projection arrives, the best selling point that theater owners can offer may be, “Don’t worry about it; you probably won’t notice.” The principal reason that the owners will convert is that the movie studios wish to save the considerable expense of manufacturing and distributing film. Digital projection “won’t increase our attendance,” said Kurt Hall last March, when he was chief executive of the Regal Entertainment Group, the largest exhibitor in the country.

Later: Carmike Theaters to Convert to Digital [pdf]

New Technology, New Problems

Through His Webcam, a Boy Joins a Sordid Online World

So began the secret life of a teenager who was lured into selling images of his body on the Internet over the course of five years. From the seduction that began that day, this soccer-playing honor roll student was drawn into performing in front of the Webcam – undressing, showering, masturbating and even having sex – for an audience of more than 1,500 people who paid him, over the years, hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Justin’s dark coming-of-age story is a collateral effect of recent technological advances. Minors, often under the online tutelage of adults, are opening for-pay pornography sites featuring their own images sent onto the Internet by inexpensive Webcams. And they perform from the privacy of home, while parents are nearby, beyond their children’s closed bedroom doors.

Background: A Shadowy Trade Migrates to the Web [pdf]