New Streaming Company Electric Jukebox Targets People Who Still Listen to CDs

A new UK streaming company is trying to win over people who still listen to CDs.

by Victoria Turk
Oct 14 2015, 3:00pm

Image: Victoria Turk/Motherboard

You and your family are gathered in the living room, basking in each other's company with the TV turned on. You pass around a remote control to select music to play on-screen and enjoy together—some Sheryl Crow, perhaps, or a little Robbie Williams.

This is how new UK streaming company Electric Jukebox imagines its place in the future of music consumption. The device, which was unveiled Wednesday morning at a lavish launch event at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), consists of a stick you plug into the HDMI port of your TV and a dedicated remote control with a microphone for voice controls.

Watching founder and CEO Rob Lewis demo the service with British singer Alesha Dixon, it was very clear that Electric Jukebox is not for me. I've spent most of my adult life without a television. Come to think of it, I've spent most of my adult life without a living room.

But from the ye-olde-style name to the celebrities chosen to curate playlists (Crow, Williams, and Dixon are joined by comedian Stephen Fry), it's clear the target audience is not millennials who already use Spotify or Apple Music or, um, Tidal. It's people who haven't got their head around streaming already.

Image: Victoria Turk/Motherboard

I think the complexity of digital is rapidly depriving people of what's almost a human right: the right to enjoy music at home

"What about those hundreds of millions of CD users?" Lewis asked. "That was the bedrock of the community; they have not converted."

Lewis claimed that while 200 million people would buy CDs monthly ten years ago, only 40 million people now have a streaming service subscription.

"Forgive me for sounding a little bit over the top, but I think the complexity of digital is rapidly depriving people of what's almost a human right: the right to enjoy music at home," he said.

Electric Jukebox is attempting to reach these non-streaming music fans by keeping things simple; they estimate it takes two minutes to set up the device from opening the box. There's no recurring subscription; buyers get a 12-month "music pass" when they first purchase the device (which has an RRP of £179 in the UK and $229 in the US) and can then buy further 12-month passes or else keep access to a free version that has more limited features and TV ads.

Perhaps the biggest difference to other popular streaming services is that you need Wi-Fi—you can't save music offline, and you can't access it on a mobile device. It's very much geared toward at-home, communal listening.

The appliance's UI. Image: Electric Jukebox

As for Electric Jukebox's library, Lewis said full details would be forthcoming but it would be a "comprehensive" and fully-licensed catalogue. The demo showed a sneaky glimpse of notorious streaming denier Taylor Swift's album Red, but it's unclear whether her oeuvre, or how much of it, will be available.

Some streaming services have been criticized for not remunerating artists appropriately, but Lewis and Electric Jukebox board member David Munn explained that was between the artists and the labels or rights holders they dealt with.

"What I'd say from a very high level is the reason why we hear about perhaps there's not enough money going to the artists is as much about the fact that streaming hasn't reached a critical massive scale as it is actually the underlying arrangements," said Lewis.

The people behind Electric Jukebox, which also counts industry heavyweights such as former U2 manager Paul McGuinness and former CEO of EMI Music Alain Levy on its advisory board, evoked a rose-tinted vision of a return to communal listening akin to huddling around a turntable in the 70s.

The question is: Do those people even want to replace their record players?