Facebook's f8 conference on Thursday may not have been a changing of the guard in digital music, but it will certainly go down as a critical inflection point.
There was a noticeable generation gap in the day's events. Missing from f8 were companies from recorded music's eras that preceded streaming. iTunes, Amazon and eMusic were not on hand to represent digital downloads. Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target did not represent the compact disc.
Instead, much of the f8 conference was dedicated to Facebook's integration with streaming services -- both subscription and Internet radio. Spotify was the darling of the day. Its CEO, Daniel Ek, actually appeared on stage during Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's keynote address. Following the keynote, Turntable.fm, Clear Channel and Ek -- again -- appeared on a panel titled "The Future of Digital Music." Some ticketing companies were part of the day, too. Ticketmaster, Ticketfly, Eventbrite, StubHub and ScoreBig are among the many companies who have integrated their products with the Facebook. But streaming services dominated the day.
Thursday won't be remembered as the day revenue from streaming services overtook CD and download sales, however. Streaming services are growing in popularity -- they're already massively popular if you include YouTube -- but are still financial lightweights compared to the billions of dollars of downloads and CDs Americans still purchase each year.
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Instead, Thursday should be remembered as streaming services' coming out party. It was the day the CEOs of Spotify and Facebook shared the stage and discussed their visions for how music will be experienced in the future. And it was the day Facebook's value to music services became clearer than ever.
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These music services need Facebook to create the kind of social features needed for today's marketplace. They need the instant context Facebook's social connective tissue brings to a catalog of 15 million songs. They rely on Facebook to facilitate the sharing and discovery that make these services fundamentally different than their download- and CD-era predecessors. And they benefit from Facebook Connect, which makes registration easy and helps services gain new users.
And, perhaps most importantly, these services need greater awareness. What better way to reach your target market than through the sharing enabled by a social network with 800 million global users? Integrating with Facebook will get these services into the news feeds and tickers of their users to be seen by their networks of friends, and their network of friends. All that visibility leads to less friction and lower barriers to adoption.
In fact, the value of Facebook has led to changes in some services' models. The need to further reduce the friction of music discovery led MOG and Rdio to announce free versions of their subscription services last week. "Obviously we wanted to be as friction-free as possible, free to share and play music with friends on Facebook and other places," says Carter Adamson, Rdio's chief operating officer.
Simply put, music services have no better option for social features than Facebook. They could tap into the open APIs of Twitter and Tumblr. But those alternatives would not provide the staggering breadth nor the two-way relationships that make Facebook's social graph so valuable. Or they could try to build their own social network. "It's just a lot more seamless to have an existing graph than to find out who you friends are yourself," says Gustav Söderström, Spotify's Stockholm-based chief product officer.
Being best friends with Facebook is not a slam-dunk for a fledgling service. Visibility on the Facebook platform will not mean guaranteed success, but success will be within closer reach.