GRAND RAPIDS, MI - Rowe International, which has dominated the American CD jukebox market for more than a decade, announced the availability of its first-generation Internet jukebox last month. "NetStar," similar in appearance to the factory's widely installed "LaserStar" CD systems, was first shown in the third quarter of 2000.
The new digital jukebox is designed to run under Ecast's interactive broadcast platform, and is offered with a flexible music selection package. A touchscreen interface, credit card payment capability and remote system management bring Rowe into a new era of music delivery.
When purchasing a "NetStar," the music operator can select 100 to 150 albums; an additional 50 albums are placed on the jukebox by Ecast, which manages the music content, for a maximum of 200 albums. The 50 albums provided by Ecast are reserved for record label promotions, explained Ecast's Roger McAulay, who added that the 50 required titles will be consistent with type of music selected by an operator.
An operator who chooses less than the allotted 150 albums can add the balance over the first 12-month period. After the 150 albums have been selected and installed, additional albums can be purchased and downloaded to a system for $4.
Ecast's current licensing agreement with the record labels is album-based, therefore, digital music stored onsite must consist of an artist's entire album. Music is provided in "Windows Media Audio" format, which McAulay described as more robust over MP3 and royalty free.
Before taking ownership of a "NetStar," the operator is required to sign the Ecast Operator Agreement, processed by the Rowe distributor. The distributor also supplies the Venue Connectivity Form, which provides information on the location's Internet connection; this is handled by fax, but will eventually be available on the Web.
Following completion of the agreement, Ecast assigns a username and password to the operator, who can then set up the location on Ecast's website, where the 150 albums can be selected. Ecast arranges with the operator an inside-line installation for the jukebox location, which can be either DSL or a standard 56K.
After the operator selects music, Ecast adds content to a hard disc drive, which can be shipped to the distributor or directly to the operator, who would then install and test it. The 40GB drive also contains software required to support the Ecast network and other content, including advertisements.
The digital content provider recommends a high-speed DSL connection to maximize "NetStar" performance. One of the benefits offered by DSL is "Single Song Download," which enables jukebox patrons to search the entire Ecast music database, by album or artist, and download a single from an album for one-time play. The song disappears from the jukebox after it is played. The feature can work with a 56K connection, but not nearly as well. The company is testing cable connections; but high costs prohibit T1 and satellite, McAulay explained.
"Single Song Download," McAulay reported, is responsible for the considerable revenue increases, compared with CD jukeboxes, experienced by the first deployed "NetStars." It provides customers with more than 65,000 music choices, the number of songs currently available on the Ecast system.
Another "NetStar" feature improving collections, "Make Mine First," allows users pay more to position their songs to the front of the queue. "We recently launched the feature," McAulay said, "so we don't have detailed numbers, but it looks to be another five to 10 percent increase."
"NetStar's" CD purchase option also creates a new profit opportunity. Jukebox patrons who desire to purchase an album can do so by accessing Amazon.com on the screen, entering shipping information and paying with a credit card.
"NetStar" operators can monitor jukebox performance from their home or office PCs using "Ecast Central," a Web-enabled remote management system. The online tool provides data on jukeboxes' daily activities and specific uses, breaking down coin, bill and credit card purchases.