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Issue Date: Vol. 43, No. 10, October 2003, Posted On: 10/13/2003


Rock-Ola And Ecast Partner For Downloading 'E-Rock' Jukebox


Marcus Webb

TORRANCE, CA - Rock-Ola Manufacturing Corp. is partnering with Ecast Inc. to build "E-Rock," the first-ever Rock-Ola downloading jukebox. The floor model was unveiled last month at AMOA International Expo 2003 in Las Vegas.

Officials said "E-Rock" includes the best and latest technologies from both companies. Scheduled to begin production in mid-October, it will be available from all authorized Rock-Ola distributors. "E-Rock" joins Rock-Ola's extensive line of contemporary, nostalgic, floor, wall and countertop CD machines, all of which will remain in production for the foreseeable future.

"I have always said that Rock-Ola will produce a downloading jukebox when the timing is right," noted CEO Glenn Streeter. "Now we believe the timing is perfect, for a variety of reasons. Ecast has proven itself as a solid, reliable provider of digital music content and a proven moneymaker for operators. Combined with Rock-Ola's established expertise in the manufacturing of efficient, cost-effective jukeboxes and electronics, this downloading platform offers unbeatable ROI. I'm very enthusiastic about announcing that Rock-Ola and Ecast have signed a five-year partnership agreement."

Ecast CEO Robbie Vann-Adibé said the partners have achieved "an open, constructive dialog." Calling Rock-Ola "an American icon," he added that "Rock-Ola's beautiful hardware works perfectly with our platform."

Rock-Ola president John Schultz added that there is an "established place" for downloading jukeboxes. "However," he cautioned, "it requires the right platform in the right jukebox at the right price point, plus the right concept for operator profit."

Schultz noted that Ecast products average $1,000 per month per jukebox, system-wide, which is one of the reasons Rock-Ola aligned with the digital content provider. Other reasons cited by Rock-Ola's president include: (1) A growing number of leading operators are "now very comfortable and satisfied" with Ecast's system. The platform has gone through its birth pangs and emerged as a strong, reliable, customer-pleasing new technology. (2) Ecast is backed by the most complete available downloading music library in the industry, with licenses from all five major record labels , including a complete Latin Music catalog. Presently, there are 130,500 songs available, and the list grows by 300 each month.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

The "E-Rock" jukebox is a floor model with the same dimensions as Rock-Ola's new "Digital Model 9000" CD cabinet. A 19-in. touchscreen monitor is front and center. Translucent "Lexan" panels feature a multicolor silkscreen graphics imprint, backlit by four 36-in. fluorescent tubes. The graphics design is an abstract motif of deep blue and purple, with accents of yellow and lime. Cabinet and doors are framed in die-cast and extruded metal. An MEI "2600" bill acceptor with 700-note stacker takes $1, $5, $10, and $20 bills; the jukebox also can process Visa and MasterCard transactions, and accepts coins.

"E-Rock's" 40GB hard drive runs Ecast's platform, which now runs on top of an embedded "Windows XP" operating system, and stores and secures 300 albums. The jukebox hard drive ships with 200 installed albums included in the purchase price. These 200 albums are available for hard drive installation at any time over the life of the operator's contract with Ecast. The Ecast computer on "E-Rock" units will be run by a 1.2-gigahertz processor chip with 256MB of RAM.

(Operators receive one free album update per jukebox, per month, downloaded from Ecast's central music library. Operators may add more music for $4 per album, regardless of the number of tracks on the album. Operators can "bank" albums by taking an album off the hard drive and storing it in their own "banks" on the Ecast website; this service is free although there is a $1 charge to move an album from the operator's bank to a new jukebox. This means an operator never has to lose an album that is already paid for. Ecast pays up to $500 of the installation cost for a DSL broadband line in each new location and will share the monthly charge.)

A key profit center for operators is Ecast's "Single Song Download." If a desired song is not already on a particular jukebox's hard drive, music patrons can review the entire Ecast catalog and spend additional credits to download any song in the library for immediate play. The typical download time for a song on DSL is three minutes, officials said. Ecast adds hundreds of songs to its central library each week; the playlist of each connected jukebox is refreshed immediately with availability of any and all new music as soon as it is added to the central Ecast music library. Another revenue-enhancing Ecast software feature is called "Make Mine First"; music patrons can spend additional credits to move their selection to the head of a jukebox playlist.

"E-Rock" comes complete with all necessary components, software and features. There is no additional cost to operate the jukebox beyond the purchase price, 50% of DSL installation fee, and 20% of monthly cashbox revenues that go to Ecast. In return for this share of revenue, Ecast provides music library management, Single Song Download, access to network, software maintenance, record label and other licenses, automatic updates of attract modes on touchscreen, connectivity management, music library management and more.

Rock-Ola executives said the company's new "Digital Syber-Sonics" technology is efficiently married to the Ecast platform. "It has always been our design philosophy to simplify the electronics and eliminate cables and components wherever possible," explained Rock-Ola chief engineer Ross Blomgren. "With the Rock-Ola/Ecast jukebox, simplicity is the most important engineering feature thanks to our adaptation of 'Syber-Sonics' for downloading. The computer core module integrates the motherboard, hard drive and interface components in one box; the amplifier and power supply are integrated into a second box; and all peripherals , remote control, bill acceptor, lighting, etc. , connect to this core module, resulting in the elimination of many external components."

As with any "Syber-Sonics"-driven CD jukebox from Rock-Ola, the new "E-Rock" downloading jukebox includes a newly designed, 900W., four-channel stereo amplifier and integrated power source. Also standard is the six-speaker sound system with folded horn bass speaker chamber. Rock-Ola has built every possible feature into the machine to accommodate most speaker setups. "E-Rock" also features four 7-band graphic equalizers; a four-zone paging system; and advanced digital signal processors for control of automatic gain, equalizer operation, volume, balance, and other functions. Infrared remote control and wired remote control are included. The "E-Rock" jukebox will have all the working, operator-adjustable features of a Rock-Ola CD box such as time-outs for volume adjustment.

SYSTEM MANAGEMENT

Two thermostatically controlled cooling fans are designed to turn on sequentially when trigger-point temperature is reached. After the first fan comes on, if the temperature continues to climb, the second fan comes on. Fans automatically cut off when temperature cools. This as-needed cooling system will keep the jukebox interior much cleaner than if fans run constantly. The computer will notify the operator if the fans need cleaning.

A unique feature of the "E-Rock" jukebox is that all DSL equipment , specifically, the router and modem , is built into the jukebox to promote greater security and reliability. The router is visible through a window in the back. In the event of a communication problem, anyone in the location can look through the window and see what message the LEDs are indicating when phoning the operator for technical support.

"E-Rock" jukeboxes can be serviced remotely with troubleshooting available online for power recycling on peripherals, heat and power cycle information and other functions via the broadband network. Operators can also make hardware adjustments to the "E-Rock" jukebox from Ecast's website including "Syber-Sonics" amplifier settings, play pricing and more. The Ecast website also advises operators of regularly scheduled maintenance requirements.

All proprietary operator data, including individual cashbox earnings and jukebox locations and phone numbers, remain confidential between the operator and Ecast per the latter's standard agreement. Rock-Ola will not share in any proprietary operator data from the Rock-Ola "E-Rock" jukebox.

BEHIND THE SCENES

The story behind "E-Rock" began in March, 2003, during the Amusement Showcase International, when principals of both companies met and expressed an interest in possible cooperation.

"We were the first major jukebox company to begin seriously exploring downloading options a decade ago," Streeter recalled, "and we are perhaps the last major jukebox company to actually produce a downloading product as of this fall. One reason is that we have been waiting to see how the dust settled for the whole downloading adventure. I'm pleased to say that Rock-Ola has remained stable and profitable while watching others throw literally tens of millions of dollars at projects whose outcome was unknown and uncertain at best."

Another reason for the company's decision to produce a downloading jukebox now is Rock-Ola's reading of the market. Executives believe that 2003 is the year downloading music has finally become mainstream.

"I think a lot of operators have turned the corner on downloading technology to become more comfortable and confident with it," Streeter assessed. "A growing group of operators believes that downloading is the long-term future of the jukebox industry , even if they have held back until now, due to price concerns." Streeter also said that "Broadband is the technology of the future, because of its speed and flexibility. We think Ecast has a solid future in the jukebox industry. Feedback from customers was the final factor in convincing John Schultz and me that Ecast was the way to go."

In early May, Streeter and Schultz flew to Ecast's headquarters in San Francisco to begin negotiations. An agreement was signed in early July, after which the management and engineering teams of both companies began an intensive process of design, consultation and prototyping. The unusually speedy manufacturing process took the "E-Rock" machine from initial concept to working prototype in less than two months.

This accelerated schedule was made possible by several factors, beginning with unusually close rapport between the Rock-Ola and Ecast teams, officials said. In addition, the Ecast and Rock-Ola technologies blended smoothly. "'Digital Syber-Sonics' was designed to handle any digital technology and it integrates beautifully with the Ecast platform," said Streeter. He concluded: "We think operators are going to love the new 'E-Rock.'"


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