SoundCloud Introduces New Subscription Service

For years, SoundCloud has been the go-to service where musicians and listeners can connect, and now the company is ready to put itself in the same league as Spotify and Pandora.

SoundCloud Go was revealed earlier this week–a subscription service that will run for $9.99 per month ($12.99 on mobile) after a 30-day trial period. With it, the service is promising “more tracks from emerging and established creators,” as well as the ability to listen offline. This deal comes as part of a Universal Music Group partnership, which was announced earlier in the year.

The ad-free service will help creators “reach more listeners in more places, and do so in the most diverse content ecosystem in audio streaming.” And it assures its users that “the totally free SoundCloud you know and love will always be here. You’ll still be able to reach the platform’s 175 million unique monthly listeners, whether they’re SoundCloud Go subscribers or not.”

The move has already found a number of high-profile partners, including Netflix, Jeep, HBO and Pepsi–all of which should contribute to a much bigger revenue for the company. That said, not everyone is thrilled with the subscription model.

Dave Wiskus, a member of indie rock band Airplane Mode, wrote a letter explaining how indie artists will struggle to benefit from the service. “You’ve been running ads for a while now without paying us. I guess I wrote it off as a temporary measure to keep the lights on,” he notes. “I could accept that. But now you’re charging people for access to our songs, rolling out the red carpet for the major labels, and saying you’ll get around to us eventually . . . So not only are you getting our music for free and paying us nothing, we’re actually paying you to take it. What an excellent deal. For you.”

Many aren’t viewing this news in a positive light. Matt West, director of digital integration for Ayzenberg, stated, “SoundCloud is not only entering a crowded marketplace, but they’re running the risk of losing their most vital, active and engaged audience–music creators and tastemakers.

“The reaction from artists has been the loudest. The most notable complaints are from creators who have been paying for SoundCloud Pro accounts, only to discover that their music will now go behind a paywall,” he continued. “The subscription service essentially runs counter to the main attraction of the platform: music discovery. The general sentiment seems to be a sense of abandonment of independent artists in favor of major labels and brands, even though it has been those same artists and creators who have helped make SoundCloud a relevant platform.”

So the challenge for the next few months lies with making this new subscription model into something meaningful while balancing the free service. It’ll also be interesting to see what happens to indie artists, but considering how important they are to SoundCloud’s plans, their concerns will likely be addressed in the near future.

Open Source Virtual Reality Enables Industry With Single Plugin

Brace yourselves. The Oculus Rift and PlayStationVR are coming. By the end of this winter, virtual reality experts and prognosticators are indicating that the industry could grow to $6.7 billion.

It’s difficult to know exactly how the market will eventually mature—predictions are running all the way up to $70 billion by 2020—but one thing is for certain: VR technology consistently awes consumers with each experience like an episode of Game of Thrones.

But as the industry develops, content creators, vendors, hobbyists and enthusiasts alike face one curtailing problem—products and devices can immediately be rendered useless as the technology gets more sophisticated.

How can an entire industry combat a potentially fatal blow by pricing themselves out from consumers?

Yuval Boger, the CEO of Sensics, a developer and manufacturer of high-performance VR goggles, is supporting the vastly developing VR community through Open Source Virtual Reality. OSVR is designed to encourage the growth of VR headsets and other hardware, software and content to a more polished state that can be available to everyone, from the hackers to the general consumer.

“The philosophy behind OSVR is to give consumers choice, what hardware platform to run, and at what cost,” Boger told [a]listdaily. “We’re building a software infrastructure to plug whatever comes in, and just have it work.”

Companies as big as Intel, Ubisoft and Razer are already involved, and since it was unveiled at CES 2015, they’ve brought on more than 300 partners.

Boger joined [a]listdaily for a wide-ranging interview to discuss how OSVR is enabling an entire industry.

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VR has evolved immensely in the last few years. What have you learned?

One of the things we’ve learned over the years at Sensics working with car companies like Renault, GM, and Honda, with major defense contractors, there are many issues that have been slowly solved, like ‘how do you do tracking on a personal level and wide-area space? What can you do to control latency? How much field of view is good enough? What kind of resolution do you need to make it realistic?’ Now, we’re able to take some of that knowledge and bring it to the consumer world. We can take many of these lessons and bring them back to the mass-production world.

OSVR’s mission is to make VR affordable. What is the chief philosophy?

It’s to give consumer’s choice of what hardware platform to run, and at what cost. It also gives you a choice for peripherals, and to mix and match it. We’re trying to build a software infrastructure to plug whatever comes in, and just have it work.

How has the platform evolved? 

The software platform has been out for a year, and a lot of partners have already joined. It has a lot of capabilities. An example of one is game engine integration into Unity, Unreal, SteamVR, which is key for game developers. We’re really giving a choice. We support over 200 different devices of which you can plug-in, and get to work on VR. It’s really enabling a whole class of new applications. We’re able to take the mass-produced components that we’ve done on the OSVR hardware and software framework and use them together to create a semi-custom solution to fit a particular need.

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How does OSVR approach device abstraction?

Device abstraction is a key part of OSVR. The thought is you not having to worry about which particular eye tracker you’re using, as long as you create an eye tracker interface. When we looked across the eye trackers, it gives you the direction where you’re looking. Maybe it can give you an indication when you’ve blinked. But we don’t have to worry whether this comes from a different interface. Fundamentally, they’re all the same thing. Just like a printer is a printer regardless of how you ‘talk’ to it specifically.

How can content creators adapt to mobile? 

Adapting games into VR takes some experience. You have to figure out how to make people comfortable with the experience, where the camera is, and so forth. There is a learning curve and some experimentation, and we don’t have all of the results and knowledge yet to create the best experiences. But that’s true for every new medium. However, the efforts and solutions are there.

What are the ways you’re using the momentum of VR to build out capability? 

The excitement that we see in VR helps us attract additional people into the ecosystem, and I’m not just talking about vendors, but hobbyists and individuals interested as well.

How will VR change the retail experience? How can car manufactures incorporate VR throughout the development and sales process?

VR in cars is a really interesting topic. You can look at it from multiple angles. Some of our very first experiences with car companies were actually around the design side. ‘How does a car feel before you actually build it?’ so you can make the smart design decisions like where the GPS system, or sunroof, should be. Then, there is the driving simulation. Imagine I have a teenage daughter, and before I give her my actual keys, I let her drive through a simulator. And then, of course, you can really change the car-buying experience, beginning from your own home, by making decisions like leather-versus-cloth, or a basic-versus-premium package.

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Experts indicate video gamers will be the early adopters of VR. Do you think game content will eventually own the market?

I think gaming is a great initial application. You might say gamers have a propensity to spend a little bit more. I think that’s going to drive the market for a while. Immersion is really key. But then you jump into a lot of other interesting, realistic applications, like training, education, remodeling, real estate, vacation destinations, among countless others. Over the years of which VR has been done, there’s been no shortage of people with ideas. What’s been missing is affordable VR.

What will it take for VR to become mass affordable? What are the challenges?

When you look at what it costs to get into VR as an end user, there’s a price range gap. On one hand, a Google Cardboard is $15, and on the other is an Oculus, where if you buy the bundle with the recommended PC, that’s a $1,500 solution. What if I bought a computer last year and I don’t want a new one? So one challenge is how to get people into the various price points. Another is to find the best applications for VR, and there’s a lot of experimentation. It’s exciting and scary at the same time. With all of these opportunities, sometimes we’re going to succeed, and sometimes we’re going to fail.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan.

Alibaba Makes Huge Investment In ESports

A variety of companies have been jumping into eSports lately. Twitch recently announced a new venture with Super Evil Megacorp to create a mobile eSports league featuring Vainglory; TBS is still set to introduce a Counter-Strike competitive series this summer; and even ESPN is getting into eSports, despite previous objections to its appeal. Now, Chinese eCommerce company Alibaba could be showing the largest interest in these tournaments to date.

GamesIndustry International reports that the company has paired up with Singapore-based YuuZoo to create a new eSports initiative in China, and that it could see investment in over 1,200 different events for this year alone.

YuuZoo has a great deal of experience putting eSports activities together, including the Electronic Sports China Cup and China Internet Gaming, both of which were tremendous draws.

This deal, with an investment worth 100 million yen ($15.5 million), would put YuuGames in charge of AliSports’ World Electronic Sports Games (WESG) tournament, as well as its various eSports Club Competition Centres, with 20 located throughout China. The first tournament will kick off this month, with a 35.6 million yen ($5.5 million) prize pool.

“Sports is a multibillion dollar business in China, with massive growth potential,” said Zhang Dazhong, CEO of AliSports, in a statement. “That is why Alibaba is investing heavily in this vertical. Linking sport and technology enhances the quality of life. That is what we want to do through AliSports.”

While 1,200 various eSports events may seem like an overload, keep in mind that China has over 100 million eSports fans.

We’ll see what kind of success comes from the deal in the months ahead, but considering how wildly competitive gaming has grown over the past few years, it should be a key investment for Alibaba.

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Activision Blizzard Exec Sees NFL Stadiums In ESports Future

MLG has graduated to Nationwide Arena (home of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets) with this weekend’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Major Championship in Columbus. Mike Sepso, senior vice president at Activision Blizzard and former president and co-founder of MLG, sees a future where NFL stadiums will host eSports events in the U.S.

With $1 million up for grabs at this weekend’s first-ever North American CS:GO Major event, Sepso talks about the goals of Activision Blizzard as it attempts to appease hardcore fans and introduce new fans to eSports.

Mike_SepsoHow is MLG’s first stadium event different from anything in the past?

We’re going to go outside of the screen, whether it’s a Jumbotron at the stadium or the screen at home. The next-generation eSports experience will be more interactive, and more than just a video screen.

At Nationwide Arena, you’ll be able to see the LED screens reacting to what’s happening in real-time through some new technology we’ve developed. Our product strategy is related not only to the live fan experience, but also the over-the-top streaming platform. You’ll see more of it there later this year. We’re testing across both this weekend to provide an additional layer of data to the viewers.

What would you say is the significance to having the Major Tournament take place in the Nationwide Arena?

It’s a big step for Counter-Strike in North America. Traditionally, the game has been dominated by Europe, but we’re seeing four NA teams qualify for the first time, and the excitement and passion of the fans here is second to none.

How will this test impact the future MLG eSports experience?

These enhanced features will just be a test so people can watch in multiple ways. We’re in the experimentation phase and want to see what different cohorts of our audience are interested in. We don’t want to do anything other than increase the value of the current audience for the core fans. MLG has always been good at communicating with the core community, and we think some of these new features will give them something new to interact with.


In what ways have MLG tournaments grown and evolved over the past few years?

We’re always looking for ways to improve the live event experience and the broadcast. Obviously, the biggest difference for this event is that it’s our first in a traditional sports arena, but we’re also using that space to integrate the staging more closely with what you see in-game and we’re testing out an enhanced viewer experience at that pulls real-time situational data to offer insights into the top players that directly relate to what’s happening in the moment.

How are you opening up eSports to the more mainstream audience?

For the more casual fan, it provides a greater depth of knowledge of what they’re watching, especially through the non-technical parts of this conversation that celebrate the players and personalities.

One issue with eSports versus any traditional sports is that while you watch the game, you don’t see the people playing. We need to put celebrating these players a bit more into focus, and bring them into the forefront through their personalities and stories. This is all very early, but this new set of capabilities is just the beginning.

How are you learning from traditional sports?

We’re not reinventing sports here. We’ll use successful models from traditional sports, including up-close and personal storylines and pieces like ESPN does so well. We’ve been doing that. One of the interesting storylines in Columbus is that it’s the first time North American CS:GO teams are competing up to the level of European teams.

Will you give more control to the home viewers of what they’re seeing?

In the future, we’ll test a feature to switch from player to player in a match. We’re going to take a programmatic approach to see which changes gets the most traction with the fan base and which ones drive the storylines. This first time out is all about getting feedback from viewers at home.

What do you attribute to the meteoric rise of CS:GO in eSports?

CS:GO is specifically built for eSports. All of the in-game productization and third-party marketplace around it are a big part of its success. Valve is smart about how they’ve worked with the fan base and leagues to establish a firm base for some of the biggest and best eSports operators to come in and build something great. A lot of the live and broadcast enhancements we’re able to do quickly because the game was built for us to access data in real-time. That allows the MLG product team to build interesting experiences around that. The game is well-suited to tap into the current ecosystem around eSports.

What do you think it is about CS:GO, a four-year-old game, that keeps viewers hooked?

It’s been consistent in terms of gameplay, and Valve has done a great job within the community and game to keep engagement levels high.

MLG has graduated to an NHL arena. Is an NFL stadium far behind for the U.S. market when you look at the ESL attracting 113,000 people to the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship in Katowice, Poland earlier this month?

We’ll take a more unified look at the numbers at Katowice; sometimes people take a little license with how they report attendance numbers. But a football stadium isn’t that far away. The next obvious step for us is an NFL stadium.

A big part of this Nationwide Arena event was to see who’s attending. We wanted to see if fans were flying in from all over the world or if it’s more like the NHL or NBA and drawing in the local market audience. For Columbus, we received a very high percentage of ticket purchases from the larger Columbus market–way more than we had anticipated. Maybe the U.S. is catching up to Asia in terms of having a mainstream enough fan base–even in Columbus–so we can sell out a 9,000 seat arena. This opens up the opportunity to do more arena events, not just once or twice a year.

How many viewers and attendees are expected to watch the Major Tournament live?

We have sold out the arena, so we expect over 9,000 fans each day.

How has the transition from MLG to Activision Blizzard been for you?

When I joined Activision Blizzard, Steve Bornstein and I sketched out a grand strategy on how we could use all the resources of the company—not just the IP, but the global reach, balance sheet and deep understanding of brand management. With my background in the eSports world and Steve’s in the traditional sports world, we’ve outlined a strong strategy for market leadership that will help drive eSports forward by creating more mature, sustainable, business models for all aspects of the industry.

Activision Blizzard as a company (and now with King, we have the global mobile reach that business has) can help lead the industry, and be a much more open platform for the rest of the industry to organize something that’s more sustainable and easier to understand. If we can do that successfully, the entire industry will benefit, as well as fans and players.

Our sustainable investment hypothesis for how this works is to invest more back into the fan experience. That’s why we have these enhanced viewing tests. We’re less than a quarter into this acquisition happening, and we’re moving quickly.

This interview was conducted in collaboration between John Gaudiosi and Steven Wong. Mike Sepso will be a keynote speaker at the [a]list summit on April 20th in Seattle.

10 Brands That Pwn’d April Fools Day

It’s that time of year again—when the internet is flooded with April Fools’ Day pranks. Some are so good that it’s hard to tell whether they’re real or not. And a lot of companies, including IGN, Bandai Namco and Google, outdid themselves this year.

Here’s a quick roundup of the ten best “pwn’d” jokes we’ve seen this year.

Google Express

Google’s always looking for new ways to innovate in delivery, so why not parachutes? With Google Express, consumers can order items to be sent right to them through air drops, including water bottles and axes. Take that, drones!

Star Wars On Netflix

There has been a longtime discussion of a potential Star Wars series produced by Netflix. Well, IGN decided to make good on that with a fun April Fools’ prank involving a fake teaser trailer for the series, featuring signature character, Darth Maul, getting into a lightsaber fight. Sorry fans, but this isn’t the real thing.

Dark Souls III–The Movie

Bandai Namco has been putting a strong promotional push behind its forthcoming action/horror game Dark Souls III, which is set to arrive on April 12th. However, it decided to have some fun with it today, turning the game into an advertisement for a cheesy ’80s horror film. On VHS, no less.

Deadpool’s Home Debut

With Deadpool’s creative marketing, it can be hard to tell what’s a joke and what’s not. That’s why Fox decided to be pretty obvious by advertising the home release of the blockbuster comic book film for a pair of forgotten media formats. Along with the real Blu-Ray and digital release on May 10th, the film will also get a “non-existent special edition” on VHS and LaserDisc. What, no Betamax?

Hulu Datr

Sitting back and relaxing to streaming shows is a great pasttime, but Hulu wants to take it a step further by introducing a way to meet up with others. It’s fake, of course, but imagine the possibilities if you could meet that special someone while marathoning Parks and Recreation?

Sony Develops Ghost Catching Device

In a clever April Fools joke that ties in with the Ghostbusters reboot coming this summer, Sony announced the development of the world’s first real-life ghost-catching device, the Proton Pack. Alas, it isn’t real, but one can dream.

Samsung’s Internet Of Trousers


All things are connecting to the Internet these days, so why not pants? Samsung jokingly introduced the Internet of Trousers, which comes with a number of innovative features, including Wi-Fly, the Get Up! Alert (if you’ve been sitting too long) and the novel Keep-Your-Pants-On mode. We’d buy a pair.

The Duolingo Pillow

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Why sleep on an ordinary pillow when you can have an educational one? Duolingo’s humorous new pillow device has a number of features to help people learn a second language in their sleep, including a Cerebral Cortex Cushion and Auditory Cortex Transmitters. Granted, the dreams would probably be a little weird…

The Mark Zuckerberg H & M Collection

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Why just read about Mark Zuckerberg when you can dress like him? H&M’s new wardrobe line provides the same kind of cool shirts and jeans that the Facebook co-founder and CEO regularly wears. If you’ve ever wanted to look like a billion bucks, here’s your chance. Just kidding!

Quilted Northern Rustic Weave

Finally, for those of you who prefer toilet paper the way it used to be, Quilted Northern has an answer for that: its new line of Rustic Weave toilet paper. Handcrafted to feel like it was made in the 1800s, which brings being retro to an all-new level.

Bonus: Google Cardboard Plastic

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Want a view so amazing that everything looks completely real? Then Google Cardboard Plastic is the answer, encasing consumers in an experience where they can check out 3D surroundings and walk anywhere within a real world. It’s almost like you’re just wearing a clear piece of plastic.

Ayzenberg And JPL To Launch Self-Destructing VR Livestream Into Space

Today, Ayzenberg and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have announced a partnership for a pioneering space mission, to launch VR technology and 360-degree video into interplanetary space. The project has been closely guarded—sheathed in tarps to protect it from rain and cordoned off from foot traffic—next to Ayzenberg’s headquarters. Employees of the frontline marketing ad agency were told the project was actually a new building under construction to house the growing agency.

This new space program will bring such innovations as 8.5-second, 4K-360-degree virtual reality livestreaming video that self-destructs after viewing. Ayzenberg’s digital team had been working with Facebook to develop this new tech for 2 years. Both the agency and the social network hope the new platform, Vinestagrambook, will be well-positioned to finally compete with Snapchat.

Vinestagrambook has been the subject of major buzz in the tech world as of late, and is being tested by an elite group of influencers: the Numa Numa guy, the Peanut Butter Jelly Time Banana , Donald Trump and rapper B.o.B, who has joined to prove to us all that the world is indeed flat.  

The first mission, set to launch on April 1, 2017 for a trip to Mars, will be a maiden voyage for the spacecraft Minnow. Matt Damon, who has famously been to Mars before, will be joining Ayzenberg’s social media space crew. When asked how he would prepare for the upcoming mission, he commented: “I’m going to bring lots of potatoes. You can never have too many potatoes.”

Other notable astronauts joining the program include Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Tom Hanks.

“There’s tons of cool stuff you can do in zero gravity. They’re going to have a great time,” said astronaut Chris Hadfield.

When reached for comment, Eric Ayzenberg, CEO of Ayzenberg, said “As the great Neil Armstrong once said: ‘To infinity, and beyond!’”

to infinity