CDs that spy

The latest version of enhanced content on music CDs comes with a new feature for marketers - instant market research.

The latest version of enhanced content on music CDs comes with a new feature for marketers – instant market research.

Bandlink CD Intelligence software is now available on albums from Whitney Houston, TLC and Canadian punk band GOB. The appearance and operation of these CDs is normal in every way, but when played on a computer, the user is prompted to install Bandlink software, which promises privileged access to online band related content such as tour information, interviews, videos and photos.

Cedric Gore, president of Atlanta, Ga.-based JavaKitty Media, the company behind the software, calls this ‘an affordable way to enhance the value of CDs.’

‘The idea is to make the experience of buying the CD bigger than what it was. The recording industry has already gone so far as to fully equip the music itself so you can’t even play it on a computer. The Bandlink approach is designed to go the opposite way. Not only is it not restricted, but the value is there for buying the CD.’

Unlike multimedia elements currently included with ‘enhanced CDs,’ Bandlink components can be updated in real time, offering new content regularly – good news for an industry that is losing customers.

Bandlink’s Web site also spreads the good news for marketers under the headline, ‘Why do you need CD Intelligence?’ with the answers:

INSTANT CD USAGE STATISTICS – Go online any time and check to see how many people are listening to your CD, what songs they are listening to and how long they are listening. In addition, you can offer incentives for users to tell you who they are so you can collect demographic information and correlate it to their listening habits!

INSTANT FOCUS GROUPS – Bandlink’s ‘CD INTELLIGENCE’ makes it easy for you to conduct online focus groups quickly, easily and inexpensively. All you have to do is send the CD out to your focus group participants, tell them when to insert the CD and within minutes they will all be in a chat room that you control. You can test new singles, new music or artists, to gather crucial info needed to qualify your release or to influence program directors.

Using this information, labels could conceivably determine their next single, or a new direction for their next release.

Brian Robertson, president of the Toronto-headquartered Canadian Recording Industry Association, can see the benefits: ‘Compiling mailing lists, e-mail addresses and launching any communications with music lovers is going to be valuable in terms of ongoing marketing. I think it’s all part of the high level of sophistication that’s being used.’

As for monitoring usage statistics, Robertson is enthusiastic. ‘You’re getting actual evidence of usage. I don’t know how [much] more effective that could be. It’s not open to interpretation.’

One music executive, however, was sure that his company wouldn’t be licensing the software any time soon.

‘Once someone has purchased a CD, it’s almost irrelevant. If you take something home and you hate it and never play it again, I’m not going to know and in many ways, it doesn’t matter. If you sell toothpaste and they take it home, do you actually want something to kick back saying, ‘Oh, they’re using your toothpaste right now!’ I’m not sure it’s all that relevant.’

Record companies have long been using focus groups (internally and with the band) as well as feedback from the press and the radio to determine which singles to release. If further checks are needed, it’s simply a matter of posting new songs on a Web site and waiting to see how many people tune in.

Even if the technology spreads, music companies may have a hard time convincing fans.

For one thing, ‘There’s a climate in the marketplace where people are suspicious of anything that record companies do,’ Gore says.

Another caveat is that information about musicians is already readily available online, and Bandlink’s sign-up process is not as simple as it sounds. Software has to be downloaded before the content starts a-streaming, and users have to go through the usual log-in process to get access to content, or to an online chat room. Worse, Gore estimates that only 5% to 10% of users play their CDs on a computer.

The technology also raises privacy concerns. Like Bandlink, digital set-top boxes have the ability to monitor a household’s viewing and interactive activities – but they don’t do it. Canada’s privacy laws and standards put the privacy of the customer above all other considerations. However, the rules state only that ‘no private-sector organization can collect, use or disclose personal information without your consent’ and then only for the purpose for which the consent was given.

Dr. Ann Cavoukian, of the Information and Privacy Commission of Ontario, notes that this scenario is slightly different. While the fine print makes it clear to users that their habits will be recorded, ‘The target audience is extremely unlikely to read that fine print.’ Cavoukian feels that it’s difficult for people to make responsible decisions about their privacy when they aren’t aware of what’s going on.

On top of that, ‘It just begs the question: who will have access to this information and what are you going to do with it?’