It always feels strange calling Shazam a startup, given that it started up more than a decade ago, in 2002. Initially a music recognition service accessed by dialling 2580 on your mobile phone, it has evolved steadily since then.
Since the launch of Apple and Google’s respective app stores in 2008, Shazam’s growth has been rapid, and by November 2013, its apps were being used to tag more than 15m songs, TV shows and ads every day. The company passed 10bn lifetime tags in September, at which point it had 70m active users – a figure that has risen to 80m now.
Shazam’s business in TV and advertising may be where it makes most money in the coming years, but the company has continually stressed that it remains committed to music. In November, it said its apps were driving the sale of more than 500,000 music downloads a day – more than 7% of global digital track sales.
The company’s latest feature – Auto Shazam – may mean more big changes both in how Shazam is seen by its media and entertainment partners, and how it’s used by smartphone and tablet owners.
Initially introduced for its iPad app last May, in December Auto Shazam made its way onto iPhone. In both cases, it runs in the background on the device, identifying any songs, TV shows or advertisements that it can recognise, and storing them in the user’s collection for later reference.
“This totally changes the game for us,” Shazam’s chief product officer, Daniel Danker, told Music Ally this week. “If you imagine that before a Shazam user might press that button maybe once or several times a week, now with Auto Shazam we’re checking in every 10 seconds.”
It’s early days on iPhone, but Danker had some data-points to share about Auto Shazam’s popularity so far, and what it’s revealing about the habits of the company’s users.
“Even just focusing on the US market, about a third of all the Auto Shazaming that’s coming back is actually television content,” he said. “What that means is people are using their smartphones while watching TV. We expected that would be the case with tablets, but didn’t know whether it would be the case with phones.”
Danker added that so far “over 170,000 users are using Auto Shazam every single day”, which is small beans as a percentage of 80m active users (specifically, it’s 0.21% of them), but an interesting start. Persuading more people to flick the Auto Shazam in-app switch from its default ‘Off’ to ‘On’ will be one of the company’s key tasks in 2014.
“We’re now starting to distinguish actions from exposure…”
Auto Shazam also changes the nature of what we think of as a “tag”, given that it’s not people taking their phones out of their pockets and tapping a button to explicitly identify a piece of content.
“That’s true: we’re now starting to distinguish actions from exposure. We don’t want to go down the path of funny stats that nobody understands. If I tell you that 10.5m people have Shazamed Bruno Mars, you know exactly what that means. We wouldn’t want to start blurring that,” said Danker.
“Auto Shazam represents exposure – you’ve experienced that content – but we don’t count it as a tag until you’ve actually tapped on it to interact.”
Danker added that Shazam is proceeding cautiously when it comes to making use of this hugely-increased pool of data on what its users are listening to and watching. Privacy is a key part of this: it was notable that the press release for Auto Shazam included this paragraph:
“Shazam does not save or send audio samples; only digital fingerprint summaries of the audio are sent toShazam’s servers to identify media content in Shazam’s databases. As always, for user privacy, the original audio cannot be reconstructed from Shazam audio fingerprints.”
The company clearly sees the sensitivities around harvesting much more data on its users’ media habits, although Danker said this isn’t a new concern.
“It’s always been part of the mentality of Shazam, to ensure people don’t think we’re recording them: we only store the audio in the device for the moment that it takes to convert into a fingerprint, and that cannot be reverse-engineered to get the original audio,” he said.
“As technology does more things automatically for you, that’s when things can get a little creepy. We want to be on the right side of honesty, openness and transparency, and give users the chance to decide for themselves what they want to track. That’s why Auto Shazam is not on by default.”
“As devices evolve, the questions around things like battery life will go away…”
Danker was speaking to Music Ally on the phone from the CES technology trade show in Las Vegas, which this year has seen high-profile announcements in areas like connected cars and wearable gadgets – both of which have potential for a service like Shazam.
“There’s a far greater focus on technology and hardware that fits more seamlessly into your life, especially with wearable computing. We’re very interested in that,” he said.
“You will definitely see over time a transition to having the Auto Shazam kind of functionality built directly into the devices around you, and making it more seamless and much easier. And as devices evolve, the questions around things like battery life will go away too.”
And music? Shazam has been one of the biggest sources of affiliate links to Apple’s iTunes store for a long time now, and stats like 500,000 daily song sales emphasise its role in the music downloads market. How is that changing with the transition from sales to streams, though? Shazam has worked with Spotify in the past, and ran some interesting partnerships with streaming rival Rdio in 2013 too.
“Many people think Shazam is all about purchasing music, but our mission statement is to help people recognise and engage with the world around them. If that onward journey is into a streaming service, we are very happy to service that as well,” said Danker.
“We have worked with Spotify and Rdio, and this year is going to be a very interesting one, with the launch of new streaming services. There’s a healthy marketplace there. But one of the interesting opportunities is also around partnering with music artists.”
That means labels too – Shazam isn’t cutting out the middlemen – with such partnerships often involving promoting artists or individual tracks that are trying to reach a wider audience. One example cited by Danker is Martin Garrix, the DJ/producer who started to break in the UK last year.
“His label got in touch with us and said ‘can you help us put the word out about his new single?’ They wanted to reach out to anybody who had ever Shazamed him before and notify them about the new single coming out,” said Danker.
“We did, and the click-through rates were amazing – over 5% – because it’s not advertising, it’s content. And because it reached a huge number of users, the purchases were enough to help drive him to number one.”
This idea of helping artists contact people who’ve tagged their music was extended before Christmas when Shazam worked with a number of artists to send ‘Happy Holiday’ greetings to users who’d tagged them. Miley Cyrus, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Robin Thicke and Bastille were among the artists who took part.
“We wanted to make sure the first example of this was not going to feel commercial to users. It felt like artists engaging with them, just as they had engaged with those artists in the past,” he said.
“You’re going to see more of this. You’ll start to see album launches done through Shazam, and artists reaching out to their fans with new content. It’s just the beginning of something that is going to become quite significant to us.”
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