David Hyman had a dream that came true. He spearheaded a Spotify competitor that delivered near-audiophile quality music to your phone. So good was MOG, that in July of 2012 it was bought by headphone innovator, Beats for reported $14 Million, which included relocating Hyman and his family to Malibu is serious first-class style. But, less than 15 weeks after the acquisition, the Hollywood honeymoon came to a dead end and Hyman was out of a job. What went wrong?
When AOL purchased Time Warner in the 90′s they created a hope that content and internet would finally marry. Instead, AOL stock dive-bombed from $90.00 to $9.00 and years later they dumped the media anvil. The reason cited in the book, Exploding (one of the best reads on content executives’ pathology) was the inability of the two cultures–Internet services and media/content–to find a common vision. Put simply, they just could not agree on which needed the other more.
A decade later, David Hyman is learning that same lesson, but this time, it’s a content company shedding a CEO whose modern vision for music consumption was an unlikely match for a company trying to sustain a music catalog-based business model.
The one and only time I met Mr. Hyman was at a dinner party this past October. I was excited to meet the man who had been the CEO of Gracenote, a game-changing technology for digital music. I had also been advocating MOG over Spotify for its audio quality. Unfortunately, by the time the entrees were served Hyman probably thought I was a Luddite on a furlough from a 1980′s time-capsule. And why?
THE BUY BUTTON
During appetizers I asked Hyman when he intended to give MOG something that the record business desperately needed more of – a buy button. Streaming apps offer the hear it / like it / buy it end-to-end experience that terrestrial radio never could. Yet, unlike Pandora and other mobile apps, you cannot purchase or save the music you hear on MOG.
Hyman’s answer was a confirmed never. Not on his baby. His reason still echoes in my mind and is one that resonates with many technocrats:
“Who wants to own music when you can stream it from anywhere.”
But for those on the content side of the fence–that is to say, those that still sell “media,” this smacked hard. It also had me wondering if Jimmy Iovine, Hyman’s new boss; who acquired MOG to create an “end-to-end music experience” knew how his fair-haired boy saw the future of music sales.
Did Hyman think it was only middle-aged die-hards and audiophiles who wanted the actual media file? He mused: Kids don’t give a crap about owernship and never will. He used his own as examples. True, I thought– kids don’t give a crap;
…kids with smart phones
…or hot-spots in their private schools.
And that’s most kids, right?
“I think kids get older,” I responded, “When young they rent an apartment, but one day they buy a home. Is it so hard to believe that this will be true of music too?” I had the table’s attention. “We still sell about 250,000,000 CD’s a year in the U.S. and have over one billion downloads on iTunes. So, why not allow those who want to buy, buy through MOG?”
But Hyman was adamant, feeling that a buy-button would only complicate and confuse the user interface.
It was about now that I was getting a clear picture of his future working for the world’s biggest record company. It would be weeks before the news of his stepping down broke, but that night, knowing the expectations of the machine that owned him, it seemed likely.
Did Hyman not realize he was now a record man? What was his vision of an “end-to-end music experience?”
Hear it / like it/ here it again / and again / don’t buy it / ever / hear it again?
And as the parfaits were served, it hit upon me what the disconnect was:
Many in tech do not see music as a taste-making artery of our culture. Instead they see music like water, like a utility, like something you subscribe to monthly but don’t connect to emotionally.
This is the divergence in product perception that kept Time Warner/AOL from bonding.
On one side, you have the content industry, shaping the vox populi for decades. On the other, you have the technocrats, once thought of as geeks, now they are the taste-makers of the moment and many believe that copyrights are silly, record companies are to be toyed with and that mental Darwinism should prevail over talented coke-heads.
I’m not suggesting Hyman felt this way. He was a hybrid; as much in the corporate music world as he is in technology. But in this writer’s view, you cannot serve equally the two gods Hyman was finding himself between.
THE GOLDEN RULE
So, who won?
Like always, the one with the checkbook. When it was AOL’s checkbook, Time Warner lost, and this time, the checkbook belonged to Beats/Universal.
For those following the tech v content SOPA-opera Hyman’s exit from MOG should come as mild surprise. He is a talented executive who will be back someday probably with something even better.
I hope by then he learns how to ride this wild misterss we call music and avoids trying to tame it.
This story appears courtesy of Moses Supposes.
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