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News October 27, 2015

Hot Seat: Colin Blake – Rdio

Rdio might like to position itself as the United Nations of streaming services. The company was founded by the Danish mastermind behind Skype, it’s based in the U.S. and its Australian company is now run by a Canadian citizen — Colin Blake. Rdio will need all the brightest international sparks if it’s to survive the battle of the streaming music services. It’s a fight which could get nasty with the recent announcement of the Twitter Music service, and the pending entry of Apple’s iRadio.

Rdio launched in the U.S. in August 2010 and rolled its service into Australia in early 2012. The company now claims a catalogue of some 18 million licensed tracks. Since Rdio arrived here, the digital market has welcomed a flourish of newcomers. Now, some 30 digital music services do business Down Under. Blake is the newly-appointed head of Rdio Australia, a joint venture with DMG Radio. Prior to joining the streaming music firm, Blake served as Vice President of Commercial Marketing & Brand Partnerships at Viacom International Media Networks Australia and New Zealand. He’d originally relocated from Vancouver to Sydney in 2001 to become Head of Marketing for the General Pants Group, before taking-up a similar role at MTV Australia and New Zealand.

What’s your vision for the Australian Rdio company? 

The last couple of weeks have been all about investigating. I’m still getting a feel of where we’re at and understanding what’s happened, and getting a grip of where we want to go. I’m consciously not engaging in the competitive chatter. There’s much (to learn) about who’s who in the zoo, and what they’re trying to do. And to be honest, good on them. My mission, and the reason why I got involved with Rdio in the first place is because as a music lover I believe it’s a great product, we want to operate with integrity and be supportive of the industry and the artists; it’s not about commercially exploiting things, not about pulling-in users by any means necessary. Part of it is putting our money where our mouth is. We want to support artists with real marketing money. We want to ensure we’re doing fantastic promotional partnerships around releases that benefit the artists and the labels, beyond becoming a marketing partner. I want us to be super-honest about how we approach this.

Do you get a sense of where Rdio Australia is positioned among it all? 

As far as scale goes, for certain we’d be well up there. We were in early, we had a successful run and there’s been a fantastic organic pick up of it. Because of the quality of the service, and the quality of the product there’s been a lot of staying power. People that have come in rarely leave. We’re happy with where it’s at, and I’m confident that once I get stuck in, it’s going to blow up. I’m not super interested in getting completely engaged in what the competition is doing. I just want to go out and do what I think is the right thing to do, based on the ethos of where the brand’s at and what the quality of the product is. It’s not about pulling in users by-all-means necessary. I don’t need every person who buys a drink out of a vending machine to have an account with us. I’d rather do things that are more based on what the integrity of the product is.

Can you share numbers on how many are using the product? 

We’re not sharing numbers.

You’ve come from MTV. A few years ago, some folks were saying Internet had killed the video star. 

Everyone loves throwing things like that out there. It’s all bullshit. You look at MTV and people’s paranoia of what using those marketing materials was going to do, and then people’s paranoia around the evolution of iTunes, and now the streaming of music. MTV is amazing. It’s a phenomenal brand. The reason why I was involved with MTV for so long was because as a marketer here in Australia, there were so many opportunities to go nuts with it. As a music lover, I grew an appreciation for the scene in Australia. I’d already had great relationships with a lot of acts, management and labels through stuff I’d done at General Pants. MTV has great staying power, but it’s been misunderstood at times. But, they’re definitely aware of how the industry is evolving. And they haven’t been that scared to take risks, and I’m really appreciative of that. That was a big part of why I was at MTV for so long.

Will there a time when Rdio might have a video streaming option? 

Guvera and Spotify have suggested they’ll move in that direction? It’s definitely possible. When I visited the office in San Francisco, it was cool to see the technology and the investment in the back-end. Because the ownership is the guys who started Skype, there’s a special kind of technical know-how that goes into creating the product. So translating that into things beyond just music… for certain, there’s a chance. 

You also spent time at General Pants. For a retail chain, they’ve been particularly busy in the music space in recent years, with a record label, ticketing and sponsorship.
All of that stuff was a further continuation of what I’d worked on back in the day. At the time I joined GP there wasn’t much in the way to music links in the marketing. I felt the people I met when I first got to Australia and the influence music was happening with our young customers and our staff, it was totally the place to go. I started a big deal with Pav at Modular to set up “Modular Presents,” which was him and his team curating the music going into the stores. It became a marketing opportunity for the labels to expose artists. So, Pav and his guys did a lot for us there, which was a good starting point. From there, we got into a lot of tour sponsorships with General Pants and made sure we were supporting a lot of live shows that we thought our customers and staff were getting excited about. The stuff they’ve done in recent years is based off the foundation we started quite some time ago. 

Of course, Apple’s iRadio is coming soon. How will that impact the streaming market?
It’s not my priority at the moment. My focus and attention at the moment is with my basic relationships within the music industry. And that feels like the right thing to be doing with such limited time so far.

The big players in the streaming market are boasting something like 20 millions tracks. Many see curation as the music industry’s big problem. Is it? 

Absolutely. To be able to cut through and for music lovers to be able to hear what they want and to discover new things that will hopefully turn them on is crucial. We’ve got a few things brewing right now which I got a little exposure to in San Francisco. The tricks up the sleeve will be many and excited as we go along. 

You’ve lived in Australia for 12 years. What do you make of cricket and rugby?
(Laughs) I’m completely clueless about cricket, which is a bit lame and sad. Rugby league I “get,” and I’ve been to a few games. I’ve been known to sit and have a stubby while watching a game on a Sunday afternoon.

Follow @LarsBrandle on Twitter

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