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New iPods will be even closer radio substitutes

Three primary things separate iPods from the functionality of radios:

1. They are tethered to a computer and can’t be updated without them 2. There’s no way to be introduced to new music without specifically seeking it out 3. There’s no local aspect and no role for personalities or content “between” the songs

(Yes, I know “commercials” is another item – but I’m talking about stuff that listeners might like)

The first item (at least) is about to be erased. And the second won’t be far behind. The third, meanwhile, is why many listeners are escaping radio for iPods in the first place. It is rumored that on September 5 Apple will release their new iPod line and that line will finally – as long predicted – feature the ability to connect to WiFi networks.

This could work in one or both of two ways: Either you would be able to buy and download songs via WiFi (most likely) or you would also be able to stream or cache content via the iTunes strreaming “radio” channels (perhaps less likely – since a station streamed or cached on an iPod is not a song purchased, thus making the transaction less profitable for Apple. On the other hand, anything that drives the purchase of iPods is more profitable than anything that drives the purchase of songs).

The ability to stream iTunes stations means, of course, that YOUR station could be one of those. But your 30 market competitors just became 3,000 worldwide competitors. And counting.

I’m speculating, of course. We’ll know more on 9/5.

This is an obvious evolution for the iPod – WiFi is already popping up on iPod alternatives – and makes them even more of a substitute for radio than they’ve been in the past since any iPod could be updated wirelessly and on the fly. And anything which makes an mp3 player easier to use and more valuable to own makes it a more potent radio substitute.

As I have said many times in the past, stations which live and die on a steady diet of music will be facing stiff competition from devices like these over the long run. When these devices do not need a computer and feature a music discovery component, that’s functionally equivalent to the best music radio station you can imagine: One which matches your tastes exactly.

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