Touchscreens, mobile apps and social networking reimagine the barroom jukebox.
Local dive bars and social hangouts across North America are getting a technology makeover as a wave of Internet and smartphone-connected, touchscreen-controlled digital jukeboxes supplant the iconic 45-spinning and more recent CD-based models.
Fifteen years ago around 150,000 traditional jukeboxes were operating in the U.S., but today that number has dwindled to about 90,000, according to Vending Times. Just as the Internet disrupted the record industry, mobile and touch technology are now upending the jukebox business.
Rather than just playing songs from a selection of a few hundred titles, these multi-functional, computer-powered jukeboxes can offer song catalogs that number in the hundreds of thousands. Playing songs is just one of many functions. They also act as karaoke machines and photo booths, and display interactive digital advertising that brings new experiences to patrons and revenue streams to venues and jukebox vendors.
One of the newest breeds is the Virtuo, designed by New York-based TouchTunes, that mounts on a wall like a giant touchscreen.
“It can be a focal point that people find engaging, especially the younger, digitally connected crowd,” said Marc Felsen, of TouchTunes Interactive Networks. Tellingly, the former Intel and DoubleClick engineer describes TouchTunes not as a digital jukebox company, but a media and social experience provider.
The market for the multifunction machines has grown steadily since 2007. Felsen estimates that 56,000 locations were using his company’s players at the end of 2012. He sees locations as only part of the equation. TouchTunes claims to be second only to iTunes in volume of paid music downloads, with an average of 2 million songs played each day on TouchTunes devices. There’s big money to be made from those downloads. Last year, digital download revenue totaled $5.6 billion, according to NPD, with Apple claiming more than half of that.
Smart Jukeboxes Always Connected
TouchTunes released Virtuo in 2011, and since then has added new features and upgrades via wireless software upgrades over a Verizon 4G network. It’s come a long way from the company’s first model back in 1998, which looked more retro than today’s 26-inch HD touchscreen device.
“The hard drive stores 25,000 songs locally, but it can access hundreds of thousands of songs from the cloud,” said Felsen.
The embedded PC inside the Virtuo runs OpenStage, TouchTunes’ Linux-based operating system, on an Intel Core processor. The jukeboxes, which have a user interface developed by Frog Design, are manufactured by Flextronics and sell for less than $5,500.
“Every night this thing calls home and can update its applications, so the entire software stack can be changed as well as all the music and video stored on the machine,” said Ed Stock, platform systems architect in Intel’s Embedded Computing and Communications Group. “It has social media built into it and a phone experience, so you can find a location that has a TouchTunes jukebox, check in and choose songs directly from your phone, then it just debits your [pre-paid] wallet from the TouchTunes application.”
The free Android and Apple TouchTunes app has more than a million downloads, according to Felsen. It allows people to securely use their credit card to buy song tokens that if not used expire after 60 days. The app lets people create playlists and select songs without leaving their seats.
“We limit the distance for check-in to within 3 Kilometers,” said Felsen, which keeps people who aren’t at the location from playing or repeating bad songs.
Another thing Virtuo does that traditional jukeboxes don’t is track what songs are played. “We report back to music labels how songs are doing locally, regionally, nationally,” said Felsen. “For a Bruno Mars promotion, we could show how well a song did before, during and after promotion. We also do our own analytics to help optimize song lists and performance.”
Felsen says the average user spends about 6 minutes on the machine, ample time to serve up advertising to people at a point of purchase and while they are interacting, having fun with friends and exploring their favorite music.
“We are not doing ads on the mobile app yet, but we’re exploring it,” said Felsen. “We’re just at the beginning and we don’t want to create an unpleasant experience for people who are spending their money to play songs, but advertisers are definitely interested.”