In 1979 Buggles sang ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’. It is 2020 and radio is anything but dead. But in a crowded digital world complicated by social media, streaming and podcasting, an Irish-founded start-up has found a way to keep commercial radio stations right on track.

It was quite by accident I bumped into former RTÉ chief digital officer Muirne Laffan on the street in Dublin recently and asked: “So, what have you been up to?”

Zoom forward a few days and she gave me the answer in the form of a demo with some of the most successful people in software globally.

“We will have a significant impact in the way that radio stations are able to craft their ultimate offerings towards their listeners”

Alongside Laffan, who now runs LaffanLABs as a platform for collaboration with content creators and start-ups, sat successful Irish tech entrepreneur Eamon Moore who runs cloud firm Hikari and who successfully exited EMIT in 2018 along with the CEO and architect of San Diego-based Solliance, Zoiner Tejada, and Ciprian Jichi, CEO of Genisoft and chief data scientist at Solliance.

Pump up the volume

Under the working titled ‘Music Manager’ (a new brand has yet to be revealed) Moore pulled together the group to build what is a software as a service (SaaS) platform that could help radio stations tune in accurately to broadcast what music lovers want to hear.

The start-up will be headquartered in Ireland and is already funded. ‘Music Manager’ is currently a working title for the business.

The platform uses powerful AI and algorithms to listen to all the various platforms from YouTube to Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, Deezer as well as pretty much all of the world’s music stations to identify songs that are trending and match them with the right audience.

Moore pulled the Music Manager group together through his links with the Microsoft Partner ecosystem where he first met Tejada and Jichi, who are both recognised as Microsoft Regional Directors.

Encouraged by Moore’s vision, Tejada and Jichi’s teams built the Music Manager platform and its strong algorithms.

According to Laffan, Music Manager will be a tool that radio station production teams can effectively get the “zeitgeist on what’s happening in the listener’s world.”

“It will use AI and predictive analytics to choose music and real-time relevant content that will resonate with listeners and deliver a playlist that will maintain relevance, listener stickiness and competitiveness in the stream age.”

“The product proposes to help radio stations select music that really gets into the Zeitgeist of what audiences want, so that they get a better understanding of what people are listening to on all the streaming services. It is a tool to help them understand what’s going to be hot in the next forthcoming period and help them deliver a playlist that is compelling.”

A broadcasting industry veteran who helped define RTÉ’s journey into digital, Laffan believes that radio stations have a strong future.

“Radio stations are great, they are viable. They’re all about personality, they’re about great content. Music is a big part of that. This platform helps programmers make faster decisions and really, really understand what people are listening to, what they’re consuming on all of the streaming services. It gives them greater insight, and it’s a tool to also be a bit more efficient so that they can spend more time on the editorial part of the job.”

Put the needle on the record

Moore, a consummate tech entrepreneur who is always watching what is on the horizon, explained how the vision for the platform came together.

“Hikari is rooted in the world of data analytics and business intelligence and we started having conversations with various companies about data insights and the challenges they were having. And through connections we had in the media and entertainment industry it became apparent that there was a huge challenge but yet a massive opportunity in that industry to kind of bring a central location for all the data sources that were available to them. And they are challenged certainly. We always go back to the ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ when MTV came out and radio was meant to be dead.

“But radio survived, MTV is still around. We started to see that then the natural evolution and the personal piece that radio gave that living in the moment, in the now.

“You look at where we go when there’s something that happens in the world. We naturally go to radio a lot of the time if we’re in our cars or wherever.

“So, it became it became apparent then that radio stations need assistance with making these decisions. 90pc of the world’s data has been generated in the last two years. So, there is a massive opportunity to help collate this. What we’ve built is a smart, algorithm-driven system using AI and machine learning to help make sense of it all and to help them make decisions around what’s the best content to put out there. So it’s a very strategic tool. And we’re delighted to bring this to market over the coming months.”

Enthused by Moore’s insight, Tejada and his team built the Music Manager platform.

“Eamon and I met in the Microsoft partner environment at various conferences where we advise Microsoft. Solliance is a network of 200 Navy SEAL-type specialists from around the world with different specialties and one of our strengths happens to be AI.

So along the way, Eamon was reintroduced to me by Microsoft and he said: ‘Hey, I have this start-up that I want to start, I’m looking for a good team that can do artificial intelligence.’ And that’s how we got reconnected through the partner program of all things, to do this start-up and we have launched this together.”

As Microsoft Regional Directors, Tejada and Jichici bring a commercial sensibility to helping enterprises succeed in the Microsoft ecosystem.

“This was a godsend of a project for us. It was really exciting kind of as a geek to be able to work on it. In diving into the challenges of this business, we realize there is no music genome for commercial radio, right? So, there is no kind of Pandora for commercial radio that helps you figure out how do you craft the perfect playlist for your radio station, that doesn’t exist. And it’s an unsolved and unmet need for these commercial radio stations, which is a really exciting opportunity to be working on.”

Music Manager, as its working title suggests, pulls together all of the social signals and data clues to help music managers and production teams make the right choices with the help of AI.

I asked Jichici how it all works. “AI and machine learning are already profoundly changing the people are are living their lives. It’s kind of unavoidable to have the same impact in an area like a radio as well.

“The thing is, a radio station and companies that are running radio station simply do not have currently the capability of assembling large technical teams that would allow them to tap into this virtually untapped world of huge amounts of data that they can use to significantly improve the way they serve the interest and they serve the preferences of their listeners.

“And that’s where we came in. We built this AI platform that enables vertical types of decision-making for content decision-makers. And that’s where we really believe that we will have a significant impact on the way that radio stations are able to craft their ultimate offerings towards their listeners.

“What we simply want to do is help radio stations make better choices for their listeners.”

So there you have it, the future of radio will be powered by data and AI will do the listening for you. Stay tuned.

Pictured at top: Zoiner Tejada, Solliance; Eamon Moore, Hikari; Muirne Laffan, LaffanLABs; and Ciprian Jichici, GeniSoft.

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 7 February, 2020

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