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Tuning in to National Jukebox Day

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The traditional jukebox has had a major digital revamp, and now gets its own national day in the USA.

The US-based interactive music platform TouchTunes has teamed up with National Day Calendar to designate a National Jukebox Day, to take place on the fourth Wednesday of November. The occasion will be observed each year on the day before the American Thanksgiving holiday, which TouchTunes identifies as “one of the biggest bar nights of the year as Americans flock to their hometowns for the Thanksgiving weekend”. This year’s National Jukebox Day will be celebrated on 23 November 2016.

To get National Jukebox Day off to a fast start, TouchTunes will call attention to the inaugural observance with promotions for operators and patrons of its networked digital downloading jukeboxes. The Jukebox Selfie Contest will encourage users to post a photo with a TouchTunes jukebox to Twitter or Instagram for a chance to win a year of free TouchTunes jukebox credits. In a parallel program, TouchTunes plans to crowdsource song recommendations for a National Jukebox Day playlist, enabling social media fans and followers to help curate an ultimate list of “jukebox anthems.”

Finally, TouchTunes is assembling a Social Media Fun Kit to help operators, locations and patrons to get involved in ensuring that everyone knows it’s National Jukebox Day.

That the first celebration of National Jukebox Day falls on November 23 is historically appropriate. Jukebox historian John Krivine claimed that Louis T. Glass demonstrated his first coin-operated phonograph in San Francisco’s Palais Royal Restaurant on 23 November 1889. This instrument was a precursor of the machines that – bolstered by reliable motors, disc selection mechanisms and vacuum-tube amplification – launched the modern jukebox industry in the 1920s.

Flash forward 120 years, the Internet jukebox remains a central part of the music scene in bars and taverns all over the world, thanks to the development of new products and services that have kept pace with consumer trends, and has sometimes been ahead of them. But TouchTunes chief executive Charles Goldstuck cautions that the cost to stay on top of technology trends and the increasing complexity of music licensing structures in the digital era are applying increasing pressures on the jukebox industry.

“Operator earnings in most amusement machine categories have been decreasing for the past seven years,” said Goldstuck. “But music has been the exception, with average weekly revenue generated by TouchTunes jukeboxes increasing over the same period, despite difficult industry conditions, and the significant increase in the number of TouchTunes locations. We were able to achieve this by consistently investing in new products and services.”

TouchTunes offers two smart jukebox systems that run on the latest version of its Open Stage operating system. Virtuo, its flagship box, was introduced in 2011, and the compact Playdium two and a half years ago. The TouchTunes mobile app, which is compatible with the company’s entire North American fleet of 65 000 boxes, has been downloaded over 5.7 million times and has about 2.2 million active users.

One of the biggest challenges facing the industry is the steady rise of music licensing fees. TouchTunes and other jukebox music providers are required to license music rights from public performance organizations (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GMR), music publishers and record labels. “Music licensing rates in general have increased significantly as the music industry has transitioned from traditional CD sales to digital and streaming models,” Goldstuck said.

The TouchTunes chief executive said the upward movement in licensing rates for jukeboxes will also continue, just like it has for streaming and other digital services, affecting companies like Pandora, Spotify and Apple. In today’s market, the music industry actively looks for high royalty payments. Of every dollar that Spotify brings in, according to music industry analysts, about 75¢ goes right back out in the form of payments to labels and publishers.

Jukebox operators have in general been shielded from these fees since the introduction of the first digital boxes in 1999. TouchTunes, for its part, did not change the subscription rate charged to its operators during the first 12 years its boxes were online. However, the latest round of music fee negotiations with the licensing community will likely again result in higher royalty rates and will affect the entire channel.

“The music licensing dynamic for the jukebox industry is getting more daunting,” Goldstuck said. “Traditional coin-op, which relies heavily on music, will be impacted by our new licensing reality.”

Goldstuck said TouchTunes will continue to invest in research and development, and plans to launch a new suite of products in the next 18 months. Operators will get a first look at the new developments before the second annual National Jukebox Day, which will be observed on 22 November 2017.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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