Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge come pre-installed with Milk Music and Milk Video

Samsung’s Milk Music and Milk Video services could soon see a lot more users: The handset maker is pre-installing both apps on the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge handsets, both of which were introduced at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona Sunday. This is the first time that Milk Music and Milk Video are pre-loaded on a Samsung handset, signaling that the handset maker is doubling down on both services.

Milk Music was first launched a year ago as a Pandora competitor, offering owners of Samsung devices free and ad-free personalized radio streams. The company followed up in November with Milk Video as a free video aggregation app that also includes some exclusive content.

Both apps have been exclusive to Samsung handsets, and are part of a new media strategy that doesn’t focus on making money with paid content anymore. Samsung previously tried to compete with iTunes and Google Play by selling music downloads, movies and TV shows through its Media Hub apps, but the company shuttered all of those paid services last year.

Milk Music and Milk video could potentially make Samsung some money through ads, but the company seems to be more focused on using media to sell more phones — something Samsung desperately needs: Its profits declined 32 percent last year, largely due to slowing handset sales.

Sneak peek: This is Samsung’s Milk Music on the web

Samsung will bring its Milk Music service to Samsung TVs as well as the web, it announced at CES in Las Vegas this week. The TV version is already available on existing Samsung TVs and will be on 2015 models when they start to ship as well, but Milk’s foray to the web is arguably a lot more significant: It’s the first time the service, which offers personalized radio streams similar to Pandora, will be available to users who don’t own a Samsung phone.

So what will these users get? Samsung gave a small group of journalists a preview of the web app Wednesday. Here’s a quick video of the app, which won’t be released for at least a few more weeks:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6dSjyxoMP8]

Milk Music on the web features the same color navigation bar as the mobile version as well as the TV app that Samsung just launched, allowing users to quickly navigate through stations. It also introduces an effect similar to Apple’s Cover Flow  to visualize the changing stations, and it will let users fine tune stations, just like the mobile version of Milk Music.

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Samsung hasn’t announced yet what other changes it is going to introduce, but it’s all but inevitable that the web version of Milk Music will feature ads. Currently, streaming with Milk Music is ad-free, and users of the free tier are allowed to skip up to six songs per hour.

Users who elect to pay $3.99 per month are getting unlimited skips and better audio quality, but essentially, Samsung is subsidizing free listening in order to make its devices more attractive. One shouldn’t expect the company to also do the same for web streams, which will be available to users of other devices as well.

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Milk Music opens up on the web, Samsung adds Milk apps to TVs

Samsung is bringing its new Milk media services everywhere: Milk Music, the Pandora-like music streaming service that the company launched exclusively on Samsung handsets last March, went live on Samsung smart TVs Monday, and a web player for the service is being launched on Samsung’s website this spring. Milk Video, the mobile video aggregation app that launched on Samsung phones in November,  will also come to the company’s smart TVs this spring, the company announced at CES in Las Vegas on Monday.

Notable about this announcement is that the Milk Music web player will be available to everyone, not just Samsung device owners. Milk Music’s Android app has been available via Google Play, but only works with Samsung handsets. [company]Samsung[/company] initially launched Milk Music as an ad-free service that was meant to add an extra benefit to owning a Samsung device. However, the company has long said that Milk Music would only remain ad-free for a limited time. One should expect Samsung to add ads to Milk once it’s available via the web to anyone.

Samsung also officially unveiled its Milk VR app at CES on Monday after soft-launching the app a week ago.

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Samsung launches Milk VR service for its Gear VR headset

First there was Milk Music, then Milk Video, and now comes Milk VR: Samsung launched a new VR media service for its Gear VR headsets Tuesday, according to a CNet report. Milk VR offers Gear VR owners free 360-degree videos to explore with their headsets, and Samsung plans to update the service regularly with new content.

Samsung started selling its Gear VR headset earlier this month; the $200 headset is being billed as an “innovator edition” device catering to developers and early adopters. It can only be used with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 phone, which is being inserted into the headset as a display, but Samsung executives have said that they plan to make compatible versions for other Samsung phones in the future as well. Gear VR has been developed by Samsung in conjunction with Oculus, maker of the Oculus Rift VR headset.

Milk VR lives as an app on the Gear VR. There is also a website that seems to preview some of the content, but it doesn’t seem completely launched yet: MilkVR.com currently lets you explore a dozen or so 360-degree videos via compatible browsers.

Interestingly, the site also mentions options to upload user-generated content. In a document called the “Milk VR Format Guide,” it explains that users will be able to upload 360 degree spherical videos, which have to be encoded in MP4 and feature a minimum bit rate of 40Mbps. The document also gives some advice on how to shoot content suited for VR headsets, including this suggestion:

“Steady, stationary 360 cameras work best so people’s heads don’t feel like they are moving when they aren’t.”

Slacker relaunches its radio service to finally land a hit

Online radio service Slacker relaunched its website as well as its iOS app Wednesday, and is scheduled to follow up with an updated Android app by the end of the year, in an attempt to reinvent itself and finally explain consumers what it is all about.

That’s been a problem in the past, admitted [company]Slacker[/company] CEO Duncan Orrell-Jones during an interview last week. Slacker didn’t do a very good job of positioning itself, said Orrell-Jones, who joined the company as its new CEO at the beginning of the year. Part of that was the company’s self-elected image, which looked stuffy when compared to its competition, complete with a logo that looked like that of a classic rock radio station.

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But part of the problem was also that Slacker tried to be a little bit of everything: Personalized radio like [company]Pandora[/company], on-demand streaming of full albums like [company]Spotify[/company] and curated radio stations like Sirius XM. But it didn’t really explain what its key differentiator from its competition was.

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Tyler Oakley is one of a handful of new Slacker celebrity DJs.

With its relaunch, the company now wants to put a bigger emphasis on the humans behind the streams. Slacker isn’t just using human curation, but actually has on-air hosts for some of its radio programming, and the company just teamed up with a number of online personalities, including YouTube star Tyler Oakley and Machinima pioneers Rooster Teeth, to bring more personality to its programming. “We are going to double down on having that human element,” Orrell-Jones told me.

Slacker is also adding a bunch of non-music programming, including podcasts from the Nerdist network and shows from ESPN, ABC and a variety of other [company]Disney[/company] properties (that’s no coincidence: Orrell-Jones is a long-time Disney veteran).

The goal of all of this is to turn Slacker into a service that more closely resembles the best of the radio world and less the complete automation of a personalized streaming service. Orrell-Jones likened that experience to listening to This American Life, or other radio programming that leads to driveway moments, where you don’t want to leave the car after arriving at home because you are immersed in a story.

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The hard part for Slacker is to convince consumers that this is an experience worth paying for, especially in a world where there are tons of great and free podcasts. The company is offering a free, ad-supported tier that’s also available on mobile devices, and just like Pandora allows limited song-skipping. Orrell-Jones said that this tier is making the company some money, but that the ultimate goal was to get people to sign up for a premium tier. Slacker offers ad-free streams with unlimited Song skips for $4 a month, and full on-demand album streams for $10 a month.

Of course, there’s another tier, but it’s not being marketed by Slacker itself. The company is also powering Samsung’s Milk Music service, which has gotten some traction since it launched earlier this year the U.S. Asked how this fits into Slacker’s strategy, Orrell-Jones told me that the company obviously would like more people to use its own service, but added: “But we’d also like to be part of a winning solution.”

Check out a few more screenshots of Slacker’s new mobile apps below:

This post was updated at 11:02am to clarify that the Android app won’t be available for a few more weeks.

Samsung’s new Milk Video app is all about taking on YouTube

Samsung took the next step in its quest to revamp its media services Wednesday with the launch of Milk Video11, a mobile video aggregation app that puts the focus squarely on short-form content. Milk Video aggregates videos from a variety of sources, including YouTube, Vevo, Vice, CollegeHumor, BuzzFeed and AwesomenessTV, and presents them to users in an endless stream that is a bit reminiscent of Instagram or Vine.

Of course, video aggregation apps have been around for a long time, but few if any have managed to attract huge audiences. Samsung wants to differentiate itself from the pack by striking exclusive deals with some of its content partners. Samsung VP of Content and Services Kevin Swint told me Tuesday that Vice will produce an exclusive weekly news show for Milk Video, and that Funny Or Die will produce original short-form content for the service as well.

The app: slick, but still a little limited on the content side

I had a chance to play with Milk Video a little bit Tuesday, and have to say that the app is pretty slick. The main view of the app is a stream of content from sources that a user is following, which can include other Milk Video users as well as channels from a select list of content partners.

A hambuger icon on the upper left corner reveals a menu of channels to subscribe to, and a rainbow-colored navigation bar on the right allows users to scroll through categories of content, including Comedy, Gaming, Sports and Tech. This navigation bar offers some haptic feedback, something that Milk Video has borrowed from Samsung’s Milk Music service. Videos can be swiped away to remove them from the stream, or shared / reposted on Milk or via Facebook or Twitter.

My favorite feature however is the video player, which lets you watch clips in portrait mode while you can continue to browse through the stream. The player also pauses and resumes a video as soon as you tap anywhere on the video, instead of forcing you bring up and then aim for a play / pause button. It’s a small thing that basically just eliminates one tap, but it shows how the folks at Samsung have thought about the design of this app, and optimized it for situation where you may only have two or three minutes. Like when you are standing in line, waiting for your coffee.

I can see Milk Music work great for these kinds of situations. However, the content catalog does still seem a little slim. For example, in the news section, most clips were at least a day old, and almost all of them came from Reuters, which may not exactly meet the tone of Milk Video’s target audience.

The big elephant in the room: YouTube

Which brings up the question: Who did Samsung make this app for? A simple answer is that Milk Video is for Samsung device owners. The app is being distributed via Google Play, but it’s only compatible with Samsung smart phones ranging from the Galaxy Note II and Galaxy S3 all the way to the Note 4 and the Galaxy S5. “Our focus right now is to add value to the experience of owning a Samsung device,” Swint said.

That’s the same strategy that led Samsung to launch Milk Music, a Pandora-like music streaming app that’s also exclusive to Samsung devices, earlier this year — and it’s a departure from how Samsung used to approach media services. The company used to run its own music, video and ebook stores, with the goal of competing with established retailers like iTunes and Amazon to further monetize its devices. Samsung closed down its media hubs earlier this year, and struck partnerships with Amazon and M-Go to take over some of its less-lucrative transactional businesses.

But the big elephant in the room for Milk Video is YouTube. The Google-owned video service has become the default destination for all things short-form, but creators have long looked to diversify and possibly get better deals elsewhere. Efforts to take some of the service’s more popular content elsewhere have thus far failed, but that hasn’t stopped others from trying.

Now, you can add Samsung to the list of companies trying to serve up more professional YouTube-like content through its own service. Samsung may sway some of YouTube’s talent because it has both money and an audience, but in the end, it may also need to prove a working business model for publishers to give up on anyone who doesn’t have a Samsung phone.

Check out a few screenshots of Milk Video below: