||MP3, Internet audio well beyond 'fad' stage
By Lois M.
Deseret News staff writer
Schulhof believed early that high-speed data transmission would change the
world. But he had trouble getting others to share his vision. He took an
idea he had for music compression to the biggest cable companies, but he
couldn't get them interested. He talked to Panasonic, Sony,
spoke at technology shows and development conferences, touting the coming
wonders of high-speed.
Nathan Schulhof holds a Listen Up Player, which he invented.
He lays claim to the title "father of the MP3 player"
"People would say it's a
fad, it's going to go away. I couldn't get them to see this vision," he
He was "forced to build the hardware" with
his company, AudioHighway.com, which thrived for eight years before
Internet stocks crashed. His hardware was the forerunner to today's MP3
At one point, in the not-too-distant
past, AudioHighway.com was the leading Internet radio site in the world,
according to David Politis, a longtime friend of Schulhof's and Utah tech
watcher and commentator.
The experience is why
Schulhof, who has built a number of companies and dabbled in a variety of
technology endeavors, lays claims to the title "father of the MP3." His
Listen Up Player, the first device of its kind, won an Innovation Award
from the Consumer Electronics Show in 1997, followed by an Internet
Showcase Award in 1998. Eventually it was featured in more than 100
magazines. Within a couple of years, other companies began producing their
own versions, and in 1999 the MP3 market hit $100 million in
He had envisioned a device that would
select, capture, store and play back audio content from the Internet or
other broadband sources. The device, for which Schulhof and Audiohighway
were awarded three different intellectual property patents, now has a life
of its own, with many manufacturers using various compression techniques
to capture music. Teenagers and adults everywhere use the devices to store
and play their own choice of tunes.
decisions that threw up barriers to song swapping, concern over copyright
protection of compact discs and the near-death-blow dealt to the papa of
music swapping, Napster, haven't slowed things down. A few fee-based
online music subscriptions have sprung up. And more than 50 million
Americans say they download digital music, while a similar number (the
groups overlap) listen to Internet radio and streamed audio, according to
Ipsos-Reid, a polling and consulting group that published its look at
online music habits in "Tempo: Keeping Pace with Online Music
Distribution" in January.
It found that most
people who have downloaded a music file go back again and again. The
biggest single age population includes people 12-24. Older groups are
getting hooked, too, and 25 percent of those 25-34 download their own
music. The PC is becoming a "jukebox," according to "Tempo." And it's not
If you'd guess that Schulhof's
experience with music compression would lead him to view the music
industry as a big bad wolf that wants to stifle innovation, you'd be
wrong. He got to know a lot of the industry people and "grew to like them.
I don't think they're bad people, and I don't think they're trying to
stunt growth. People who simply copy music are stealing, and that's how
these companies make their living. But I don't think the issue of
protection is their biggest issue any more."
players and similar technologies are selling well, he said, mostly to
hobbyists. "I don't think true velocity has hit yet. It hasn't reached
critical mass where the consumer says, 'I will accept this and put up my
money and pay for it,' though you can get people to take something for
"I think the future will drive this. It's
always software that drives hardware. I think the first crossover will be
where the hardware will drive software, and people will be willing to buy
it that way. Then it will flip."
bandwidth is everywhere and there are several ways to use the
technologies, it won't be commercial or "techie" any more, he
"It's still techie." Someday, though, the
hardware will drive the market. "It gets closer with ease of use. We are a
digital world, and with MP3 players, the numbers have grown spectacularly.
A lot of people have them. Just look around on the subways in Chicago or
New York. It's going to grow up."
heads Nathan Schulhof, a Southern California-based consulting and
investment firm that targets technology and biotechnology. He's busy
looking for the "next big trend" in a number of areas. He has no plans to
develop that trend himself, he said.
"I've learned to never say never."