Sounds illogical, no? The people behind Electric Jukebox — including a few former record label executives and high-profile managers — disagree, and they’re out to prove that their expensive music dongle can be a hit with people who have resisted paying for streaming music up to now. They have a lot of work to do.
In terms of form factor and how the device operates, the Electric Jukebox is the same as any streaming stick like the Chromecast or the Amazon Fire TV Stick. It’s a small rectangular dongle that plugs into a television’s HDMI port, using a Wi-Fi connection to pull in streaming media. Instead of relying on an app for control, the dongle comes with its own remote, which includes a microphone and a few navigation buttons. That’s it, and that’s the difference Electric Jukebox is banking on — simplicity.
Electric Jukebox eschews sign-in processes for a simple plug-and-play interface that gets music playing immediately. Even that is very stripped down — there are options to listen to your favorites, search for music, or listen to a curated mix. Curators include Robbie Williams and Sheryl Crow, in what seems to be akin to what Apple is doing with Beats One Radio, bringing the old radio format to streaming. Searching can be done easily using voice search on the remote — search for an artist, and their music comes up. Not much else to it.
It’s simple, but there are some drawbacks. Unlike Chromecast or the Fire TV Stick, Electric Jukebox is a walled garden — it only works with the Electric Jukebox streaming service. It’s purely a music player, which also means it can only be used if no one else wants to watch TV at the time. While that streaming service strives to differentiate itself by ditching monthly payments and logins, it still will cost eventually — the stick comes with a year’s worth of streaming out of the box, but will cost $60 per year after that. $60 per year does seem pretty good compared to the price of other premium streaming services, and while we’re not sure how robust this library is going to be, it’s worth remembering that this is being backed by some well-connected people in the music industry.
The biggest drawback is the price of the stick itself — $230, or $200 for preorders made before October 21. The executive team is stressing that Electric Jukebox is a device for the millions of people who still aren’t paying for streaming music, citing a study that says many who don’t are turned off by complexity and monthly pricing plans. Ostensibly, the people who don’t like complexity and monthly pricing plans are the same as those who don’t know how to find ways to stream or access music for free — the target audience seems to be one that has adopted modern technology, but doesn’t fully understand it. Understandable, but asking seven times as much as the Chromecast, a device that does so much more than this one, might not be the way to go.