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Drinking the BigChampagne-Flavored KoolAid

Online Tonight editorial column, as aired 7/30/2003 I have heard the angels sing, I have seen the light, and I am a changed man. I've changed my mind about criticizing BigChampagne.com, a site claims to know what the most popular music is on the Internet, and that insinuates the ability to track who's downloading what music, when, and where.

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I was very concerned this morning then I got word that a site to which I contribute my NMC eTracks chart data, and whose leadership I respect and admire, decided to carry BigChampagne's data on their site, and position BigChampagne's data as "tracking downloads." I was similarly concerned when, earlier this year, Premiere decided to syndicate BigChampagne's data for barter money to unsuspecting PDs all across America. You can find my comments, and audio interviews with the interested parties, here:


But guess what? I'm no longer concerned. In fact, I'm actually rooting for BigChampagne.

Make no mistake: the p2p community is a vast, raging, smelly cesspool of music, film and porn piracy. To carry BigChampagne's data side by side with venerable, trusted organizations like MediaBase, Arbitron and BDS is to lend credibility to that behavior and reality where none has been proven, and serial theft paints any actions with a black brush. The concept that anyone can track the actual number, location, titles, artists and week-to-week deltas of what is being downloaded is a non-sequitur. But that doesn't matter to me anymore.

When one looks at BDS data, one trusts that if one wanted to, one could actually contact the PD at KIIS-FM in Los Angeles, get a copy of their logger tape, and confirm that Chingy actually was played 6 times throughout the day on Tuesday, June 24th. When one looks at Arbitron data, you know going in that it's a representative survey, what their universe of data is, what variances they've made for race, income, telephone access etc and what math and methodology is being used to determine the final numbers.

But that doesn't matter to me anymore.

See, BigChampagne refuses to let us in on their little secrets. BigChampagne won't reveal their methodology, their data structure, their technical limitations or breakthroughs. All they reveal is their results. That's not science, that's marketing.

But that doesn't matter to me anymore.

In addition, the market-by-market analysis of data is laughable. In particular, geolocation of p2p use depends upon knowing the IP address of the computers in question. America Online, with 34 million users, has no such data available (unless you want all those users credited to the non-existent borough of Dulles, Virginia, where AOL is based). Comcast and Earthlink are instituting the same proxies as AOL, as spam and other pressures force them to do so. So if you want to cut the heart out of your data universe and present what you do have as representative, expect guffaws.

But that doesn't matter to me anymore.

To track what's already on someone's hard drive in no way indicates what they still want to acquire, or how the stuff got there in the first place, or if that content is a current reflection of their taste, or if they even know it's there. Ask any parent who's now on the receiving end of an RIAA subpoena.

But that doesn't matter to me anymore.

BigChampagne even thinks I'm concerned about them because I see them as competition. I do not. Should they produce a radio show, that would be a different story, but I'm not in the business of charging for my data, nor does it include the p2p world. We only track legitimate licensed download and sales sites (Apple, Amazon etc.) and streaming outlets (Radio@AOL, Radio Free Virgin, moontaxi, etc), a mutually exclusive dataset from BigChampagne's, and only do so to ultimately design The Net Music Countdown radio show around these eTracks charts. We give the data for free to our clients - so there's no competition.

But that doesn't matter to me anymore.

I'm now unmoved by such logic.


Because ultimately, there are only two end-games of this little sojourn.

One: the data is eventually discovered to be incorrect and incomplete, the methodology non-existent or unprovable, the conclusions fallacious and BigChampagne's whole big house of cards comes crashing down as PDs realize they've been sold a bill of goods. I then get to say "I told you so." But I won't. That would be untoward of me.

Two: the data is correct, BigChampagne finally reveals their methodology and reinforces the marketing slant they've been pushing of "tracking downloads". I then get to say "Thank you for meeting the standards any other research organization must meet." But they won't. Because that would be untoward of them.

So then why am I a changed man? Why do I no longer care?

Because you win either way.

In the first scenario, BigChampagne has some serious explaining to do, and the science of statistics wins the day. In the words of Kelly Larrabee, KaZaa's US spokesperson, "There's no way BigChampagne could be doing what they say they are doing. WE don't know what our users are doing, and we want it that way."

In the second scenario (and this is just delicious), trackable, verifiable IP data moves the RIAA, who immediately becomes a BigChampagne data client, forcing them either through legal or financial means to reveal the IP addresses and geolocations of every user they track. It would be beautiful irony that the very tool that is currently being used to polish up, legitimize and provide tracking data on the p2p community is then used against them in a form of social and legal jiu-jitsu and brings those very users to their senses.

So that's it. I'm changing my stance on BigChampagne. I'm no longer going to point out the absurd nature of their claims and the mystical secrecy around their methodology. I'm no longer going to point out that geolocation will become harder and harder as more and more ISPs join AOL in using proxy servers. In fact, I'm going to start rooting for BigChampagne. I'm going to hope that all of the PDs start basing some very important programming decisions on BigChampagne's data, and that they start asking probing questions that lead BigChampagne to have to answer them.

Mmmm...that KoolAid tastes almost as good as it did at Jonestown.


David Lawrence is based in Los Angeles, and is the host of Online Tonight, The Net Music Countdown, and, as of August 4th, The David Lawrence Show, all network syndicated radio shows. He is also a recognized industry expert on peer-to-peer technology, the social and ethical ramifications of content piracy, and is a frequent guest on The O'Reilly Factor on FOX, CNN, MS-NBC, TechTV and more, and is heard by 4.1 million people weekly on terrestrial radio, satellite radio and the Internet. He can be reached at 818-563-3123, or at david@online-today.com.

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