Broadcast radio is changing. It's going digital, and with this change broadcasters are likely to start embedding watermarks in the audio stream (if they haven't already). Podcasters, and other internet music publishers are likely to do the same. Watermarks are inaudible markers that uniquely identify the broadcaster, and are also the key enabling technology of a great new business venture that I've just thought of, and will now share with you, in the hope that someone, if not me, implements it.
The elevator pitch: music insurance. Insurance against hearing music that you hate.
Here's how it works.
Let's say you wake up one day with a revelation. "I would," you think to yourself, "pay good money to never have to hear Meat Loaf's Paradise By The Dashboard Light ever again. I would pay until the end of time, should it hurry up and arrive." Or words to that effect.
Pick whatever example you want here: maybe the Crazy Frog song might be your choice instead? Or Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You? I-I-I-I-I-I-eee-I-I-eee-I-I don't wont to go on, I'm sure everyone has at least one song that is disliked to the point of justifying financial outlay. (For me it would be the majority of the AOR canon, which could get expensive, but I'm getting ahead of myself.)
So you take out insurance against accidentally hearing this song, whatever it might be. Like most insurance policies you pay a premium, and when you hear one of the covered songs, you make a claim and receive some financial compensation to ease the pain. All you have to do is prove that the music was broadcasted publicly and you couldn't escape it. This guards against fraudulent claims, and is where technology comes in.
We need to make two simplifying assumptions. Firstly we require the music to be broadcast by a radio station or similar public broadcaster, who are motivated to watermark their broadcasts in the interest of asserting their license to do so. This precludes the private playing of insured music; in other words, you're not allowed to play Celine Dion CDs to yourself and claim on them.
Secondly we require the insured to be in a public place, or specifically nominated private places, for the claim to be valid. This might be at work, at a pub, restaurant, or wherever you have no control over what radio station is played. This precludes you claiming against family members who play music too loud, but I'm sorry no insurer is going to go anywhere near that sort of dispute.
When you sign up for the policy you will download a small application to install on your mobile phone. When you hear an offensive song, you whip out your phone and start the application. This records a sample of the music, the date and time, and the place (either manually entered or from the GPS receiver). This information is transmitted (via internet, SMS, or whatever) to the insurer's servers. These servers will automatically extract the music sample, match it against the sender's insured songs, verify its authenticity using the watermark and location data. The watermark is verified against a known list of broadcasters, and the location data against a set of covered locations. If after this, the claim is determined to be valid, the insured amount would be paid.
Of course there is still a potential for fraudulent claims, but — without meaning to oversimplify the actuarial art — this can be countered by conventional risk management techniques. Claiming against Achy Breaky Heart when you're at a Billy Ray Cyrus concert is obviously fraudulent, for example. And as with all insurance policies, the premiums and claim amounts can be adjusted in relation to specific risk factors, including the potential for fraud in a given situation. I am not an actuary, but feel free to chime in if you are (or can impersonate one on the internet).
Now I know it's a great idea, but if you make millions from selling musical insurance policies, I don't even want a cut. I just want you to cover me. Come on in and cover me.