The jukebox is overdue for an upgrade. Once a technical marvel, it started losing popularity about the time disco was the rage.

From the 1970s on, bars and restaurants have gravitated toward other entertainment options, such as live deejays and Muzak. (Muzak, perhaps, is the jukebox’s archenemy.)



Meanwhile, the advent of cable and satellite television gave saloonkeepers plenty of sporting events to display on big-screen TVs.



The jukebox market was “in some decline,” said Robbie Vann-Adibi, chief executive of Ecast Inc., a private San Francisco company that is betting the Internet can rejuvenate the jukebox and change the way people listen to music in public.



The rising of niche artists



One possible consequence: Megastars on the scale of Elton John could gradually be eclipsed by niche artists, said Vann-Adibi, whose Ecast provides a broadband Internet connection and a licensed music database to 3,000 digital jukeboxes nationwide.



In the old days, when the Beatles wanted to hold your hand and music was often sold on 45 r.p.m. records, a typical jukebox held 200 songs, most of them hits made popular by radio stations.



In the late 1980s came the CD jukebox, which could play 3,000 songs. But even with added capacity, a jukebox operator had to dispatch someone to a bar or a restaurant to replace old CDs with new ones.



One reason jukeboxes saw “an erosion in market share” was that they were infrequently updated, Vann-Adibi said. Tired of hearing the same songs, customers played the jukebox less and less.



Worse, they might even seek out a tavern with a better sonic atmosphere.



But a jukebox linked by the Internet to a database offers virtually unlimited choice. In Europe, Internet jukeboxes can theoretically access 2 million songs, Vann-Adibi said. In the United States, where licensing laws are stricter, Ecast jukeboxes can dial up 150,000 songs, with more songs added every week.



“It lets people listen to almost anything they want,” said Christian Vara, president of Melo-Tone Vending Inc., a jukebox operator.



Almost anything, anyway. Some artists, such as Bruce Springsteen, have yet to agree to allow their music to be part of Ecast’s database.



Still, give people nearly unlimited choices, and they will take advantage of them. During a recent three-month period, 86 percent of the songs in Ecast’s database were played at least once, Vann-Adibi said. Give people more choices, and bar patrons stay longer and spend more money.



“A typical CD jukebox generates about $400 a month in revenue,” Vann-Adibi said. “With our product, a jukebox generates an average of $1,000 a month.”



That extra revenue is a big plus in trying to convince a saloonkeeper that a jukebox is preferable to Muzak, Vara said.



At first glance, choosing a jukebox over Muzak would seem to be a no-brainer. A jukebox generates revenue; Muzak charges an establishment about $65 a month.



Besides, most people think of elevator music when they think of Muzak, conceded David Moore, Muzak’s chief technology officer.



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