Without a doubt, the music industry has changed, and the coin-operated business with it. Once upon a time, when record labels would release a new song or reveal an up-and-coming artist, it would be through the jukebox and radio. Today, those channels are just one part of a larger, more complex marketing scheme, yet the jukebox is far from obsolete. In fact, it might possibly be on the brink of a comeback.
“It has gone from 45s to the technology of the CD, and now the new technology is broadstreaming it from the internet and live interaction with your customers,” says Jerry Scopel, vice president of Alpha Amusements in Madison Heights, Mich. Alpha Amusements is the largest supplier of coin-op amusement games in Michigan.
Yet to understand why this is, one has to be aware of why jukes rose to popularity in the first place.
“The original social network is a bar,” said Brad Circone, president of Circone + Associates, a marketing firm in Columbus, Ohio. “Social media is a fabrication of sharing instant thought electronically. I use it every day—LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook. But we used to have a social media and it was called a juke joint (formerly called a joog joint), and we got together and drank away our blues and shared our stories. The jukebox was the epicenter of the first social media.”
Redefining the Coin-op Space
Circone is connected to the coin-op business in more ways than one. His grandfather was one of the first coin-op operators, arguably the first, in Columbus in the 1920s, and then his father took over the company. While Circone himself never owned the business, he grew up working for his father.
Now Circone’s firm has been hired to handle the rebranding for the Amusement and Music Operators Association (AMOA).
“The AMOA is loved by its membership base; we want to make that love indelible and remarkable,” explained Circone. “Over time, some value can be taken for granted, so they have hired us to revitalize the membership and to grow the membership.”
Beyond the branding, Circone and his team seek to galvanize the AMOA community. They are taking a three-part approach: improving communication within its community, creating a desire to become involved with the industry and assimilating existing promotions to lifestyle brands.
Jukeboxes provide a strong platform for exhibiting promotions because of its rank in the market, its presence on premise and the state-of-the-art technology it affords.
“The jukebox is the single most profitable item for operatorships,” Circone explained. “We have done a ton of route studies that back that up. Coin-op sales usually dip during the summer months because people are outside more. Yet jukebox is trending through summer months stronger.”
Because of these figures, as well as how a jukebox contributes to the ambiance in a space, Circone described the jukebox as the engine of the industry. “The pool table is the largest footprint device in an on-premise space. And yet the airwaves, the ear space in a bar, is the most compelling.”
While jukeboxes have always filled the audible space, these highly sophisticated machines are now capturing audiences with digital music and a visual appeal that is unsurpassed to date.
“The big trend is digital,” says Michael Maas, CEO of AMI Entertainment Network. AMI prides itself on an all-digital network. “There are still a number of operators who are operating non-digital. It’s very clear that when you switch, you make a lot more money.”
Headquartered in Bristol, Pa., AMI serves 30 countries with its touch screen games and highly evolved jukeboxes. The company’s brands include Megatouch, Prize Farm, Rowe and AMI Bar TV, alongside partnerships with Rock-Ola, Almotech and Games Warehouse. AMI boasts about 735,000 songs in its library and more than 30,000 jukebox machines across the United States.
In terms of display, Maas said introducing a 32-inch vertical display makes a big difference in the user experience. “The larger display is much more attractive to patrons, has a lot more movement and screen space, and it provides a nice display for advertising,” Maas explained. This could provide ad space for the bar, club or theme park. “It is important to catch someone’s eye and portray the message.”
The screen isn’t the only place where jukeboxes have gotten an update. AMI has just introduced a concept called Skinned, where different themed skins fit the jukeboxes and can be changed out according to the occasion. For instance, if the jukebox owner added the football field skin, it would play visuals that relate to the football game.
Specifically speaking to the wall mount realm, Kari Morales, route manager for Alpha Amusements, explained that interactivity goes a long way toward success. “It looks like a giant iPhone,” Morales said of the Ecast EQ. “The top part is where you would put posted ads and interactive games. The Jumbli game is on Times Square also, so you are playing with people all over the world.”
Additionally, Wiffiti messaging service allows users to ping different jukeboxes around the corner or around the globe. Similarly, Eye-fi chips in certain locations allow patrons to take photos of whatever is going on and it will show up on the jukebox. So it seems the epicenter of the original social media defines its role in the 21st century.
The Problem of Progression
Location owners cannot afford to love the new jukebox technology, solely for technology’s sake; it is up to coin-op operators to use the benefits of this technology to help owners avoid common pitfalls.
“We are getting more and more of our locations to get rid of their other forms of music just because they have to pay ASCAP licensing, whereas with the jukebox those fees are included in the 20 percent that goes to the provider,” explained Bryan Scopel, president at Alpha Amusements.
Circone expanded on this idea, and said, “the digital jukebox, positioned right with the ubiquity of song selection, will always outperform the CD jukebox. You are allowing democratization—all the power to be in the hands of the consumer.”
Maas said, “One of the biggest challenges generally in our industry is the proliferation of new options for entertainment, whether you’re talking about games on iPads or iPods for music. It brings a new dimension of options for us to continue to differentiate the pay option of the digital jukebox to bring value.”
Maas explained that even with the inundation of aspiring artists and well-known bands for little or no cost on the internet, jukeboxes can still have a major role in helping customers hone in on their new favorite tune.
“Though there is a proliferation of wave access music, we provide a huge catalog but with extremely easy ways of accessing that,” Maas said. “We present music based on what’s popular on that particular jukebox; we present music selections based on other things that you have purchased. There are lots of ways to find interesting things that you wouldn’t normally find otherwise. Properly done, jukebox is a very seamless environment where the internet is not always so easy [to find what you’re looking for].”
Jerry Scopel explained how troubleshooting with a location can be a boon for jukebox sales. One example he cited was a pool hall that was playing “good music” in the background. Despite having a digital jukebox, the sales were not that great. They instructed the location that the background music was possibly interfering with their number of plays. “The GM said [to his staff] shut this music off and put lousy music on,” said Scopel said. “The next collection went up over 300 percent. It’s kind of like the location can’t lose; it just depends on how much they want to earn.”
Coin-op operators and locations alike should consider the momentum created by promotions. AMI announced in March an app called Toast that the company is launching across its network in partnership with Bud Light.
“For a small fee, you can have the jukebox create a custom toast for your friend, where you tell the machine a few attributes about the person, and it creates a 90-second tribute with the Bud Light voices,” Maas explained.
Whether it is with national brands or local entities, it seems that any promotions are good promotions. “You don’t necessarily need to be doing Bud Light specifically. If the operators can get into the promotions themselves it makes a huge difference,” he said.
Maas urged operators to keep current, explaining that “there is a difference between the latest and greatest machines with large screens versus what was out five or six years ago.”
Circone challenged coin-op operators, and said, “create a mutiny in your own business, and by that I mean don’t start the day out with equipment moves and, ‘I’ve got a new location set’ and ‘I’m down 20 percent.’ We get so caught up in operational logistics, we forget what we sell in the coin-op business: they are tiny excursions. We are inexpensive Disney.”