[20 June 2012]
Qello is to music documentaries and (pre-recorded) concert performances as Netflix (excluding the physical appendix that almost became Qwikster) is to movies or Hulu is to television shows. This is an easy and apt comparison to make. All three stream multimedia content to your desktop computer, tv, mobile gadgets or other devices and are primarily known for specialization in one area. Qello is the newest of the bunch and cheaper on the monthly-subscription level ($4.99/month), a rate that is probably fair considering it targets a smaller niche audience with its concerts and music documentaries.
As a concert application, Qello is geared more to the music junkie (PopMatters readers take heed) and less towards the casual music listener. It does not have standard music video selections and it does not deliberately carry contemporary pop artists to fluff its catalog. But Qello does offer content across all musical genres from the past five decades. You can browse their selection by these categories and find things like a documentary about the Newport Folk Festival from 1963 to 1966, some Marvin Gaye from 1975, Culture Club and Minor Threat from the ‘80s, Jay-Z in the ‘90s and the bulk of the content sorted into the new millennium period (though this does not necessarily refer to the decade a band is known for—content is sorted by date footage is released).
Some of the newer offerings sway towards jam bands (like STS9 and Widespread Panic with three each) who generally encourage—or at least allow—bootlegging of their shows. Likely these bands have huge archives of their performances and if Qello does not have a vigilant music curator and instead merely tries to increase its content willy-nilly, the service could go too far into this genre. That may not be a bad thing particularly if there was a way to filter out artists you don’t want. Like a way to “thumbs down” Justin Beiber, so the unauthorized biography This is My World never shows up again. Similarly, if Qello built in a way to show your viewing history, either to filter out or to reference for easier reviewing, that would be a good feature.
It might be possible those features or others are still forthcoming—Qello indicates it has beta status below its name. At least more content has been promised, which is good because some bands I searched for did not turn up. A licensing deal with EMI was made which will eventually (it should be soon, the announcement was made in early May) bring Radiohead, Coldplay, Ben Harper and, drool, Daft Punk to the streaming service. Right now, if I’m being choosy, I would run out of content I’m interested in a couple of months, though there are newer artists like Childish Gambino and Dawes or additional content I could peruse.
Subscriber loss so early in the game would likely hurt Qello’s chances of surviving. But at the $5 price point, the service is a negligible cost to music lovers and could go unnoticed on a credit card for years against $10 digital album downloads, new vinyl purchases around $20 or concert tickets which can approach $100—and you may not want to go alone. It’s better to hope for Qello to keep increasing its content so people remain interested rather than hope people forget to cancel it though. Another feature that could be implemented is a way to filter or highlight what content is “new” or “recently added” to the site; 500 films remain in the vault waiting to be released.
Overall, Qello has a lot of potential and is priced fairly. Just one great video (say The Rolling Stones’ Some Girls: Live in Texas) could be enough to get people to subscribe so they could watch it at home and then they might stick around or spread the word. The site integrates some Facebook functionality to allow friends to share music suggestions (presumably) with each other. A setlist tool allows you to pick songs or segments from full features and build your own living room concert event.
I’m not a big fan of mobile video on the go, so I have not tested Qello on any mobile devices (it is compatible with Android and iOS products), I have used it solely on my computer. That has become an unfortunate limitation as my PC monitor does not offer the same viewing pleasure as a larger high definition TV. Qello can work with Google TV and other smart TVs but I don’t have one of those either. What I do have is a Playstation 3 and a Roku, two devices Qello is not designed for. Speaking with CEO Brian Lisi, I found out that those devices (I asked about Roku specifically) would not offer the same quality level of experience other gadgets provide. It waits to be seen. With these limitations but with high expectations for this unique service in its beta stages, I’m just going to end this by suggesting content Qello should offer:
Sigur Rós Heima, #6 ranked documentary on IMDB, or #22, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage; Beastie Boys Video Anthology entry in the Criterion Collection; The Director’s Label Series including Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry; overall expansion of the world music section including the Manganiyar Seduction.
* $5 a month for a subscription is affordable
* Not limited to any genre
* Many independent artists
* Content spans over 50 years
* Setlist function
* Notable titles and artists are not available
* Non-western artists lack representation
* No Roku or video game console access
* Lacks section showing newly added content
* No way to filter artists that are disliked or content previously watched