Fans of Winamp are sitting on the edge of their seats as AOL’s December 20 shut-down for application downloads and “associated web services” is less than a day away. As I pointed out previously, also on death row are the Shoutcast streaming audio platform and the Shoutcast directory of thousands of independent online stations.
More than 45,000 people have signed a petition supporting a campaign asking AOL to save Winamp, by either releasing the source code as open source or selling the platform to “a company that’s willing to grow it.” However, based upon information that Radio Survivor has received from a source familiar with AOL’s terms of sale, a stay of execution for Winamp and Shoutcast is very complex, to say the least.
Just a day after AOL announced the shut-down TechCrunch reported that Microsoft was in talks to buy Shoutcast and Winamp, but neither AOL nor Microsoft would comment. There’s been no news since.
Radio Survivor has learned that, in fact, AOL fielded a flurry of last-minute offers to purchase these assets after the shut-down announcement. However, serious buyers found out that what’s up for sale is hardly a turn-key operation.
We contacted AOL early Wednesday for comment and have not received any response from the company.
We’ve learned that what AOL is willing to sell is not a ready-to-go Winamp division, but just the trademarks and code for Winamp and Shoutcast. The catch is that part of what makes Winamp valuable for many buyers is the ecosystem of third-party plug-ins and skins, the directory of 50,000 stations, and the rich and active user community. Those assets and the databases are not for sale. That’s because the databases are built on a proprietary AOL content management system that the company is not interested in selling or licensing.
AOL is also unwilling to hand over any servers. This caveat certainly would be no problem for a tech giant like Microsoft, but could be another hurdle for a smaller, scrappier group hoping to save the day.
Finally, there is reason to question how valuable it is to have the Winamp and Shoutcast source code, and if it is even feasible to release it as open source. We have learned that there is enough proprietary and licensed code that AOL licenses from other parties that any buyer would immediately be liable for fees on every download. Hence, this is why AOL is cutting off downloads of the applications.
The licensing aspect particularly complicates releasing Winamp as open source, which would require these licenses also be made available under an open source license, an unlikely proposition.
Although there are strong indications that there is a buyer for the Winamp and Shoutcast code and trademarks, we still do not know with any certainty who this buyer is. One would think it would make sense that both AOL and the buyer would want to announce a deal before Friday, letting each company benefit from some positive PR. But contract negotiations don’t always go according to what makes sense to an outside observer, especially while AOL is busy reconsidering the future of its CEO’s pet project, Patch and working on other reorganization efforts.
We’ll continue to monitor developments, since the fate of a major online radio directory, along with the #2 media player application, hang in the balance.