Northern Illinois University

Northern Today

Ruckus music service catching on

January 28, 2008

by Joe King

During the past two-and-a-half years, NIU students have downloaded more than 3.2 million songs to their computers … and there was nothing illegal about it.

That’s because students enrolled at NIU have access to Ruckus, a multimedia network that supplies free and legal music downloads. The university was a pioneer in providing such services, signing on as the company’s second client in 2005.

“We realize that downloading music is simply a part of youth culture today, so we wanted to provide our students with a safe, legal and free option to do so,” explains Wally Czerniak, associate vice president for Information Technology Services at NIU.

Students were a bit slow to warm up to the service. However, by the end of the 2006-2007 school year, slightly more than 4,000 students had subscribed.

That’s when the university began trying a new marketing tactic: showcasing the service to parents as well as students during summer orientation. Enrollment began to skyrocket, with an average of 50 students a day signing up for the service.

“About that time, the headlines were full of stories of students being sued by the Recording Industry Association of America and paying some huge settlements, so it caught their attention,” says Cindy Phillips, director of NIUTEL Telecommunications. (At least one NIU student paid a $3,000 settlement to RIAA for having 200 illegally downloaded songs on his computer.)

Last fall, Housing and Dining also began promoting the service more aggressively, using cable television bulletin boards, screen savers in computer labs and a mass e-mail to students in the residence halls.

“We tried to get it in front of them as many times as possible in as many ways as possible,” Phillips says.

As part of those efforts, Housing and Dining also held an October forum where students could get the facts about the potential consequences of illegally downloading music. “It was a very honest discussion about RIAA and how universities seemed to be a favored target,” she says.

That marketing push kept interest high and, during the first half of the school year, an average of about 30 students a day signed up to push enrollment to nearly 8,000 by the winter break. Word-of-mouth marketing eventually began to take over, and the popularity of the service began spreading beyond the residence halls to students living off campus.

“We serve several schools much larger than NIU that don’t have as many students signed up,” says Ruckus account executive Peter Opere. “Schools that have faster computer networks – like NIU – tend to have more users. The faster the downloads, the more students like it.”

It takes a fast network to make a dent in all that Ruckus has to offer, but NIU students are trying. They download about 10,000 songs a day from the company’s 3.2 million offerings, which come from the catalogs of major record labels and hundreds of independent labels.

The success of Ruckus is gratifying, Phillips says, but it is an easy sell once students give it a try.

“It’s a great service, and I think once students try it they really like it – especially the fact that they can have the music they want without having to worry about getting sued or about downloading viruses,” she says

The service is free to students and to the university (it is paid for by online advertising), but there are a couple of strings attached.

First, while it allows students to download as many songs as they want, they can only play the songs on the computer to which they are downloaded. However, for $20 a semester, students can overcome that restriction and are allowed to burn the songs to CD or load them on MP3 players. The songs are not compatible with iTunes or iPods, however, because of restrictions imposed by Apple.

Students also can use Ruckus to download thousands of music videos, documentaries and student-made films through Ruckus. It also includes a social networking component that allows students to create a personal profile page and share information about themselves and their music preferences.

“We’re excited to see it taking off,” Czerniak says, “and hope to see it catch on even bigger.”