Sony believes its huge userbase and retail presence can help its subscription music service succeed where countless similar services have failed.Music Unlimited is coming to the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand today. It launched last year in the U.K. and Ireland, and we wrote then why we thought Sony was crazy. To summarize:
- The Basic tier of service — which will cost $3.99 per month in the U.S. — gives users a set of curated music channels with the ability to fast-forward and rate songs. That’s very similar to what users can get for free from Pandora and countless other Internet radio stations, as well as the free music channels on digital cable TV systems.
- The Premium tier — $9.99 per month in the U.S. — is the same price as countless other subscription services (Rhapsody, MOG, Rdio, Microsoft’s Zune Pass, and so on) but doesn’t have any mobile story.
Yesterday, Sony Network Entertainment COO Shawn Layden demonstrated the service and explained why he and Sony think it can succeed:
- Sony has a built-in user base: the service is immediately available to PlayStation 3 users, plus customers who purchase Sony Bravia TVs and Blu-ray players. Competitors have to convince users to visit a Web site or a mobile app store, or they have to sign distribution deals like Rhapsody and MOG recently did with Verizon.
- Sony has a huge retail presence, and will be making a push to help salespeople explain the service and its benefits to potential customers.
- There will be a mobile story: Music Unlimited will be available on the PlayStation Portable later this month and on Android phones — including Sony’s new Xperia — later this year. Layden didn’t dismiss the idea of an iPhone app, although Apple’s new subscription rules might pose a challenge.
- Both tiers of service will let users upload information about their personal music collection. If Sony finds a match that it has a licence for, it will make that song available through the service. This is particularly helpful for the Basic tier of service — Internet radio stations like Pandora don’t have any way for you to get music you’ve already bought.
- Also, the Basic tier of service contains no ads and lets users skip around within playlists — more freedom than free Internet radio stations offer.
So why after years of experiments with digital music — including the ill-fated Sony Connect download service — did Sony decide to launch this service now?
Layden explains that the company had to wake up and realise it couldn’t let its many individual groups approach digital entertainment with different services. It took the PlayStation 3 and its PlayStation Network to build the foundation. With 70 million registered PSN users, Sony felt the time was right to roll out a music service built on that foundation.
Still, this seems like a very hard sell: only the most hardcore music fans have proven willing to buy digital music at all, much less pay a monthly fee for the privilege. The top subscription service in the US, Rhapsody, has only 750,000 subscribers — after almost a decade in the market.
Layden said that Sony is under no illusions that it will be an easy sell. He also noted that a service has a different launch cycle than a product, and said that Sony is committed to releasing updates and gradually increasing marketing for Music Unlimited over time.
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