May 7, 2008
Microsoft to Make Zune More Useful by Adding...DRM
The New York Times is reporting that NBC Universal is adding television shows to the Zune Marketplace. NBC is in a snit with Apple, having pulled its content from the iTunes store over pricing. NBC wants to charge more for popular shows, less for older shows (so it says) but Apple wants that uniform pricing model of $1.99 for all shows. Microsoft is willing to go along with NBC to snag content because it needs all the help it can get to catch up with Apple.
The Times is also reporting that Microsoft is working to add a DRM layer to Zune that would distinguish between legitimate and non-legitimate video, implying that Zune may not play unprotected video. This would render Zune useless for anyone with their own videos irrespective of whether they violate copyright or not. Without knowing more about the plan, that statement is pure speculation. NBC, though, wants something like that to protect its content and Microsoft is more than willing to accommodate.
NBC, of course, is the top rated network and Microsoft is known for building devices and software that balance consumer ease with reasonable controls on content that don't detract from the user experience. Oh, wait. I was in the parallel universe when I wrote that last sentence. In reality, NBC is fourth out of five, counting the Warner CW "network." Microsoft, for its part, will likely come up with some ham-fisted DRM scheme that pleases NBC but will be so unattractive to consumers that they will ignore Zune even more than they do now. The player has, what, 4% of the market? Apple still hovers around 71% in spite of Microsoft's best efforts. Welcome to the restricted social. I suppose the mentality here is to force the consumer to buy content in the only portable form NBC cares to make available for the only player it trusts. Remember, these are the same people who decided to kill off the MSN Music Store, leaving consumers in the lurch once the servers validating their DRMed music shut down. Burn it to CD, Microsoft says, and then re-rip it at a quality loss. Now that's incentive to get people to pay for the stuff.
Microsoft must assume that the public will follow with DRM on the Zune, as they have no choice if they want NBC content on a portable. It's sort of the same marketing that drives sales of Vista. Microsoft won't be selling XP much longer, so it's Vista, take it or leave it. So far, the story for Microsoft seems to be if they build it, they won't come. See, for example, Windows Live Search.
Consider the latest update to Zune. Microsoft will now allow a Zune owner to download their friend's last nine played songs or the nine songs flagged as favorites. The catch? Both have to subscribe to the Zune Pass service at $14.99 a month. Is this better than transferring songs wirelessly that evaporate after three days or three plays? Microsoft is doing its best to develop a small social network around the concept of sharing music on a Zune. The problem is, in the real world, Zune is not a necessary element for friends to share music with each other. How this update grows the player's market share is anyone's guess. How a future update that denies playback for content that comes from legitimate but non-Zune store sources is even a greater mystery. Yeah, that's attractive. Perhaps Microsoft is on to something in the long run, but more likely not. The ad campaigns will probably be good. We can be entertained by that, at least. Anyone see the latest Zune spot on NBC? Anyone seen anything on NBC?
Emails Ordered Destroyed by Missouri Governor May Survive
Ugly things are going on in Missouri over the preservation of email back-up tapes from the Missouri governor's office. The AP filed an open-records request for emails, and apparently the governor ordered the tapes destroyed. Lower level tech managers did not comply with the governor's order, so the issue is before a judge to preserve the tapes. More here via the Columbia Daily Tribune.
TorrentSpy Order to Pay Big Bucks for Piracy
May 5, 2008
Another Jolt to the Music Labels
Verizon is doing something quite interesting in the mobile music market. It's sending a portable studio around the country to give musicians the opportunity to record tracks which it will distribute through it's V-Cast Music service. The company says it doesn't want to replace the labels, so the effort is targeted to what songs the company can record with its one studio. Still, it raises an interesting concept, where the stores become labels in one form or another. The model now is to license the song catalog from each label group. Why not go directly to the artists, especially those without contracts limiting their output to their label. Online stores can use this kind of exclusive content to distinguish themselves from each other.
If brick and mortar stores such as Starbucks can sign acts such as Paul McCartney to exclusive deals, why not Verizon, Apple, and any of the other online stores. The labels wouldn't be too happy having their distributors compete with them for talent. Verizon wouldn't have to contend with the overhead of fabrication plants, designers, promoters, and other label components. This development could conceivably change the economics of how bands market themselves. It's sort of like the Radiohead experiment with a standardized front end for the participating musical acts. This model works even better as demand for physical media drops off. And musicians could benefit by having a direct accounting for how many tracks were distributed and for what price.
Technology has created new distribution channels for music, but it also freed musicians from the labels by making digital recording relatively inexpensive. Adobe, Sony, and others offer sophisticated yet affordable multi-channel recording software packages. Participating bands can bring their own archives directly to stores. It's not as if there is a shelf space problem online. This idea opens up all kinds of possibilities.
More details about Verizon's efforts are in CNET.