Free the tunes

Daisy Wheel
25 Apr 2007

A decade ago, "mobile music" meant trying to hold a Discman level while jogging. Now, devices holding hundreds of songs are barely larger than coins; iPods are ubiquitous, and ringtones fill the air of every lobby, office, and restaurant.

"The future of music - and indeed, of entertainment - is mobile," says David Wolf, CEO of Wolf Group Asia, a Beijing-based technology consulting firm. "We no longer want to be tied to a place where we can be entertained. We no longer want to be forced to go someplace and sit still long enough to listen, watch, or play. In this respect, Asia is leading us into the future."

Indeed. While a lot of the devices and mobile music marketing buzz comes from the US, it's Asian consumers and operators that have, in many ways, made mobile music what it is today. The superlatives are on Asia's side. Largest mobile market‾ China. First seriously commercial 3G network‾ Japan. Most wired nation‾ South Korea. Fastest-growing mobile market‾ India. You get the idea. Oh, and Japan is also the world's second-largest music market (after the US).

Power to the people

Significantly, it's the users who are largely running this show. Asian consumers and their hunger for (and rapid adoption of) various devices and technologies -iPods, ringtones, full-track downloads, the Web 2.0 thing - have given record labels and service providers a reason to fatten their mobile and digital offerings.

"This is the part of the world where we have the most mobile population in the world, where that mobility is tied not to an automobile, but to our lifestyles as a whole," Wolf says. "We spend more time out of our home, out of our office, and just getting around than any other region in the world. And on top of that, we are willing to pay for a better experience."

"I think ultimately it is the consumer that drives the market," concurs Paul Meyers, CEO of Acme Mobile, a regional Asian distributor of mobile entertainment content. "Look at the success of MySpace in creating popular bands that toiled in obscurity and are now signed to major labels as a result of their grass-roots popularity.

"It's not only MySpace but any number of web and increasingly mobile-based communities," he goes on. "The whole Web 2.0 movement has given consumers the ability to choose and voice their opinions in ways that have not really been available before."

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