Mobile music: still anyone's ball game

John C. Tanner
04 Jun 2009

The state of mobile music in 2009 could be summed up thusly: it\'s a no-brainer, but it's also very much an ad-hoc market-by-market work in progress.

Not much change from the previous years, in other words.

That was the overall takeaway from the first day of the Music Matters conference in Hong Kong, which has always tried to highlight the synergies between the music business and mobile technology. But while the relationship between mobiles and music has certainly come a long way - and not just because of Apple - the message from the stage still seems to be: one size does not fit all, and no one really knows yet just how much money there is in it, or how big a cut everyone in the value chain will get.

Still, the mobile sector reps managed to illustrate the variety of mobile music offerings on hand in the region.

For example, Abigail Wong, head of music, product development and infotainment at Maxis, talked about how the cellco has managed to boost its ringback tone business through user-friendly value-adds like CRT Grab, which enables users who hear a color ringback tone to buy the song at the press of a button.

Janice Lee, EVP of TV and new media at PCCW, highlighted her company's multiplatform approach to its Moov streaming music service and a focus on exclusive content like livecast mini-concerts.

Elizabeth Schimel, global head of music services for Nokia, talked up the value proposition of its Comes With Music service, which offers a year's worth of unlimited free downloads (which you get to keep) included in the price of handsets like the 5800 XpressMusic and the new N97.

One interesting difference of opinion is the value of the "long tail". Schimel and Lee said the long tail of less popular content is an essential component of their music strategies to appeal to different demographics.

But Sissel Henriette Larsen, director of broadband, Internet & services, business development and research at Telenor Group, said that Telenor-owned DTAC\'s "Happy Vampires" all-you-can-eat music service with Thai music company GMM Grammy was focused firmly on the "short tail" of the latest local Top Ten hits.

Abigail Wong of Maxis concurred, citing the popularity of a hits-only subscription package where users can automatically be sent the latest chart-topper for a few ringgit.

But while cellcos and Nokia are happy to talk up their strategies, and report "encouraging" consumer response, hard numbers are hard to come by, and all offer the same reason: it's too soon to say.

That said, Paul Abfalter, general counsel for CSL, which recently launched its Musicholic service, said that now was a good time to get into the music business because "the networks and the platforms are there, the devices are getting there, and the music labels are more open to the idea."

Just how open the labels are is hard to say, given their track record with copyright battles, lawsuits and YouTube takedown notices in the US. But local labels in Asia seem to grasp the realities of the markets they serve and are willing to compromise.

For example, said Larsen, the DTAC/GMM music service was concocted in part as a way to help GMM find a revenue stream to offset piracy losses and provide users an alternative to pirate CDs.

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