Microsoft and MTV partnered over a year ago to provide the Urge music service on WMP and yesterday MTV announced that they would be ditching their Urge brand to will team up with Rhapsody. Now this poses a question as to what is going to happen to Windows Media Player, since Urge was its primary music provider.
Many people loved Urge and are kicking and screaming that they’re now stuck with something that comes from Real. I don’t blame them. My experience with Rhapsody software has been plagued with sluggishness, crashes, bugs, and DRM issues to name a few. Others I’ve talked to have also had major problems running Rhapsody, so I’m not alone.
For Microsoft, this could be a blessing in disguise and a chance to convene their fragmented efforts in portable media.
Zune and PlaysForSure
Microsoft shot themselves in the foot when they made the decision to create a closed ecosystem around the Zune. I completely understand the benefits of a closed ecosystem—brand unification, simplified/single user experience, integrations of the Xbox 360 and the Points system, etc…
However, the benefits have been, without a doubt, overshadowed by the many downsides of a closed ecosystem. I see a lot of iPod refugees, and a good majority of them leave because of the iTunes ecosystem with regard to being locked to a single piece of software as well as only being able to purchase music from one store. So why would they leave one ecosystem to join another?
Microsoft also stepped on the toes of partners for whom they’d built the PlaysForSure DRM platform by directly competing with them with the Zune DRM platform. There was absolutely no consideration for device manufactures and music providers who bought Microsoft PlaysForSure platform. Why would you try to compete against a standard you worked so hard to build and campaigned others to adopt?
So now it is time for redemption.
All is not lost. Microsoft can mend its business relationships and restore consumer choice by merging Zune with PlaysForSure. From a technical standpoint, this is not a difficult task since the Zune DRM and transfer protocol are mearly a bastardized version of PlaysForSure. Firmware updates can be pushed to consumers though the Zune software.
Last.FM is a fantastic way to discover new music. We have recently started a Last.FM group for abi forum members. The problem is that most of us use portable devices to listen to music, therefore our listening statistics are incomplete or nonexistent. MP3 player users have not been able to take full advantage of Last.FM and pleas for this integration have fallen on deaf ears.
Last.FM is a great opportunity for Microsoft to gain a valuable and needed social music feature to compete with Rhapsody. However, Micorsoft would not be building a music service like Rhapsody. Rather it would be creating a layer to facilitate music sales though its partners on its PlaysForSure platform – and ultimately DRM free music which is the next evolution in music sales.
This is just one example on how Microsoft can play with Last.FM. There are a few variations on that theme which will work, but there is no doubt that they need to do something and Last.FM is a property worth investing in.
Microsoft’s music space is unnecessarily fragmented in terms of devices, providers, DRM, and media players. Without unifying their music model they will continue to confuse consumers and lose their trust, along with the trust of their business partners.
In addition to reassembling their music efforts, Last.FM may be what’s needed for Microsoft to regain its composure and create a lasting stake in the music business.