Windows Phone Radio #30 has a great interview with Richard Winn, the man responsible for managing the Zune Music Marketplace. In it, they discuss how the Music Marketplace works and how Microsoft has improved it over the years, particularly in regards to Zune Pass.
Winn mentioned that Microsoft has worked very hard over the last three years to “bring the [Zune Pass] catalog up to a level where [they] have the majority of recorded music in their catalog at this point.”
This was accomplished by focusing on two key areas: making the catalog as large as possible and speeding up the time it takes to get new content into the Marketplace.
“[We've worked hard to] bring the actual volume [of the catalog] up to something that’s pretty close to parity with best-in-class. The vast majority of recorded music is available for subscription. There are a couple of key artists that are not available in subscription. They are available to purchase as MP3s. But the vast majority of stuff is now available for subscription.”
This was coupled with improvements to the ingestion timeline, which Winn describes as “the process of taking music from a record label and putting it into a store.” He went into further detail on what exactly the ingestion process entails:
“[It is] a quasi-physical process where we get all these big fat files from record labels and merge them all up and turn them into MP3s or DRM’d audio files. At one point, this actual process actually took us a long time to do. Obviously the record labels are very concerned about leaks around new releases, so they want to hold onto a key new release until the very last second before they even drop it into the services, whether it be us or any of our competitors. They really don’t want to let it out of their hands until the very very last minute.” Three years ago, we would get some of the brand new releases delivered at a point where we wouldn’t have them in the store the day they were supposed to come out because the ingestion pipeline was slow. Well that’s not the case anymore. We’ve shrunken that time so we get stuff 99% of the time with the key new releases right where it should be. That wasn’t the case [before]. That’s good.”
Microsoft’s catalog has improved a lot over the last few years. It’s much deeper than ever before, and the Zune Pass subscription experience is ”much more immersive and much more complete than it’s ever been.”
Winn also discussed the benefits of expanding Zune Pass support to additional countries, including Europe.
“Now we’re in Europe, and we actually get to talk to the European labels in a different way, which is helping bolster our global catalog. So labels like Ministry of Sound, who are a huge dance label in the U.K. Now they have an outlet for their material in the U.K. with our services in the U.K. But they also have an outlet in the U.S., so now we’re actually building our global catalog in a way that we’ve never built before. So the catalog is looking really really good.”
Those who’ve always wondered how new content is added to the Marketplace will be very interested in Winn’s description. Essentially, a big fat feed is sent to Microsoft’s ingestion pipeline in Paris. The team there does work on it and send it to a server farm in Ireland. Tens of millions of audio tracks in different file formats sit on a server there. The audio files are called upon by the various tuners, like the Zune PC client, Windows Phone, Xbox 360, Zune device, etc. Files are also cached at local distribution points to speed up responsiveness.
“An MP3 can start in Germany, get ingested in France, be housed in Dublin, be stuck up on some kind of partial delivery mechanism that sits maybe in Fresno, and then as you’re sitting in Los Angeles listening to an MP3, that’s the path. So we are literally a global organization. It’s interesting. It’s fun.”
Winn also discussed the difference between Zune’s subscription service and competing MP3 stores.
“There is a very different mindset from running an MP3 store from running a subscription service. There’s a really simple delta. An MP3 store is literally running a shop. Someone rolls up on an MP3 store, they decide what they want, and they leave. [On] a subscription service, every one of my customers already has all of those songs. Whether it’s ten, twelve million songs, whatever, in their collection. Our job is to surface, to help guide them to the stuff that they want.”
The mindset of customers with a Zune Pass subscription is very different from those entering a simple MP3 store. “People spend hours and hours in the [Zune] service every single week. These people kind of say ‘we’re not really interested in downloading singles. We download catalogs.’” This is in contrast to normal MP3 store customers, who have to listen to 30-second previews and are forced to pick and choose which tracks to purchase.
As a guest on the official podcast for Windows Phone, Win couldn’t help but mention how great the mobile OS is when combined with Zune Pass.
“As I pick up a Windows Phone right now in the U.S., I’ve got more than ten million songs in my hand. It’s just completely mind boggling when you think, you know, if that was albums. Imagine if that was vinyl records. This thing would be like four or five semis of records that would be sitting in my hand, probably more than that.”
When adding content to the Marketplace, the Zune team has to be careful to combat “retail blindness.” A large amount of content can be overwhelming, so the programming team specializes in surfacing “kickoff points” which allow users to discover new content.
It’s a fascinating interview. We highly recommend listening to the entire episode and, better yet, subscribing to the podcast.
Source: Windows Phone Radio #30