Wednesday, November 26, 2008

CD Player. Comes with music.

This is take two of the post I was trying to write when I ended up writing about BodyNet instead.

Technically, there's not a lot of difference between a cell phone and a streaming audio player. Throw in some flash memory and downloaded tunes are no problem either. Add a screen and you can say the same thing for video. But how do you get the content to the phone? Two models spring to mind:
  1. A big happy open web-driven marketplace. Surf wherever you want. Find something you like? Download it to your phone just like you'd download it to your PC. Pay whoever you need to when you download (or pay for a subscription). This is pretty similar to the CD/DVD market. Sounds nice, but as far as I know you can't do it. It's a lot easier to do DRM on a captive device like a cell phone, and cell phone makers are pretty aggressive about making sure you don't tamper with their devices.
  2. A collaboration between the content owners (i.e., studios and record labels, not to be confused with singers, songwriters, screenwriters, actors etc.) and the service providers. Subscribe to a service and you can also download or stream content from whatever content owners the provider has partnered with. This is pretty similar to the cable TV model. It ensures that everybody gets a cut (as always, we can argue over who gets what cut) and a number of partnerships have formed.
There's another model that doesn't come to mind because when you try to map it back to "old media" terms, it doesn't really fit. Yet there are at least two examples going, one of them recent:
  1. The cell phone makers sell the content. As the title suggests, this seems like selling a CD player and then selling the CDs to go with it. You see this in niches (e.g., Disney makes an MP3 player and sells plug-in cards with songs from their artists), and I wouldn't be surprised if some early phonograph maker tried it, but it doesn't seem like a great idea. Selling electronic widgets and selling bits are just two different things. Nonetheless, it certainly worked for Apple and the iPod/iPhone, and now Nokia is trying the same approach with Comes With Music (TM). It's not quite the same model as iPhone -- for a subscription fee, you can download all you want and keep it forever -- but it does share the feature of putting the phone maker in the content business.
So maybe they know something I don't. Wouldn't be the first time.

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