Sounds Like a Musical Year Ahead

I predict 2008 will have a very distinct soundtrack, as another company announces a mobile music download service.

The launch today, 1 April 2008, of a music service by Danish mobile network operator TDC adds to similar announcements by operators and other companies hoping to get into this market. TDC’s service is called Play; it lets the operator’s broadband and mobile subscribers download unlimited tracks as part of their normal subscription. The company claims it’s the first operator to offer an unlimited music download service at no extra cost. It certainly looks like a phenomenal deal.

The catch? The tracks can be stored on only one device, and can’t be played if customers stop paying their monthly subscription. Subscribers can also buy tracks for 8 kroner (about €1) each. The service is much like Omnifone’s MusicStation, which is available in Europe through Telenor in Sweden and Vodafone in the UK, as well as in Hong Kong and South Africa.

Over the coming months I think we’ll see mobile network operators trying to encourage consumers to sign up to these subscription-based services by bundling them into contracts, like they do with voice minutes and texts. We’ll also see more music companies jumping on the bandwagon. Record labels have struggled to cope with falling sales and the rise of file sharing. I believe they’ll sign more agreements that involve mobile music download services and other new business models, such as ad-funded offerings.

There’s a danger that consumers will be overwhelmed by the choice of music download services, and go back to file sharing or stick to big-name providers like iTunes. Mobile network operators will have to make sure their customers understand the difference between music downloads, rental services, subscription services and free (but ad-funded) content.

I’m looking forward to the launch of Nokia’s Comes with Music, because I think it’ll shake up the market and may even kill some existing services. Other firms have bolstered their products in the meantime — for example, Omnifone has broadened its reach, announcing MusicStation Max, a prelicenced download service that will come with certain handsets, rather than being tied to a particular operator. Will Nokia, the world’s biggest phone maker, be able to call the tune when it comes to mobile music as well?