RealTime IT News

Pressplay Goes Unlimited, Rhapsody Does DirecTV

Recognizing that consumers weren't biting without value-adds for digital music subscription services, Sony/Universal-backed Pressplay has added permanent downloads, unlimited listening and CD-burning capabilities to the second iteration of its offering.

Less than a year after going live in partnerships with MSN Music, Roxio Inc. and Yahoo!, the joint venture between Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group unveiled Pressplay 2.0, a complete overhaul that basically caves consumer demands that the service be opened up to allow portability and ownership of paid downloads.

Pressplay 2.0 is now touting "virtually unrestricted access" to its catalog of music. The biggest change is the decision by Pressplay to loosen its grip on the issue of download ownership.

The new version, which went live Thursday, gives the go-ahead for CD-burning and permanent downloads, a huge concession from the early days in the sector when the record labels refused to allow consumers to keep listening to downloads after subscriptions expire.

Looking to entice new customers for the much-hyped service, Pressplay has also tweaked its pricing policy to include a free trial and three subscription levels and a feature to let members buy as many additional "portable download" packs as they want.

Highlights of Pressplay 2.0 include:

  • A free trial offer that allows unlimited streaming and unlimited downloading for a three-day period.
  • A $9.95 per month unlimited option, offering unlimited streaming and unlimited downloads.
  • A $17.95 per month Pressplay Unlimited Plus feature that promises unlimited streaming, unlimited downloading, and 10 "portable downloads" per month that can be burned to CDs and transferred to portable devices.
  • A discounted one-year membership priced at $179.40 that mirrors the Unlimited Plus option but the aggregate number of 120 "portable downloads" is immediately available on the membership start date.
  • Pressplay is also hawking packs of 5, 10 and 20 "portable download" tracks for $5.95, $9.95 and $18.95, respectively to let members at any subscription level to burn to CDs or transfer to portable devices.

    The company also added a Web radio feature to Pressplay 2.0, that has been fitted with technology to let members repeat, skip or instantly download any song on-demand to make it part of their personal music collections.

    Pressplay removal of the limitations that effectively stifled the success of the paid download space is sure to be mimicked by rival services, most notably MusicNet, which is owned by AOL Time Warner and Listen.com's Rhapsody.

    Competition heats up
    Already, analysts are predicting competitors would follow suit and judging from recent statements by an executive from one of the bigger record labels, others are expected to add comparable concessions to consumers in the coming months.

    In a rare admission that the paid-subscription music download model "appears to be dead," EMI vice president John Rose recently called on the music industry to consider alternative business models to properly compete the controversial free peer-to-peer services.

    "We cannot build viable business models when competing with 'free.' It is as simple as that. We cannot beat 'free' but we have to work hard to make 'free' less available," Rose said, urging a restructuring of the way digital content is distributed and sold on the Internet. His comments, which gave the first hint the labels would concede to unlimited downloads, included a call for the industry to focus on the a-la-carte space.

    "There is no one-size-fits-all answer. The existing models have the consumers paying 100 percent of the costs. That is clearly not working. We need to diversify and find revenue streams outside of paid subscriptions," Rose said.

    It appears the trend now is for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to hop aboard to sell digital download services to end-users.

    While Pressplay's makeover is being viewed as the most significant thing to happen in the space in the past two years, Listen.com moved quickly to trump the company's announcement with news it would partner with DirecTV Broadband to hawk its service over the ISP's pipes.

    As part of the deal, Listen.com's Rhapsody service would be offered to DirecTV DSL customers. DirecTV is now the second ISP to jump into the business, following a move by Earthlink to push music offerings from FullAudio to its dial-up and high-speed subscribers.

    To attract paying users, DirecTV residential subscribers gets 30 days of free, unlimited access to Rhapsody beginning Thursday. "This new alliance enables DirecTV Broadband subscribers to have unlimited access to one of the world's largest libraries of legally available digital music -- spanning more than 185,000 tracks and 15,000 albums' worth of material," the company said.

    Beginning August 31, DirecTV DSL subscribers can purchase the Rhapsody system via a three-tiered price plan.

    Outside of America Online , which has a major stake in the MusicNet service, not many ISPs have rushed to offer paid digital downloads for its subscribers and the move by DirecTV Broadband and Earthlink is seen as a sign that service providers are warming to the business possibilities.

    Separately, Santa Clara, Calif.-based SONICblue said its Rio 600, Rio 800, and Rio 900 products were all equipped to be compatible with the new Pressplay 2.0 service. SONICblue's digital music players will now handle digitally download content directly from the Pressplay service.

    The company, which builds products aimed the digital media portability market, said its playback gadget includes support for MP3, Windows Media (WMA) and Audible formats. The players also feature upgradeable memory backpacks.