Feeds

Universal Music mulls 'all you can eat' buffet of song downloads

Just like Napster in 1999 but with money

Security for virtualized datacentres

Universal Music Group (UMG) is developing an online service that offers unlimited music downloads for a monthly subscription.

That news comes from The LA Times, which was treated to a PowerPoint presentation by the record giant's execs. The end result of that briefing was this profile of Universal Music's British boss Lucian Grainge and the disclosure of a $20-a-month all-you-can eat music plan.

We "reached out" (as Americans like to say) to the office of Rob Wells, the global digital business chief who told the newspaper of the subscription service – but have not yet received a reply. Owned by the Vivendi entertainment group, Universal is the world's largest record label with revenue of €4.8bn ($6.7bn) in 2013, and around a 40 per cent market share following its acquisition of EMI.

The monthly plan would cut into record labels' income from iTunes, Amazon and other download stores, which is still their biggest and most reliable source of digital revenue. Universal has helped scupper such "all you can eat" concepts before amid fears that buffet-style music services encourage fans to join, download everything in sight, and then leave after a short period.

The original, unlicensed file-sharing network Napster launched in 1999 and was closed down by infringement litigation – a legal battle supported by UMG. That left a void which many industry figures now regret. Apple attempted to get licenses for a premium subscription offering called iTunes Unlimited, but that never flew. Nokia launched an unlimited downloads service in 2007, but it was clunky, and the anti-piracy DRM mechanism stopped punters from easily moving songs between their devices.

Curiously, the closest chance to cracking that music delivery model came out of London's Shoreditch (yes, really) long before the area had acquired the Silicon Roundabout cachet. Plans by UK cable co Virgin Media to launch the first licensed file-sharing service within the Virgin Media network were developed in conjunction with music platform biz PlayLouder, but scuppered at an advanced stage in early 2009 due to legal uncertainty. Virgin Media had already piled money into the service, Virgin Unlimited, which allowed users to create online song-storage lockers and share tracks through a Facebook-like social network. It was essentially the original Napster concept, but with a far richer user interface.

Without a platform to call its own, the music industry has watched others reap the value from recorded music, and has had only won token success in stopping unlicensed downloads.

Yet there may be upsides for UMG if it does the equivalent of letting Homer Simpson loose at the buffet table. And loose he would be – as controlling the movement of songs is no longer feasible since DRM was killed off six years ago.

According to one Machiavellian theory, the proposed 20-bucks-a-month subscription service would destroy the value of record companies' back catalogs, an apocalyptic scenario in which UMG would be better placed to survive: it successfully releases more new best-selling music than anyone else. Unlikely? Perhaps, but UMG boss didn't earn the description "killer shark" for nothing.

Alternatively, Universal could be reminding Spotify (and its hundreds of clones) that streaming is not the only game in town. ®

Business security measures using SSL

More from The Register

next story
Hey, Scots. Microsoft's Bing thinks you'll vote NO to independence
World's top Google-finding website calls it for the UK
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Apple CEO Tim Cook: TV is TERRIBLE and stuck in the 1970s
The iKing thinks telly is far too fiddly and ugly – basically, iTunes
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
OECD lashes out at tax avoiding globocorps' location-flipping antics
You hear that, Amazon, Google, Microsoft et al?
Show us your Five-Eyes SECRETS says Privacy International
Refusal to disclose GCHQ canteen menus and prices triggers Euro Human Rights Court action
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.