Sony’s Unlimited Music To Hit U.S.

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What if there was a subscription service for Columbia Records, where fans paid a small monthly or yearly premium for access to Miles Davis and Bob Dylan catalogs plus other goodies like unheard archival items and studio outtakes. And the entire endeavor leveraged Columbia’s powerful brand and furthered the label’s future prospects?

Industry insiders have marveled for years at the thought of a subscription-based service for their favorite record label, and last week at MIDEM, Sony Network Entertainment gave a presentation on a new cloud subscription model that hints at that idea.

“The IT industry, the telecommunications industry, the consumer electronics industry, and the entertainment industry [are] all being thrown together in this swimming pool. And nobody knows how it’s going to turn out,” said Tim Schaaff, President of Sony Network Entertainment, at MIDEM.

“Sony is famous for having these vertical, so-called silos across the different business units which made total sense in the days before networked products,” Schaaff continued.

Sir Howard Stringer, the Welsh CEO of Japanese-owned Sony Corp. who hired Schaaff, has championed a less vertical integration for the company and a more synergistic approach to Sony’s various properties, like Sony Music, Sony Pictures and Sony’s electronics divisions.

Now Schaaff, who spent years at Apple, Inc., is heading up the new division at Sony and his team has introduced a music cloud service called Music Unlimited. The service first launched in England and Ireland in December 2010, then rolled out in Spain, Italy, France and Germany last week at France’s MIDEM conference.

Sony Network Entertainment has enlisted the help of the four major labels, including Sony Music, which owns the Columbia label, plus EMI, Universal, and Warner, and is leveraging their new service for Sony devices like Bravia TVs, Vaio computers, and Playstations, but the company also plans to develop the product for mobile platforms like iOS and Android too.

Music Unlimited faces competition not only from long-established services like eMusic, Rhapsody, and iTunes, but also by fast-growing competitors like Rdio, Mog, and (soon) Spotify. Sony plans to make Music Unlimited available in the U.S. within the current quarter.


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