Is Facebook planning to launch a music service with Spotify as the music provider, as reported by Forbes today?
Highly unlikely. What Facebook is doing, rather, is reaching out to multiple digital media companies-including Spotify and other digital music providers-to discuss ways to more tightly integrate the Facebook social platform into their services.
At least three other digital music services, who asked not to be identified, tell Billboard that Facebook has contacted them in the last six months to discuss potential integration strategies in ways similar to that outlined in the Forbes Spotify report.
That falls in line with comments made by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the eG8 conference in Paris this week, where he told attendees that music, TV and books are the next areas of focus for the social media giant. During a Q&A, he told attendees that Facebook has no intention of offering its own music service.
"We don't have the DNA to be a music company or a movie company," he is quoted as saying in a story on PaidContent, which Facebook PR representatives provided. "People listen to music with friends, you read news and discuss it with friends. These industries can be rebuilt from the ground up with social. The opportunities when you make these companies social are a lot bigger than they are [in their current form]."
The success of companies like Zynga show the power Facebook has to bring fledgling industries to scale. If there's any industry that desperately needs more scale, it's the music subscription market.
Facebook and Spotify are already tightly integrated. Spotify users today can authenticate themselves with the service via Facebook Connect, and can share which songs they're listening to on Spotify via their Facebook wall. Other music services have had conversations with Facebook to do the same, and perhaps more.
The Forbes article says that Facebook and Spotify will extend their current integration to allow friends to simultaneously stream music as a sort of virtual listening room, and also place a Spotify Facebook app icon on users' walls that will allow them to download the Spotify software to their computers.
That's a far cry from Spotify becoming the default on-demand music service for Facebook.
First off, Facebook isn't in the business of picking winners. Just as Facebook hasn't selected Zynga as its default provider of social games, the company won't do the same for any one music service.
"Many of the most popular music services around the world are integrated with Facebook and we're constantly talking to our partners about ways to improve these integrations," a Facebook spokeswoman told Billboard. "Specific to Spotify, we consistently point to their product as one of the best examples of using Facebook to provide people with a rich social experience."
Second, Facebook can't just offer a "Facebook Music" service that's simply powered by an existing music service like Spotify. Their licensing deals don't allow for that kind of use, according to one digital music service that has been approached by Facebook for a potential partnership. Even if Facebook wanted to go through a third party, white label music service provider like MediaNet or Omnifone, it would still have to strike separate deals with the major labels.
That said, Facebook's desire to integrate with streaming music services is a huge boon for the struggling market. Facebook could help in the following ways:
- Awareness: Letting streaming subscribers share tracks and playlists on their Facebook Wall with other Facebook Friends would draw attention to not only the music, but the service(s) providing it. Check-in services like GetGlue do this now, but it's an extra step.
- Authentication: Allowing Facebook users to sign into various digital music services via Facebook Connect would ease the registration process for first-time users, and would mean existing users didn't have to sign in twice.
- Payment: Just as some subscription services integrate monthly billing with mobile operators, perhaps they could do the same with Facebook Credits.
But there are barriers, many of which are beyond Facebook's control. One is the fact that non-subscribers are limited to short samples of music from services to which they don't subscribe. Spotify lets anyone listen to 10 hours of music for free, which is a key part of what makes its Facebook integration more viable. The limited 14-day trial periods favored by labels in the States makes for a much harder sell.
Also, Facebook friends may use different streaming providers. There would need to be some sort of cross-provider interoperability so that subscribers of one service could still listen to the songs and playlists provided by friends using a different service on Facebook.
Every element of the music industry is keen to figure out how to better utilize social media to better promote, distribute and monetize music and concerts. So Facebook's new push into doing exactly that can only be seen as a positive development.