CANNES, France -- When Sony launched its oddly named Qriocity music service last month, it did so rather quietly and with few details. Here at MIDEM, they've turned the volume way up.
In addition to announcing an expansion of the cloud-based music subscription service to France, Germany Italy and Spain, Sony Network Entertainment president Tim Schaaf delivered an keynote Saturday evening, held a press conference with digital executives from all the major labels on Sunday, and had billboards and banners plastered all over the show floor and conference hall exterior.
In fact, it owns the main banner space above the conference hall entrance, which along with its booth, interior banners and other considerations, some MIDEM partners estimate Sony paid around a quarter-million just at the show to launch the service. That's just a drop in the bucket compared to the "tens of millions" Schaaf says Sony plans to spend in the year a head on marketing and promotion.
"We trying to do something at something that in the past hasn't been done very well," he said during the press conference.
Indeed. To date, Sony has failed in many digital music categories. It lost the portable music market to Apple when the iPod came out. Its last digital music effort was shuttered several years ago thanks to a proprietary DRM scheme that limited it to Sony devices. And let's not even bring up the rootkit debacle.
Qrocity's success will depend on Sony learning from these lessons of the past. Officially named "Music Unlimited powered by Qrocity," the service originally launched in the UK and Ireland last month. Simply put, it's a music subscription service that charges 4 Euros a month for the basic plan and 10 Euros a month for the premium plan. The basic plan allows Internet-radio-like personalized music stations (think Pandora), while the premium allows on-demand streaming. It also has a scan and match feature that reads the songs in a user's digital library, and then allows users to stream those songs from the Qriocity service without having to upload the files themselves.
For now, the service is limited to Sony-made devices--such as the PlayStation3, Bravia Internet connected televisions, Blu-ray players and laptops -- which at first blush could doom it to another failed Sony effort. But a few more details trickling out here and a bit of reading between the lines points to a broadening of that strategy.
First, Schaaf and crew fully intend to create both Android and iPhone apps to access the service, and while he didn't say so explicitly it's very likely those migrations will include tablets running on their respective operating systems as well. He also mentioned an interest in extending the service into automobiles and other non-Sony devices by utilizing the distribution power of the app ecosystem.
Sony is also considering opening the Qriocity service to other app developers through open APIs, similar to how Pandora and MOG make their platforms available to other developers and device manufacturers.
It won't be that hard, because Qriocity is really just the Omnifone Music Unlimited service branded by Sony as Qriocity with a Sony-made interface for their branded devices. Omnifone powers the entire back end, and basically has become the primary account for the company. Omnifone started out providing all-you-can-eat music services to European mobile operators. With Sony, it's got a much larger partner.
"Take all our other partners combined and multiply it by 15," said Omnifone CEO Rob Lewis on the sidelines of the press conference about the opportunity this now provides.
Expect at least the mobile app element, if not some of these other features, to appear once the service makes its way to the U.S., something Schaaf says will happen sometime in the first quarter. The licenses are already there. Delaying the U.S. launch is simply a strategic decision to let Sony test out how it's being used and what problems need to be fixed in European markets before jumping the pond with it.
"A lot of this is about the right timing," he said. "We will spend a lot of money to market this and explain it to customers. But you want to spend the money when it matters."
Given all the roadblocks Spotify has had placed in front of it trying to bring its service to U.S. shores, Sony is backed strongly by the music industry. Attending the press conference here were: Mark Pibe, global head of digital for EMI; Michael Nash, executive VP of digital strategy and business development for Warner Music Group; Rob Wells, president of global digital business and Universal Music Group; and Thomas Hesse, president of global digital business for U.S. sales and corporate strategy at Sony Music Entertainment.
And all had nothing but glowing words for Qriocity.
"I'm convinced that what Sony put together has an actual, categorical shot at success on a global basis," Wells said.
"This conference has a lot about cloud-based music. Sony is leapfrogging into that space. Ultimately, cloud based music is about consumer convenience and access to all the music you want and all the devices you have. Sony has hundreds of thousands of devices," Hesse agreed.
"The thing for me that makes it exciting is that the service is perfectly targeted for those devices," Nash said.
It almost makes you wonder if the labels are blocking Spotify in order to give Qriocity a head start at success. That's doubtful, as Qriocity is aimed more at music fans who have yet to make the digital transition today, while Spotify is geared to those already clued in.
So is Qriocity going to be a meaningful player in the digital music market? Or is it another Comes With Music in the Making. Send us your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org