Plugged:

Ahh, the dog days of August . . . the slow news cycle is both a blessing and a curse for journalists seeking compelling content to fill their pages. So it is in that context that we award Sirius’ deal with Sonos the "Plugged" award this week, which may otherwise have gone unnoticed.

What’s cool about it is the trend that it points to. Sonos emerged as a fancy-pants way to stream your digital music collection from your home PC through a high-end entertainment system in multiple rooms. Fair enough.

But why stop there? Sonos has struck direct streaming deals with Rhapsody, and now Sirius, to skip the PC connection altogether. That makes complete sense, and is a trend I think we’ll start seeing much more of in the coming months.

Look for music subscription services particularly to strike deals with not only Sonos, but more mainstream home entertainment component manufacturers. Radio receivers are adding Internet access as a standard feature, which opens the doors to all kinds of streaming music possibilities well beyond Internet radio.

Could it be the killer app that raises subscription services out of relative obscurity? I have no idea, but it certainly makes sense -- something the digital music market has historically lacked.


UnPlugged: UMG-DRM Redux

A quick note to the negative press surrounding UMG’s DRM test: Get a clue.

I’ll not even address the Apple fanboys who take this as a personal affront because iTunes is excluded from the test. I’m more concerned with the usually sensible press outlets.

In my view, this test is not to determine whether consumers will buy non-DRM files more. I don’t believe the average music consumer has a clue about DRM, or at first blush even cares. That’s why the most closed DRM available -- Apple’s FairPlay -- is tied to the most successful service.

It’s not about the DRM. It’s about compatibility. UMG is not trying to determine whether consumers will buy non-DRM music more than DRM-protected music. It’s trying to determine whether selling music without DRM will allow other music services that currently are incompatible with the iPod to benefit from removing the DRM barrier. It’s about growing the market beyond iTunes.

That said, UMG’s test has some significant challenges. For starters, it’s unclear whether more people will suddenly start using Napster or Wal-Mart stores just because a few of us digital music geeks know about this trial. None of my friends even know what I’m talking about when I bring it up. I think it will take far longer than six months for the mass market to adapt to the idea that there are other iPod-compatible services out there.

Also, a true test will require more than UMG’s involvement. This is one of those situations where the record labels need to come together and take a coordinated approach to testing the DRM-free waters. Going solo like this isn’t enough, because a consumer searching for music on one of the participating services may find one track that works with their iPod and another that won’t. That’s just as bad as if all tracks were incompatible.

But despite some of the ranting and raving about whether the test will work, at least there is a test. At least the industry is finally trying to place some real answers behind the many assumptions being made about how to best sell digital music.