Samsung Launches Mobile Radio Service Milk Music Ahead of SXSW

Samsung on Friday (March 7) became the latest entrant into the highly active streaming-music category with the introduction of Milk Music, an ad-free radio service distributed exclusively on Galaxy devices for the U.S. The launch arrives on the eve of South By Southwest, where Samsung will have an active yet, at the moment, stealth presence that will include several media events and an as-yet-unannounced concert featuring a hip-hop legend next Saturday, March 15 -- a follow-up to last year’s surprise performance starring Prince.
The service is powered by Slacker and requires no username, password or opt-ins. After agreeing to a brief terms of service, users are immediately linked to an FM-like radio deal of genre stations that immediately play topical songs that can go as niche or broad as a user’s tastes may skew. (Backpack Rap, with underground suggestions like Doomtree  and Mr. Lif? Check. Daytime Dance, featuring new selections from Groove Armada and Two Door Cinema Club? You’re covered.) Each station allows six song “skips” per hour, a number that refreshes every time you select a new station. Users can also tweak a station to serve more or less selections based on how much they like a particular song. Click-to-buy links driving to Samsung’s Music Hub or the Google Play Store are in the works.

Samsung’s mission with Milk was two-fold, says Ryan Bidan, Samsung Mobile’s director of product marketing. “We heard from consumers that there were too many ads and interruptions on free services, and that set-up could be a pain with log-ins and navigating spreadsheets,” he says. Plus, “we wanted it to be identified as something completely different. We didn’t want it to be super corporate or Samsung-y because it’s not meant to be. We wanted a name that spoke to how we felt about music inside the application, the idea of being fuzzy and nice -- you know, like mother’s milk.”

Milk Music is the result of nearly a year’s worth of testing and development led by Daren Tsui, VP of music at Samsung’s Media Solutions, who joined the company in 2012 following Samsung’s acquisition of his company mSpot. Last spring, Samsung announced a doubling in staff for its Music Hub service, which is also powering Milk. Samsung currently has over 200 million Galaxy users globally, but declined to break out the number of users in the U.S., Milk’s exclusive territory for the time being.

Tsui tells Billboard that Milk Music will also give Samsung fresh incentive to negotiate more Jay Z-like deals with labels and artists, under a Milk station called Spotlight. “We’ll be working with the industry from several diferent angles, from the marketing side and from a content perspective,” he says. “Jay Z was more of a campaign that just came and went, and we understood that and learned from it as we worked with other artists. It makes sense to do not just a one-month campaign that goes away, but a much more integrated strategy. We’ve been talking to a few of the labels, and of the folks that we talked to they’re very excited about this opportunity as they see the promotional possibilities.”

Plus, adds Bidan, “this is the first service we’ve gone out with to market independent of a specific device launch, which speaks to our seriousness about this.” SXSW will be the first place where Milk will be marketed, but TV ads and other media buys on par with the launch of, say, Galaxy Gear or last spring’s massive S4 launch don’t seem to be out of the question for the neat future, either. As Samsung CMO Todd Pendleton noted to Billboard in an exclusive Q&A in December, “We’re not going to repeat anything we’ve done before. Right now, anything that could be happening as early as January or February is still in the works.”

Samsung estimates that the mobile radio audience is about 50% of the total streaming-music audience across all platforms. The category is currently led by Pandora but in recent months has seen all sorts of new competitors from iTunes Radio in September to Spotify in December, Beats Music in January. Spotify and Beats both made headlines this week with a pair of acquisitions -- the Echo Nest and Topspin, respectively -- and will each have a presence at SXSW next week alongside iTunes, which will host its first-ever U.S. iTunes Festival Tuesday through Saturday.