Rhapsody's deal to extend its service to TiVo is exactly the kind of effort that is needed on a much larger scale for the music subscription model to have a chance at survival. Subscription services just aren't much of a portable play right now. Sure SanDisk and Rhapsody did a decent job of creating an MP3 player that not only worked better with the Rhapsody service than other PFS devices but also improved on the experience, but subscriber adds are still lacking.
The iPod remains the slickest PC-to-device experience, and competing on that point will remain difficult. The strength of Rhapsody and other subscriptions services is iTunes' weakness -- discovery.
While transferring and sampling new songs on Rhapsody-powered devices is a needed element of the music discovery process, a more powerful discovery process will kick-in when mobile phones and Wifi-enabled players are ubiquitous.
So in the meantime that leaves the computer, and the home entertainment system. All you can eat, unlimited access to virtually any music available is inherently a home-based scenario.
What's more, the deal starts out on the right foot-with a home entertainment appliance already hooked up to a network (likely wireless), owned by techie types with HD-TVs and a killer sound system, and the willingness to pay a monthly subscription fee for content.
Now, time for more. Let's see Rhapsody and other services on more widely distributed stereo receivers, cable set-top boxes, and so on. The ultimate coup would be the automobile, but that will take a bit longer.
It's not just about the MP3 player folks. It's about the whole experience.
Some serious wireless executive shuffles took place this week, with Sprint CEO Gary Forsee and AT&T chief Stan Sigman both relinquishing the reins of their respective networks.
Big changes are ahead for the wireless industry, and perhaps new leadership is needed to adapt to those changes. Wireless companies are almost always run by network guys with deep histories in technology.
Don't expect that to change. For all the talk and hand-wringing around mobile content, voice phone calls are still what keeps the light on at these companies and are what the head honchos there -- whoever the new ones are -- will continue to care about most.
But, again, big changes are ahead of them and now's the time to plan. Sprint's WiMax strategy is now up in the air now that champion Forsee is gone. What will be ultimate wireless broadband play? AT&T has pursued a very open approach to content partnerships. Will Sigman's replacement stay the course? With mobile becoming an increasingly important part of the music industry, its worth keeping track of who's running these ships and what their respective philosophies mean to mobile music, and entertainment in general.