This week Microsoft finally announced the expansion of Zune Music Pass (subscription) to Canada. This becomes the 7th country around the world to have a confirmed Microsoft music subscription service. In addition to this announcement, they also confirmed a number of changes to their service. WPDownUnder speculates that there may be an underlying strategy behind the change to the service, and reports on a shock piece of Zune news hot off the Podcast today!
For most Australian’s, Zune Pass may well be a foreign concept – unless once thinks of the Zune Marketplace on XBOX or Windows Phone for Movie Rental / Purchases (via MS Points). However, the Music subscription component of the service has remained a limited US and selected country only service (see prior editorials on this site LINK).
Music subscription services are many and varied now all over the web. From the re-born Napster brand, to Spotify or Rhapsody – there are many different models and alternatives. Mashable recently put together this (excerpt only) infographic earlier this year comparing some of the more popular services (see right).
The plans are invariably around the $10 per month at the top end, offering unrestricted access to the full music catalogues. Cheaper offerings may have restricted access, limited playlists only or just be available on the desktop – not onto the mobile devices the user owns.
In Australia, there are very few music subscription platforms available to locals. Most of the major global brands in the market do not have arrangements in place with our local labels for content in the Australian market. Whether it is due to the size of our market and a straight ROI (return on investment) decision by the mostly US or Europe based music subscription services – or more protectionism of margins and a reluctance to deal with the Digital online era – Australians lose out (See pics below). Late last year Sony Australia launched their own streaming service – via Qriocity, with plans at about a 15-20% premium to the US rates (after GST).
Previously Zune Pass subscription in the United States offered a monthly service for around $15 – less per month if you purchased 12 months in advance. The service offered full access to the complete Zune Music catalogue, for streaming to multiple devices. Songs could be downloaded via a ZuneHD or WP7 handset – or the Zune Client software – and then shared to other connected and registered devices. However what differentiated the Zune Pass Music offering was that on top of this, every month paid subscribers were given 10 free song credits. These credits could be used to permanently purchase at no extra cost any 10 songs from the catalogue. It was great value!
The announcement this week by Microsoft on the Canadian launch of Zune Pass Music was also accompanied by a broader change to the Zune offerings to US (and some global) customers as advised by ZuneInsider;
“We are excited to announce that Zune Music Marketplace and Zune Music Pass will roll out in Canada on October 3rd, providing access to a growing music catalog of more than 14 million tracks from all the major labels, as well as tens of thousands of indie labels. Zune Music Pass will also be available for C$9.99 per month or C$99.90 annually and can be used on Xbox 360, Windows Phone, Windows PC, Zune devices and Zune.net.”
On the plus side, Music Video’s have been added to the Zune Pass offerings. Previously, they required purchasing – which even Zune and WP7 radio podcast and PM at MS Matt Akers (Skipdeez) thought was a little crazy, given their open availability on YouTube!
“Zune Music Pass in the US and Canada will now include more than just unlimited music downloads and streaming – starting October 3rd subscribers can stream tens of thousands of music videos through the Zune PC software and later this fall on Xbox 360.”
However the big change for new US customers especially, is the fact that for the Zune Music Pass MS have dropped the 10 free Mp3 “keepers” each month, and reduced the price of their service to $9.99 each month (similar to many of their competitors offerings) or $99 p/a. They have also restricted the new service to a max. of 4 devices.
“On October 3rd, in the US, we will be introducing a new, lower priced version of Zune Music Pass at $9.99 per month. The plan will provide unlimited, on-demand access to more than 14 million songs and tens of thousands of music videos. Unlike the current Zune Music Pass offering, it will not include 10 MP3s to keep each month. In addition, as part of the new $9.99 offering, subscribers will be able to download songs and synchronize them on up to a total of four devices (1 PC + any combination of PC, Zune device and Windows Phone), and continue to enjoy unlimited access to streaming on Xbox 360 and on Zune.net. Once the new Zune Music Pass offering is available, the $14.99 plan with 10 monthly MP3 credits will no longer be available to new subscribers.
Whilst current US subscribers can retain their $14.95 plan with the 10 monthly free MP3′s to keep – this new change for MS is quite interesting in itself. WPDownUnder believes that this change has been necessary by Microsoft in order to assist the business with global Windows Phone Marketplace negotiations with the major recording labels. As covered by Andrew over at AndrewTechHelp, the Zune Music Pass availability globally in Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 marketplace is a real issue for the uptake and value of their mobile offering;
Microsoft are not stupid. They realise the importance of combining their burgeoning Mobile Platform with global marketplaces for more than just Apps. Blog post after blog post, Tweet following email – the chorus of voices crying out around markets through Europe, Asia and even Australia for equality in Features and Services for Windows Phone must surely be deafening to Microsoft. Their platform is coming up quickly to it’s 1st birthday – and they have completely delivered on the OS side with the current Mango Windows Phone 7.5 update to this great mobile experience. They will have surely known that as soon as people had “eaten” their Mangoes, they will turn back to Microsoft and bring their full attention to bare on areas like Regional features and of course Zune Pass. Just look at this WPCentral video by Daniel Rubino to see how well Zune Pass delivers the complete Windows Phone Zune music magic!
And hot on the heels of the Mango update – one of the world’s biggest streaming music brands is coming to WP7 – Spotify, with the new Mango API’s which allow music playback in the background with true multi-tasking. This is Joe Belfiore confirming its arrival on Windows Phone in a video from Winrumors.
Being Australian, and a long-standing Zune Hardware owner, WPDownUnder knows just how great the full Zune Pass service is, having had one for most of 2010 with a ZuneHD. Further to this, by geography and history, being an Australian has always meant that in tech endeavours, Australia has a long record of having to pay top dollar for “new” technologies – often after they have grown old in other areas of the globe (Windows Phone 7 launch last year was a welcome exception, although we still miss numerous features the US market enjoy). On top of this, the record labels and media content owners in Australia have vigorously resisted or only grudgingly adopted (at premium $) new business models like streaming music and digital content access. One can only imagine how horrified Australian executives would have been at the first Microsoft Zune Pass meeting in Australia. “You want to charge how much for unlimited access to all my catalogue”….and “Did you say FREE tracks EVERY month? Quick, call my personal physician I feel faint!”
However, with Microsoft now positioning their Zune Music Pass right amongst the pack of other competing streaming/subscription services, and doing away with what this site firmly believes has been their main stumbling block, the free monthly tracks, Microsoft may be paving the way for a round of announcements of imminent regional expansions to their service for Windows Phone 7. One certainly cannot imagine Nokia, sitting ready to debut on the global mobile stage with their Windows Phone product offering being happy about this ongoing hole in the reach of the services MS offer outside their OVI music markets. Conversely, how would MS manage having a Windows Phone 7 Nokia device being sold before Christmas in markets like Australia, where Nokia have Ovi Unlimited Music Downloads (to keep) or a fully fledged store selling 10 million tracks here already…or maybe Zune Pass will follow thereafter…
All of this also comes at a time also for Microsoft, where the ZuneHD seems to be winding down as Microsoft focus more on the current Windows Phone platform, XBOX services and forthcoming Windows 8 2012 release. The ZuneHD’s long-standing Hardware (and Apps) Business Development Manager Dave McLauchlan recently left Microosft for his own start-up – Buddy.com. ZuneOriginals recently closed down the sale of their customised (rear-facing etched) units and the Beta App testing programme kicked off earlier in 2011 by Dave has also just been closed. Now the ZuneInsisder podcast 134 confirms that today’s episode is the last, and that Microsoft are discontinuing this (normally) weekly radio show / podcast. Over a long period of time the Zune brands future has been under some speculative cloud by media pundits. This will certainly all fuel these views and opinions further.
As Microsoft approach the first birthday of Windows Phone, and pass the second birthday of the ZuneHD, it would be a great belated present to all the device owners around the world: to those that have stuck with Microsoft’s products over time, or come anew to their mobile platforms – and as a present especially for those overseas fans and supporters of Zune through recent years to deliver the music service we want. Re-brand it, restructure it….but please, just deliver it DownUnder!
PS – Thanks Matt and Jessica; for all your fun, antics and receptive listening to fans and supporters around the world. Good luck in your new (or current) endeavours – and I’m sorry that the podcast couldn’t last long enough to see Zune Pass in Australia….and get some love back from us all! Cheers guys!