LAS VEGAS In a sign that fledgling Internet music services are expanding beyond the PC, subscription service Listen.com is making its software compliant with the Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) specification spearheaded by Microsoft Corp., which will make the service available on a range of home networking systems and consumer electronics devices.
"This is a key push for us in 2003," said Listen.com's chief executive officer, Sean Ryan. "This is the year of going beyond the desktop. We are developing the relationships to take the full experience of Internet music to the next level."
Listen.com showed its Rhapsody service running on a number of Web-enabled consumer systems at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) here last week, including Motorola's Simplifi, Rockford Corp.'s Omnifi and Thomson's RCA Lyra RD900W wireless home gateway.
By supporting UPnP, Listen.com said it will also be able to link with consumer-oriented products from companies such as Escient, Intel, Mediabolic, NetGear, Philips Electronics, SimpleDevices, Texas Instruments, Turtle Beach, Terk Technologies and Xitel.
Studios' first steps
The move comes at a time when observers say music studios have taken the important first steps toward allowing digital distribution of their content, but add that much work remains.
"Record labels don't press [onto CDs] 90 percent of their library. Almost all of that is still not available on the Net despite the fact companies want to digitize it for them, and it would be found money," said Ken Hertz, a senior partner with Goldring, Hertz, Lichtenstein and Haft LLP, which represents artists and has lobbied for so-called universal licensing of content for use on the Internet.
"If I were a record executive I would make my entire catalog available through all the digital distribution systems as soon as possible," said Hertz, speaking at a CES panel of online music subscription services.
Larry Linietsky, a business development manager for PressPlay, another Web music subscription service, said that change is beginning to happen. "We have all five major and many independent studios working with us. 2003 is the year this really happens," he said.
PressPlay, like Listen.com, offers a $9.95 per month subscription service that gives users access to a library of digital music from major record labels. MusicMatch Inc., a Web-based music-on-demand service, claims to have about 115,000 active subscribers.
"The major labels have been insulated from the consumer by their distribution networks, but they are gradually gaining experience with these new Internet business models," said Dennis Mudd, chief executive of MusicMatch. "The music industry is moving faster into digital distribution than any other media industry."
"The traditional business of the labels has been getting clobbered for a variety of reasons and digital is the way to grow it," said Ryan.
However, another panelist, Dave Goldberg, general manager of music at Yahoo Inc., complained that music studios still exercise too much control over both the terms of digital distribution and the cost of downloads, rather than letting the market experiment with setting prices. "The labels still make more money off a 99 cent download than a CD. The big challenge for all of us is that the free stuff is not going away, and we have to figure out how to add value," Goldberg said, referring to free file-sharing services such as Kazaa that provide music and video.
Executives of some of the Web services admitted they still spend an excessive amount of time trying to convince studios to provide more content for digital distribution.
In this environment, Ryan of Listen.com said he sees hope in an expanding world of Internet-capable devices emerging. "This is the CES of the home network," he said.