Virgin Media's unlimited digital music service, which was announced earlier today, uniquely contains both a carrot and a stick for music fans. The carrot is unlimited MP3 downloads, while the stick is the threat of temporary internet suspensions for illegal downloaders.Users will pay a monthly subscription fee for the service, and although details weren't announced today, Virgin Media and launch partner Universal Music Group have confirmed to Music Ally that it will cost “less than the price of two CDs a month”.There will also be a lower priced scheme which will allow users to download a set number of downloads each month. Both tiers will also allow unlimited streams. Virgin has confirmed that it's already in discussions with other labels and publishers, and hopes to have as many as possible on board for a scheduled UK launch “before Christmas”.The announced deal is reminiscent of the original Virgin music service which some other news sources suggested had been shelved back in February. But there are crucial differences from the original plan.Firstly, this is not a legally licensed file sharing service. Previously there had been rumours that Virgin was considering some kind of hybrid service which may have included the ability for users to access files by carrying on using their existing file-sharing services – possibly in partnership with Playlouder MSP. This is now off the cards.It is unclear which technology company will be providing the platform for the service, but the files will be serviced from a central server. While the new scheme also removes the use of the controversial deep packet inspection technology (the working title for the previous plan was ''Music with DPI''), the new initiative introduces a whole new level of controversy by confirming that Virgin will also now be ''temporarily suspending'' (ie cutting off the internet access) its most persistent filesharers.Universal and Virgin confirmed to Music Ally that this would not involve any deep packet monitoring technologies but would employ ''similar measures to those being employed in the government backed MoU process''.Under this scheme ISPs have been sending out letters to the most persistent filesharing offenders. But where there have to date been no actual threats contained within the letters, Virgin is now committing itself to trialing a ''wide range of measures'' in order to achieve a ''material reduction'' in the levels of piracy on its network.This might include other less interventionist measures such as browser redirects and bandwidth throttling. But it looks as if Universal has succeeded in getting the ISP to also agree to temporary internet suspensions as part of the quid pro quo for this deal. Universal itself confirmed to us that legal actions against users may still be part of the plan.The timing of the announcement is also hugely significant, coming as it does just the day before publication of the long awaited Digital Britain report which is expected to contain details of new measures to force ISPs to take actions against file sharers.
Analysis: Virgin Media’s unique unlimited music service
June 15th, 2009 by Music Ally