Credit, then, to Samsung’s SVP of Service Planning TJ Kang for his honesty, midway through an interview with Music Ally at the Midem conference about the performance of Samsung’s Music Hub service, which was relaunched in its 3.0 version in May 2012.
“Even though we have this really innovative technology that allows people easy access to their music library, it’s difficult to educate the users about the availability of the service,” he says.
“The number of users who are using this service is growing, but it’s nowhere close to our initial expectations. Since a lot of people already have an existing library [of music] we thought many people would benefit from this, but the uptake has been slow.”
A refreshingly straight answer, given the history of new services that have promised to revolutionise the music industry, only to fall flat – or in Beyond Oblivion’s case, to implode before even launching.
Samsung could be important for the music industry, though. IDC estimates that Samsung shipped 215.8m smartphones in 2012 for a 30.3% global market share, compared to Apple’s 135.9 iPhones (19.1%). That’s a lot of devices for music, with a range of Galaxy-branded Android tablets also in the mix.
Kang talks Music Ally through Samsung’s recent music history, outsourcing the media hub for its early Galaxy S smartphones, before deciding to take things in-house.
“In order to meet the needs of the market and create a better user experience, we felt we had to build these things ourselves,” says Kang. For films, TV shows and e-books, Samsung built its own storefronts, but for music it decided to acquire cloud music firm mSpot in May 2012.
“Since music services had gotten started many years before, we had a lot of catching up to do,” he says. “Instead of trying to build the service ourselves, we looked around and tried to find a company that would actually help us get there in a compressed time period.”
When the two companies met at Midem 2011, mSpot had already launched one of the first cloud music lockers, eliciting the wrath of some rightsholders for its trouble a year before Google and Amazon encountered the same issues.
As mSpot was integrated, its team worked on the launch of the Music Hub 3.0 in May 2012 in Europe, before rolling it out in the US. It’s certainly fully featured: part cloud locker for users’ existing digital music collections, part Spotify-style on-demand streaming service and part personal radio, with recommendations thrown in for good measure.
“These individual services actually work with each other,” says Kang. “You don’t have to tell the personalised music radio service what music you like, because it knows already.”
“We are trying to design a new user interface to expose these new features to the users, and ease them into the new way of discovering music and buying music,” says Kang.
“The music labels and many [collecting] societies that we work with are generally excited about Samsung entering this space, and they are also willing to work with us to expand the market together.”
He adds that Samsung is keen not to be seen as a technology giant throwing its weight around with rightsholders unlike, say, Apple – who Kang only ever refers to as “the competition” throughout the interview, rather than by name.
“It requires not only a good technology, but also a new way of thinking in creating the right business model,” he says.
“Just because we are so new, we are a lot more open-minded about the approach. We haven’t really developed a dogma, and we are willing to learn and listen to partners. One of the strengths that we also bring to the table is our close relationship with the [mobile] carriers. They also have a stake in this.”
Kang says that one upshot of these relationships may be the use of carrier billing so people can pay for the Music Hub’s premium tiers through their mobile bills.
Samsung is also keen to flag up its potential ability to make music access seamless across more than just smartphones and tablets, with smart TVs and home audio systems both part of its business too.
“What we need is this seamless connection of your music experience between the devices,” he says. “You’d be listening to music in the car on the way home, and as you walk into the house with the home theatre with much better speakers, they pick up from the place that you are at with your mobile phone.”
Earlier in the interview, Kang had talked about his own home audio setup, with a traditional vacuum-tube amplifier and beefy speakers. Does this mean better audio quality is firmly on his radar as part of Samsung’s digital music services?
“We think about it, and we get pitches from all kinds of companies who could help us deliver higher-quality music,” he says.
“But we want to cover our main user base first. We haven’t even had the time to port the service to all of the devices that we sell, so we want to do that first, then move up maybe to satisfying more discerning users. We want to reach the large mainstream user base that we have first.”