Research In Motion is one of the lead sponsors of MidemNet this year, and CEO Jim Balsillie has jetted in to talk about BlackBerry music, and RIM’s work with the music industry. Announcements? Partnerships? New devices, even? It’ll hopefully be a good one. So here goes…Ralph Simon, who’s interviewing Balsillie, says there will be some “important announcements” during the session and claims that Jim is “the most music savvy executive in the handset space”. Oh, and he changed his entire schedule in order to fly from Canada to the Led Zeppelin reunion gig last year.Simon kicks off by claiming that “today, we’re at the start of what I call the birth of digital music 2.0”, and that he’s going to grill Balsillie to back up his theory. Alright then…He agrees, unsurprisingly, and immediately brings up the enduring theme of this MidemNet – “getting the artist closer to the fan”. So what is RIM doing to make all this happen? What’s its music strategy?”When you talk about this 1.0 music legacy, which is ‘I can store some ripped MP3 songs on a PC, we didn’t have a lot that we could bring to the table. But in this 2.0 era we have a tremendous amount of things that we can bring,” says Balsillie.So, RIM has devices with rich media capabilities, and the BlackBerry Curve, Storm and Bold are all very popular in the US. So that’s step one – stereo speakers, support for all the video formats, expandable memory, support for Bluetooth audio. “We do all the necessary things in a very rich basis on the client,” he says.But the important thing, he says, is its partnerships with mobile operators to offer BlackBerry as a service. “What’s key to our strategy is all the third party developers who are writing personalised music services using the BlackBerry environment.”So it’s all about the startups, again, and the developers. RIM is launching its own application store (this is previously announced) with an 80% revenue share for developers. “The key is we have an app store, a rich open development environment, and developers keep 80% of the revenue,” says Balsillie. “What’s been so exciting lately is there is a raft of new music services that are being developed, and this is the part that is massively transformative. And all of these changes seem to have started in the last few weeks of 08 and the first couple of weeks of 09.”Crumbs. Simon asks Balsillie about the idea of “reducing the height of the walled garden” – how is RIM opening up the platforms and development for these music-related services, and go further than what Apple has done.”Our strategy is to play the enabling card,” he says, stressing that RIM is growing 20-25% this quarter through its operator channels. “This idea of using carrier channels and the partner model really works.” And then there are all the developers creating BlackBerry music apps. “Our job is to enable and partner well. Our job is not to do the app,” he says.Balsillie also says the record labels are becoming more innovative in their licensing strategies and royalty structures to allow these new music services to happen – a matter of some contention elsewhere at MidemNet, it should be said. But he’s “enormously optimistic about the revenue streams” nevertheless.Now Simon asks Balsillie to say how BlackBerry devices are better than an iPhone – “You can’t multi-task on an iPhone, no Flash..” he says, answering his own question before Balsillie has a chance. But he comes back with a few more – expandable memory, the Bluetooth audio, and there’s a lot of specialised services supported by BlackBerry.He mentions Rhapsody, which admittedly isn’t on iPhone (and likely won’t be), but also Slacker, which is on iPhone. Oh, but you can cache songs from Slacker when you sync your BlackBerry through a tech called progressive downloads, which you presumably can’t do on the iPhone version. RIM has a similar application with XM Sirius satellite radio – your BlackBerry caches songs from your station, so that you can listen to them even when you don’t have a connection, in short.Balsillie also highlights Facebook and MySpace’s BlackBerry apps (again, though, both also on iPhone). “We had over five million downloads of Facebook on BlackBerry, and then MySpace got to one million downloads in half the time of Facebook,” he says.Simons shifts tack: how can artists and labels use BlackBerry’s ecosystem to sell stuff to their fans – tickets for example? “I think this is where music is going,” says Balsillie. “This is the digital music 2.0. We talked about varying forms of personal radio where you can consume your music, and we talked about social networking…”Then onto Dipdive, the project of Will.I.Am from the Black Eyed Peas (who also popped up on-stage, incidentally, at Nokia’s Comes With Music launch last year), and his relationship with BlackBerry. But Balsillie is quickly onto RIM’s partnerships with Ticketmaster, 7Digital, Amazon and other ecommerce sites.”They’re all supported on BlackBerry. Will you buy music, will you buy tickets, or swag? There’s ad-supported services, premium services, all different models…”Hmm, those announcements are hopefully coming soon.Balsillie thinks the music industry can dramatically increase its revenues through ecosystems like BlackBerry. “This isn’t just a survival strategy. Well-played, this is a remarkable revenue enhancement strategy,” is the way he puts it.Onto user experience now. “They wanna rich experience! The quality of the display has to be fantastic, the quality of the music has to be fantastic…” And then he says the phrase “multi-variant scarcity equation”, which I’ll leave you to ponder over at your leisure. Oh, and the BlackBerry Bolt has marvellous pixel density, apparently.Onto RIM’s music branding activities, sponsoring gigs by John Mayer and Madonna. And then it works hard supporting developers of music applications, most of which will be on available on BlackBerry – Shazam is coming in a couple of weeks he says.What about that app store? It goes online in March – it’ll launch during the CTIA mobile industry show. “When that happens and you go there, you’ll see dozens of music apps, all pushing their communities with different kinds of solutions to address the market with all their special capabilities,” he says.So, no announcements, other than Simons’ birth of digital music 2.0. Disappointing, if I’m honest. And no questions from the audience either, so I couldn’t ask him my ‘Would RIM do a Comes With Music?’ question. Ah well.

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