Analysis

Can Sony / Spotify finally make streaming music a success on consoles?


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Sony’s decision to can its Music Unlimited streaming service in favour of an exclusive deal with Spotify is a feather in the cap for the latter company, but their big challenge remains proving that games consoles can ever be a meaningful platform for streaming music.

The deal will see Sony’s current Omnifone-powered service close on 29 March, with a new “PlayStation Music” brand launching in the spring in 41 countries with Spotify as its exclusive partner.

Details? PlayStation Music will initially be available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3 consoles, as well as Sony’s Xperia smartphones and tablets. Gamers will be able to link their PlayStation Network accounts to Spotify to pay for its premium tier, and the integration will also enable Spotify to run in the background when people play games, providing an alternative soundtrack.

Existing Spotify subscribers will be able to log in from their Sony devices, but there’s no news yet on how much new subscribers will pay – for example, whether Sony will subsidise some of the standard £9.99 monthly cost.

Is this a big deal? Music Unlimited launched in 2010 and had 1m active users by early 2012, but Sony never updated that figure, and the scale of rival Microsoft’s Xbox Music service is similarly hazy.

Despite the obvious appeal of devices with install bases in the tens of millions, and manufacturers working hard to pitch their consoles as multimedia entertainment devices, persuading gamers to pay for a music subscription is a nut that has yet to be cracked.

What about persuading them to stream music for free, though? Yesterday’s announcement made no mention of Spotify’s free, ad-supported tier, but in a reply to a question on the European PlayStation blog, Sony staffer Fred Dutton was explicit: “No, the free ad-supported option will be available too.”

With 64 million active PlayStation Network users, that’s potentially a strong funnel of new users for Spotify – although there are no guarantees about how many will try the service, how many will become regular users, and crucially how many will convert to paying subscribers.

More questions from this partnership include the status of Japan, which is not included in the 41 launch markets for PlayStation Music. Music Unlimited was one of the first on-demand streaming services to launch in Sony’s homeland of Japan, where Spotify and other rivals have yet to go live.

“The PS Music service in Japan is not yet determined,” said Sony yesterday, but if PS Music accelerates Spotify’s launch plans in the world’s second largest music market, that may be the most significant aspect of this entire partnership.

Stuart Dredge

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