After two intense days of presentations, panels, awards and after parties, the MMC 2004 is finally over and I’m sure I’m not the only attendee who could use a nap! Overall, it was a first class event and hopefully will continue for many years to come. While there were many exciting announcements (like the new Fox Music Store) and optimistic predictions at this year’s conference, there are several items that stood out in my mind that I’d like to share.
For starters, Thomas Dolby’s company Retro Ringtones, which is a leading ringtone provider, introduced an interesting new ringtone asset management system (RAMS) called Retrofolio 1.0. It’s truly unique because it’s the very first web-based RAMS toolset for music producers, copyright owners and mobile operators that helps fix some of the industry’s supply chain problems resulting in missed deadlines and delayed market entry. According to the iconic company President, “ringtones generally have a very short life, averaging 2-3 weeks after the initial radio release” so its crucial to be able to maximize profits from consumer ringtone sales by accelerating the time to market.” The groundbreaking technology centralizes your content, allows the creation of workgroups, uses templates to automatically organize meta data, auto tests ringtones and allows targeted exports to specific customers. This innovative business model is really an offering to the entire ringtone industry and has never really been tried before. It’s basically a monthly subscription coupled with a per-seat license and includes three tiers. Surprisingly, Dolby announced a FREE 45 day trial to the system which includes full technical support. However, the pricing after that period has yet to be announced. The company is also seeking future co-marketing relationships.
Also, during one of the round table discussions one of the more obscure topics discussed was lost data. Since hard drives typically have a 3% failure rate and many of us don’t back up our digital data as often as we should, it was notable that emusic, which is a leading independent online music store operating without DRM, offers a music insurance plan in the event of a catastrophe. Very cool! Now, the only problem is getting everyone else (i.e. the labels, online stores and the carriers) to be so hip and adopt that consumer-centric philosophy. A similar problem exists with the proliferation of over the air downloads – when you switch phones or carriers – you’re currently just expected to rebuy all the content that you have already paid for. How lame is that for the consumer experience? I think Sprint is raising the bar in that area. According to Jeff Hallock, VP Product Marketing and Strategy with Sprint PCS, “We’re the only carrier that lets you keep the “rights” to your media files if you switch phones.”
Despite the plethora of lawyers during the “Who Gets What/Revenue Splits/Licensing and Payment Models” panel it was somewhat surprising to hear the generalization that because the U.S. mobile industry is such a quagmire compared to Europe – nobody is really making money with online or mobile music, especially the artist. This no doubt, is in part, due to so many players currently jockeying for position in the value chain. Entertainment Attorney, Steven Masur, suggested that “a premium priced license could soon become a reality to eventually give you access to your music on any format on any device.”
Forward thinking KDDI showed off a brand new prototype phone straight from Japan which allows realtime video playback. Purchased music only takes 30 seconds to download an entire song and is the closest offering to CD quality yet – utilizing the high efficiency AAC codec with file sizes averaging 1.5 MB, which is condsiderably smaller than MP3’s. I was also surprised to hear that their real tones sales are equivalent to numbers of downloads on Apple’s iTunes. In addition, their new handset offers twin speakers, which will obviously appeal to those who prefer not to wear headphones – ultimately giving the consumer a superior listening experience. Users can also listen to the radio on the handset with artist/CD artwork shown on screen. The company’s upcoming Fall release will offer 10,000 tracks and runs on a version of Macromedia Flash.
Overall, the industry seems to be maturing with less finger pointing as to “who’s the bad guy” in the technology and licensing confusion . According to Ted Cohen Senior Vice President, Digital Development and Distribution, EMI Recorded Music, “the key to moving forward is about understanding how the business works for the other players and it is more important than ever to know what it’s going to take to make it work for both sides.” From the aggregators perspective, it was mentioned that it’s all about market control and not about value.
The mobile device is evolving quickly, becoming its own medium, with an increasing ability to break newer artists and in some cases actually enable more sales than the CD via ringtones (i.e. Lil Flip’s “Sunshine.”) The real challenge for the mobile music industry over the next several years will be “to make it simple.” Just sell people what they want. According to Dennis Adamo CEO of Wicked Wireless and co-creator of the event, ” At the end of the day, its really all about whose going to make the most money first and that’s why we’re all here.”
Todd Beals is a multimedia producer and consultant who is currently the senior digital media analyst with Creative Media Services where he publishes The Beals Media Update. He will be guest blogging on location this week from the Mobile Music Conference 2004 (MMC) being held in South Beach, Miami, FL from Nov. 18-19 at the Ritz Carlton. (The opinions expressed in his blogs are his own and not necessarily those of Paid Content.org or MocoNews.net.) You can reach Todd by e-mailing him at beals…at…bellsouth.net.