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@ MidemNet: BlackBerry’s Balsille Sees ‘Music 2.0,’ But Can RIM Really Be In It?

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Midem was only too happy to oblige its lead sponsor BlackBerry with a keynote Q&A slot on its first-ever visit to the Cannes music biz confab, as the handset maker augments its stuffy image with a pitch for the lifestyle segment…

Panel moderator Ralph Simon generously suggested RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) co-CEO Jim Balsillie was heralding “the birth of digital music 2.0,” inviting him to describe “what the iPhone can’t do” and reminding the audience that both Obama and use BlackBerries. The audience for RIM’s pitch was spartan at this low-key Midem, and the Black Eyed Peas songwriter also has tie-ups with Nokia (NYSE: NOK) and anyone else he can use to his advantage. So what qualifies the device maker better known for its corporate messaging to prophesy a musical reinvention? We learned precious little about how many BlackBerry users are really playing music on their email gadget, but here’s Balsillie’s vision…

Going up a version: “We’ve moved to 2.0, where music is undergoing a radical transformation and it creates a remarkable new opportunity for content owners to monetize their content … The content has reasserted itself. You’re seeing that in evidence in the last two weeks … All these changes seem to have happened in December ’08 and the first few weeks of ’09 – it’s a radical and dramatic enhancing set of opportunities that’s literally shifting as we speak.” Not exactly certain which changes he was referring to, but he did confidently tell the assembled music industry bosses: “You will not recognize the music industry in five years from now.”

Urgent changes: “The music content owners felt they were in a death march in revenue – CD sales were going down and digital strategies needed to be torked up – the urgency was driven by the irrefutable inevitability of the path they were on. They capitulated control of their platform on digital music 1.0 and said ‘no way is that going to happen on 2.0’. In fact, they’re going to take control of it and drive it. This isn’t just a survival strategy – this is a remarkable revenue enhancement strategy.”

Apps store and social nets: The BlackBerry Facebook app was downloaded five million times, but the subsequent MySpace app got to that in half the time, Balsillie, said. “I know from the app companies that the traction has been spectacular.” Music identifier app Shazam is coming to BlackBerry in a couple of weeks. As for BlackBerry’s app store, announced last fall: “We’re ingesting apps now and it goes online in March, at CTIA – that has a billing engine and is a channel for developers – you’ll see dozens of music apps.”