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RIM Breaks Social Ground With Its New BBM Music Service

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It’s taken a little while, but it looks like RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) might have finally woken up and smelled the coffee in the social media world and started to leverage some of the power it’s already established through one of its most viral products, BlackBerry Messenger.

Today, the company launched a new music product — but before you think, “Oh no, not another me-too mobile music service,” this one is actually a bit different from everything else on the market today.

BBM Music, as it is called, links in with RIM’s popular group messaging service and lets users share music with each other for around $5, a fee that is typically half the price of other paid mobile streaming music services on the market today.

The service, which is launching in beta today in the U.S., Canada and the UK, lets users select 50 tracks every month that they can listen to on their devices. Every month subsequent to that, a user can swap out 25 tracks.

Via BBM, those users can also access the playlists of their friends, and share their own playlists with either other individuals or with entire groups — and then listen to the full tracks on those lists, rather than just previews. BBM music lets users create playlists comprised of their own music and that of their BBM contacts — currrently set at a limit of 140 contacts. It also lets users listen to tracks offline, and to chart how many people are listening to their own music.

Given some of the statistics that have come out about BBM lately, BBM Music could be a very smart move on the part RIM. BBM is used by some 45 million people worldwide, and in some countries like the UK, BBM is hugely popular with the ever-attractive, music-loving youth demographic. Young people’s use of BBM has even propelled Black Berry devices to become one of the most popular smartphone brands among young adults in the UK, a trend seen in other markets like the U.S., too.

Where you can use it. The service will come pre-loaded on new BlackBerry devices later this year, but those with devices going back as far as BlackBerry 5 OS will be able to download BBM Music. For now, it does not work on the PlayBook as a standalone service (one needs to tether a BlackBerry to the tablet to get BBM to work), but we understand that a solution is being worked out now to get it there (meaning that there is a strong chance BBM will be getting on to the tablet too). It will eventually work in 18 different countries when fully launched.

RIM already has other music-listening options on its devices — for example 7digital powers a music download service on the PlayBook — but this is the first one that lets users stream music and share their libraries with others.

BBM Music is built on a music streaming platform from the company Omnifone, which has also brokered all the licensing deals behind the service.

Omnifone was one of the first to launch mobile music streaming services — they came online at a time when data networks were starting to take off, but devices had yet to catch up and typically held little in the way of storage space for MP3 — and it powers a number of other streaming music offerings, including Vodafone’s music service as well as Sony’s Qriocity music plans.

BBM Music is the first time that the Omnifone platform has been used for a social network-based music sharing service, but we understand from a source close to the company that it will potentially be extending that kind of functionality elsewhere. For now, BBM Music is a one-of-a-kind.

Challenges: there are some big ones, of course. For starters, even with a market-beating price tag of $5, RIM may still find it hard to get users to pay for the service. One of the unique selling points for BBM is that once a user pays for the device and a data plan, the messages shared on the BBM network, either with individuals or with groups, are effectively free.

And yes, the fact that BBM is so popular with younger users could be a great demographic for music and music sharing, but it remains to be seen whether they decide to make the connection between BBM messaging and music as closely as RIM hopes they do.