Midem Round Up

A few announcements catch the eye from Midem:

Qtrax

Finally Qtrax announced their launch. Regular readers of this blog will know that I consider Qtrax to have the potential to be a (the?) major player in the ad-supported download space. (Look out for a case study on them in a forthcoming Jupiter report on Next Generation Music Services). They’ve taken a long time to get to this stage, largely due to the running around they’ve been doing behind the scenes with rights holders. Like the more widely known Spiral Frog, Qtrax offers ad supported, free downloads with DRM to restrict number of plays. But what sets Qtrax apart are the ability to search P2P networks to find the music (a recognition that the target consumers need to be found in their natural habitat) and, crucially, it offers portability, but not just portability (which Spiral Frog also offers), but portability to iPods. How do they do it? Well they’ve developed a hack (or in their words a “technical breakthrough [which] Apple has nothing to do with”) that gets the DRMed tracks onto the devices. Yes, of course Apple could update its firmware to block it, but given Steve Jobs’ current status as a born again DRM-free evangelist, the recent settlement with the EU and their tempestuous relationship with some of the labels, Apple will need to tread carefully. Sure, they’ll be able to block Qtrax tracks from a technology perspective, but can they afford to politically? Either way, Qtrax’s entry into the fray adds further momentum to 2008’s status as “The Year of Free” TM.

Sony Ericsson

Sony Ericsson announced deals with three of the majors ahead of its 30 country May launch of its music store. Sony Ericsson are focusing on developing a global but locally relevant offering, as reflected by some of the content partners such as Bollywood label Hungama and a stated ambition to address the Latin American and Asian markets. India is a key market for Nokia who, of course, Sony Ericsson are firmly squaring up against with this initiative. It’s interesting to note that Nokia’s heavyweight content partner for Comes With Music, Universal, is currently absent from the label roster for Sony Ericsson. Are camps developing in the mobile music space?

What is going to be really interesting over the coming couple of years is the degree to which the competition in the mobile value chain for ownership of the music consumer is going to lead to consumer confusion and perhaps even market disruption. For example, I’m currently playing around with Vodafone’s Omnifone powered Music Station service on a Sony Ericsson handset. I already have the choice of the inbuilt Sony Walkman UI, the Music Station application and Vodafone’s OTA download store on Vodafone Live. Add to that choice Sony Ericsson’s download store and things really start getting confusing. All the more so with Vodafone set to be an Ovi partner for Nokia. Granted some of these offerings are clearly differentiated, but it’s not just going to be about managing the consumer experience, largely because there is going to be some overt and aggressive competition for consumers, even within ‘partnerships’.

Amazon

Last and by no means least, Amazon chose today to put out an announcement that it will be rolling out its DRM-free download internationally at some undefined date later this year. This is of course a big deal, and will be an even bigger deal once its got a properly comprehensive catalogue of DRM-free catalogue. There’s still time for HMV and Fnac etc. to get their respective digital houses in order, but time is running out.