Today UK-headquartered streaming service Rara issued a slew of announcements (squeezed in just ahead of Apple’ iPad mini launch) including expanding from 20 to 27 markets, increasing their catalogue to 18 million tracks, iOS and Windows apps and a deal with Lenovo. Rara have been in the market for some time now but have largely slipped under the radar. Now though they appear to be ready for taking a shot at the big time.
There is of course no shortage of streaming music services (Spotify, Deezer, Rhapsody, Wimp, Simfy, Sony Music Unlimited etc etc) but there is also a massive amount of opportunity. Streaming will become increasingly pervasive as the music world continues its steady switch from the distribution age of selling-units-of-stuff to the consumption era of access-trumping-ownership. In fact streaming will become so ubiquitous that it will become anachronistic to talk of ‘streaming services’. Streaming is merely the technology that enables on-demand, consumption based music experiences. So when the leading on-demand services only number their total users in the low tens of millions and paying users in single digit millions, while Apple touts 450 million credit card iTunes accounts, the scale of the untapped opportunity is abundantly clear.
The challenge is how to sell streaming to the masses. Personalized radio is one approach: Pandora have made a lot of progress, with more than 150 million registered users and 7Digital just announced a $10 million finance raise to (among other things) pursue their own personalized radio play. Rara’s strategic ambition though, is to take on-demand streaming to the masses. Rara has built its user experience and market strategy around targeting the mass market consumer, opting for moods and a visual navigation approach over the traditional list-based navigation. But an inherent difficulty with selling premium subscriptions to the mass market (Rara do not have a free tier) is that those very consumers are the ones who are going to find renting streaming music an unfamiliar concept.
Rara have built a service designed to demystify streaming. The partnership with Lenovo (Rara will be pre-installed on laptops and tablets) will help. But a new stealth competitor will be present on those devices, in the shape of Microsoft’s subsidized xBox Music on all Windows 8 devices. When you consider the challenge of persuading a new laptop owner to pay for a music service when the device comes with a free music service embedded in the OS you realize just how disruptive Microsoft’s new music play is. As I have said before, I’ll be very interested to see what the European Commission make of xBox Music’ Windows 8 bundle, considering that years ago they compelled Microsoft to unbundle Windows Media Player from Windows for being anti-competitive.
The xBox challenge is of course a hurdle all music service will have to navigate, but Rara will be hoping that being pre-installed on the devices of one of the world’s biggest PC manufacturers will give them an advantage over the rest.