Have the Media Subscription Wars Just Begun?

by Tien Tzuo, CEO


On Wednesday, GigaOm revealed that Taiwanese mobile hardware developer HTC may be developing a streaming music service in collaboration with Beats Audio’s Jimmy Iovine. Spotify is officially on notice.


Iovine, who serves as chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M, is a big mover and shaker in the music industry, and with his clout and HTC’s hardware abilities, could make some real noise in the music streaming race.


Lately, of course, the “race” has seemed like nothing but a Spotify monopoly. The popular music streaming app uses a combination advertisement/subscription-based business model combined with purchases with 3rd party partners. Spotify has taken elements of iTunes, Pandora, and media sites’ models to create a three pronged revenue stream—and yet, despite its nearly 3 million paid subscribers, has not reported any profits.


According to the GigaOm piece, Iovine is not a fan of Spotify. And with Spotify’s recent announcement that its no-strings attached, unlimited service will no longer be free after users’ sixth month promotional period comes to an end, it seems that the time to make a move in this industry is now.


As Netflix’s handling of their pricing changes revealed, media executives still don’t quite understand how to price subscriptions models yet, and they better have the ability to change prices and bundles quickly and often. If Spotify’s moves spark a similar customer revolt, there could be an opportunity for HTC/Beat’s music service to capture market share.


And with Iovine’s backing, there are some major questions to be had as to what the music industry will do—do they throw their lot in with one service and not the other? Will customers, so accustomed to having unfettered access to all types of artists, now have to pick and choose which service they use based on the studios supported? Or will competition and lower prices allow for more specific subscription models, such as charging by use or by artist popularity?


But a presumed subscription war between HTC/Beat’s music service and Spotify is likely just another front in a larger media war that is brewing. HTC’s involvement suggests that hardware developers recognize the growing importance and profitability of subscription-based media models, and are moving to position themselves to take advantage. HTC is one of the major players in the mobile phone market, and is arguably one of the reasons why the Android platform has challenged Apple’s iOS. By packaging its presumed music service with HTC produced smartphones, the battlefield suddenly shifts from being just a battle between streaming music apps to a much larger hardware/content player war.


That’s what’s going to be the most interesting thing to watch here. HTC and Beat are unlikely allies, but they won’t be the only companies linking up to grab new positions in this evolving marketplace. There is going to be an all-out battle between content players, device manufacturers, Internet brands, broadcast/cable companies, studios, etc. There will be unholy alliances between former enemies just to stay in the game. There will be those that can stand on their own.

Ultimately, it will be a battle to own the customer via the subscription. Who can adapt, customize, and scale will determine the winners.


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