MTV and software giant Microsoft will launch the URGE music store this week as part of the Windows Media Player 11 public beta. The service will not be compatible with the Macintosh and more importantly, Apple’s market leading iPod, which industry analysts say could be a real problem for the companies.
MTV executives recognize the dominant role iTunes currently has in the market, but contend there is enough room in the market for multiple services.
“Clearly iTunes is leading the pack,” Jason Hirschhorn, MTV Networks Chief Digital Officer, told Macworld. “It’s not about trying to get people away from iTunes, for us it’s about talking to the 95 percent of people that aren’t buying online music yet.”
Not being compatible with the Mac doesn’t present nearly the challenge as not being compatible with Apple’s market leading iPod. For MTV, not being compatible with the iPod was not a choice, Apple decides what syncs with the iPod and currently it only allows its own iTunes music service to do that. Despite being courted by several online music services to sync with the iPod in the past, Apple has shown no signs of relenting.
“We would love to work with the iPod, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards right now,” said Hirschhorn.
JupiterResearch Senior Analyst Joe Wilcox said that while Microsoft has been trying to match the appeal of Apple’s iTunes/iPod experience, they haven’t been able to do it so far.
“Microsoft believes that if it can match, or even better, the iPod/iTunes experience, compatibility will no longer matter,” said Wilcox. “The company is betting choice is more important, with respect to devices and music stores. I should point out, though, that more than 40 million people already have made their choice. And it’s iPod.”
MTV and Microsoft said that they wanted to focus first and foremost on the user experience and programming. The companies identified what they considered to be weak points of other online services and set out to improve those aspects in their store. Hirschhorn noted one of these was mapping users interests to other artists while navigating the store.
URGE will allow users to purchase individual songs for $0.99 each and most albums for $9.99, basically the same pricing scheme as Apple’s iTunes. However, URGE will also offer a $15.00 a month subscription, allowing using more flexibility in the music they want to listen to, according to MTV.
Apple has steadfastly made a stand against the subscription model, saying that customers would rather pay for their music and own it. As Apple passed the one billion song sold mark earlier this year and continues to sell millions of videos, the company’s strategy seems sound, but Wilcox doesn’t count out the possibility of a subscription for Apple just yet.
“One of the hallmarks of Apple’s success is simplicity. Subscriptions could add complexity,” said Wilcox. “Who remembers New Coke? Sometimes it’s best not to mess with the formula. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple did eventually offer subscriptions, but in a way that doesn’t increase complexity or dramatically change the magic formula.”
URGE will start with over two million tracks from more than 110,000 artists and be compatible with 100+ music players. Content will include music and music videos from MTV, VH1 and CMT, as well as Billboard charts and other features like Auto Mixes, Radio and Playlists.
Microsoft’s Digital Rights Management (DRM) will work much the same way that Apple’s own FairPlay DRM works. URGE will allow users to burn a playlist seven times; music can be played on three PCs if you have a subscription and five PCs for downloaded music.
Wilcox said he doesn’t see URGE as a serious threat to iTunes or the iPod just yet. With URGE and Windows Media Player 11 still in beta, it will be difficult to judge how it will affect Apple for some time to come.
MTV has also confirmed that the URGE deal with Microsoft will have no effect on its present relationship with Apple. MTV currently sells eight television shows on the iTunes Music Store.
“We are a pure content company,” said Hirschhorn. “We will still work with iTunes and Apple, but we are really proud of what we have accomplished with Microsoft.”