Subscription Question Goes 2.0, Theoretical Possibilities Abound

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Subscription-based formats have been around for quite some time now, offering consumers access to a wide range of content for a monthly fee. However, despite the promise of unlimited access to music, movies, and other forms of entertainment, subscription-based models have sputtered in recent years. But that hasn’t stopped visionaries from remaining attached to the possibilities.

In the current landscape, consumers continue to lean heavily towards ownership of discrete downloads, whether paid or stolen. Yet, Asian markets continue to offer hope for subscription-based models. “On the other side of the world, users are much more comfortable with the server in the sky,” commented music-focused Motorola executive Chris White during a recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) roundtable in Las Vegas.

White is referring to a mobile-heavy media landscape, one that finds consumers willingly opening their wallets for ringtones, full-track downloads, ringback tones, and video content. But back in North America, the story has been quite different, and that raises questions over whether subscription-based formats can survive – either online or on-deck.

Perhaps the problem is that subscription is theoretically neat, but practically disconnected. Most music fans have unlimited access to music ownership on LimeWire, and that makes a monthly fee seem superfluous. And both Napster and Rhapsody have long been excluded from the iPod, and therefore, the consciousness of most music consumers.

Those are tired problems without immediate solutions, though leading music attorney Kenneth Hertz outlined a much different possibility on Sunday. “This is the year that labels will embrace blanket licensing,” Hertz declared, pointing to a unilateral licensing shift that would lower legal messiness in favor of broad-based permissions.

That sounds like heresy to some label executives, and not the future that players like Napster envisioned. But already, some action is happening on the blanket licensing front. Just recently, Universal Music Group agreed to bundle its catalog into upcoming, high-end Nokia devices, yet devilish DRM threatens to sully the experience. A broader, DRM-free licensing initiative could finally lure music fans, though continued sales drops may be needed to motivate such a radical change by major labels.

While the current subscription-based models may not be popular in North America, there are still plenty of opportunities for this model to succeed. For example, companies can focus on developing new and innovative subscription-based models that cater to the unique needs and preferences of consumers in different regions of the world.

In Asia, for instance, there is a growing demand for mobile-based content, and subscription-based models that offer access to a wide range of content through mobile devices could prove to be particularly successful. Similarly, in Europe, there is a trend towards streaming services that offer access to a wide range of content without requiring the user to download anything.

Ultimately, the success of subscription-based models will depend on a variety of factors, including the quality of the content being offered, ease of use, the pricing of the service, and the overall user experience. If companies can find ways to address these issues and offer compelling subscription-based models, there is no reason why this model cannot succeed on a global scale.

In conclusion, while subscription-based models have faced a number of challenges in recent years, there is still hope that this model can succeed in the future. With the right approach and a focus on innovation, companies can develop subscription-based models that offer value to consumers and meet their unique needs and preferences. The road ahead may not be easy, but with the right strategy and vision, subscription-based formats could see a resurgence in popularity and become a viable alternative to ownership-based models.