Sony Music’s Unlimited: Is This the Next ‘Dead Body’?

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You can still smell the melting digital of Comes With Music, once the toast of the European industry.

But let’s forget about that unfortunate disaster, shall we?  Because there’s a new horse in town: Sony’s Music Unlimited powered by Qriocity, a different proposition that factors mobile devices into a much larger music listening experience.

And this is all about the experience – or, more like creating an experience worth paying for.  Over the weekend at Midem, Qriocity was a major focus for the major labels, and top executives from each officially crowned the newcomer.  Concurrently, Unlimited expanded this weekend into Italy, France, Germany, and Spain, from an initial December footprint of the UK & Ireland.  (Music Ally, our Midem coverage partner, has the detailed play-by-play of the press conference here).

So what is this all about?  Basically, Unlimited enables cloud-like access to a music collection across a range of consoles, TVs, peripherals, and phones – Sony-manufactured or otherwise.  So initially, the list includes the PS3, Sony Blue-ray disc players, Vaio laptops, and Bravia TVs.  But it will also include Android and iOS smartphones in the near future, and users can port their pre-existing, personal collections, all part of a realization that stuff simply needs to be everywhere.

Omniphone is bringing its collection of millions of songs to the table.  But the latest industry concession is that pre-existing collections get ported and matched into this ecosystem, though portability of course comes with a cost.  In terms of pricing, there are two tiers at present.  A 3.99 euro ($5.41) plan allows unlimited listening of customized radio stations, in the style of Pandora.  Bump up to 9.99 euros ($13.56), and users can access any song, any time, and build playlists.  Various pre-paid options involving certain devices and handhelds may also be in the works, according to details tipped – but not confirmed – to Digital Music News.

So, will this thing fly?  A major concern is that users will only have 30 days to try things out.  During more private discussions among executives at Midem, that is being viewed as too narrow a window, especially given the results of Spotify.  And, let’s be blunt: this is Sony, a company not exactly renowned for its polished, interconnected, and user-friendly experiences.  “As you look at the marketplace, you see a lot of bodies along this digital music highway” admitted Sony Network Entertainment president Tim Schaaf during a Saturday interview.  That includes a number of tosses from Sony itself, including Connect.

Report by Paul Resnikoff, publisher, from Cannes.