For and against: Virgin Media's music deal

16th Jun 2009 | 10:47

For and against: Virgin Media's music deal

TechRadar editors discuss Universal tie-up

Paul Douglas: Six reasons why VM music will fail

Virgin Media's newly announced all-you-can eat DRM-free music deal with Universal split the office down the middle, with arguments raging over whether the service was a glimpse of the future or doomed to failure.

So TechRadar co-editors Patrick Goss and Paul Douglas decided to take their arguments public by discussing whether the Virgin Universal tie-up is going to revolutionise music consumption in the UK or likely to sink without a trace.

Paul Douglas: Six reasons why Virgin's service won't take off

You'll have to change service provider

In order to qualify for Virgin's music service you'll have to sign up with Virgin Media broadband. Is the service compelling enough to make that switch worthwhile? Additionally, moving ISP means you might lose out on other TV or phone deals if you have a bundle deal from a company such as Sky or BT.

Choice is limited

The Virgin Media music catalogue is limited to that of a single record label – Universal. That's like going to an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet and being presented with nothing but a mountain of prawn crackers. It's critical that Virgin now establishes relationships with the other major labels to broaden its catalogue.

We're in a recession

Let's say your current broadband package is setting you back £20 a month. Are you really happy to see that increase to £35 a month just so you can download the new Lady Gaga album?

There are already other all-you-can-eat services

Napster has been offering an unlimited download service for years. Called Napster To Go, the service allows you to download an unlimited number of tracks for £14.95 a month. The Virgin service is rumoured to cost the same as 'a couple of albums' – so that's £15-ish, too. Not so new and unique really, is it? The difference is that Napster's DRM only allows you to copy your music to a compatible device - of which the iPod isn't one - while Virgin's music comes without the shackles of DRM, and your music won't become unplayable if you leave Virgin – but is that different enough?

Subscription services aren't in great health

If the subscription model was so popular, Napster would be posing a threat to the iTunes Store, or the iTunes Store itself would have introduced a subscription service. Conversely, music subscription services are in what analyst Mark Mulligan calls a "dire state" which he cites as one reason why Napster is trying to shift its focus onto individual downloads. Last year, Forrester analyst James McQuivey called music subscription services "modern-day record clubs" – he's bang on.

And then there's Spotify

While Virgin claims its new service is a 'guilt free' way for people to enjoy music (presumably a dig at the pirates who are, of course, utterly consumed by guilt) there's already a guilt-free way to enjoy music and it doesn't have to cost you a penny. Spotify has brought us a world of music for nothing – why on earth would we pay £15 a month to get a fraction of that world from another service?

Patrick Goss: Six reasons why it could succeed

Patrick Goss: Six reasons why it could succeed

It's DRM Free.

Paul has stuck the likes of Spotify and Napster in his reasons that Virgin Media's music deal will fail, but he skates over the most important point – that for your monthly fee you get music that is both guilt and string free.

When you get this music it will be in MP3 format – no woes about getting it onto your iPod, no worries about whether you can listen to it on your portable device and no concerns that, when you stop using the service, your entire music collection will become holier than the Pope.

DRM is an inelegant, archaic control mechanism that needs to die, and Virgin has potentially found a way to do just this.

It's for the family

No more worries about little Jimmy hammering the torrent sites for the latest MCR, no more concerns about forking out for the new High School Musical Album for tweeny Tori. Obviously MP3s can be freely copied anyway – but Virgin Media is actually selling this service as 'for households' and not for an individual.

It's guilt free

Why do people use pirate sites? Is it because they are taunting the establishment and undermining authority? Well, for some people perhaps, but the majority of people are just after something for nothing. Given the option, and a fair price, I think the majority of people would prefer to get their music without the fear of legal repercussion.

£15 is a lot – nobody is disputing that – but for an entire household, for DRM free tracks and, if the deals are done, for a choice of music past and present it remains enticing. Plus, Virgin Media will probably offer a lower cost deal for those who don't need the entire back catalogues of artists.

Times they are a changing

Governments are cracking down on piracy and we could even have a situation where our internet connection could be cut off for illegal filesharing. The time is certainly ripe for a viable legal alternative.

It's about the bigger picture

Is the service going to be great with just Universal signed up? Of course not, and unless Virgin Media can back up its claims of talks with other major record labels - unless it can turn talks into tracks – then this service WILL fail.

But this isn't just about Universal, and it's not just about Virgin either. Other record labels, and other ISPs as well, are now under massive pressure to offer a similar service. And with every music track on board – this kind of service is clearly a winner.

The music industry and artists win as well

Although a deal may seem like it's going to take revenue away from the producers, a regular deal provides guaranteed and steady income for the record labels, and that means a reliance on single bands becoming massive brands, may begin to lessen in importance.

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