Madonna releases latest single as an MP3

I see that Madonna has released her latest single, American Life, as a downloadable MP3 well in advance of its official release on 29 April 2003.

It’s encouraging to see that her label, Warner Brother Music, are being adventurous with an international star and it gives a glimmer of hope of the music business in the digital age. It may of course also be partially driven my Madge herself, as she’s normally pretty quick at picking up on things, not that this is lightening quick.

The purchaser can download two differing qualities of the track, 128k, 192k, both in two formats, straight MP3 and Windows media with DRM. There’s even an affiliate scheme.

Unfortunately, it’s not all upsides.

  • It costs $1.49, and in return you get a one of the mixes (radio version with rap) that will appear on the physical CD, but you don’t have a choice which mix it is.
  • $1.49 doesn’t reflect the huge cost savings of shipping bits instead of producing and shipping physical goods. Interestingly, it’s also around the price of one of the tracks of the CD version of the album.
  • It’s only available to US-based customers.
  • You can only pay for it using PayPal

On the plus side, it’s refreshingly easy to go through the initial steps of purchase (Sadly I couldn’t complete it as I don’t live in the US). Warner are officially sanctioning the purchasers burning it to a CD – once and they are also allowing the copying of the track to portable audio players.

Strangle the affiliate programme, which differs in one important regard – you don’t get any money, but you do get entered in to a competition to win Madonna goods.

The advantages to Warner are many, for the price of sacrificing (as they would see it) of one mix of the single, they get quite a bit in return:-

  • Find out if users actually has an appetite for paying for MP3’s even if they are a high priced
  • As I assume that each of the downloads is individually marked with an ID linked, they get too watch the extent of file-exchange
  • Find out that given the option of an open file format like MP3, if consumers would be interested in having a file with DRM.
  • They’ll get lots of free publicity for the new album as coincidentally has the same name

The only cloud on the clarity of the results is that, as it will probably be seen as a protest single, I’m not sure if the purchasing behaviour will reflect the normal patterns of purchase.

I’m looking forward to hearing anything that Warner choose to release about their experiment.

At last, PVR to become popular

The question that is always raised, when one or more TiVo owners are gathered together is — why doesn’t everyone have one? I know that I couldn’t live without mine. In fact I don’t watch live TV, unless there happens to be a war on. In-Stat/MDR latest report reveals that 83% of their respondents were either “Extremely satisfied” or “Very satisfied” with their PVR.

After a very slow uptake, annual shipments of units have finally reached 1m Worldwide and In-Stat predicted this will rise to 11m by 2005 as manufacturers include PVR function in their other products, as was signalled by Panasonic when they shipped the PV-SS2710, a 27″ TV with build-in PVR back in Feb.

This, tragically coming the business day after ReplayTV’s SonicBlue filing for Chapter 11, shows the innovators don’t always reap the rewards.

War is good for streaming

Forbes has a piece covering how streaming media is getting a boost from the public appetite for all things war. This is the same for text news — I know there has also been a considerable spike in usage for Google with their excellent news product.

Tragic – SonicBlue file for Chapter 11

Sad news as SonicBlue file for Chapter 11. In my view they were singularly the most progressive thinking company in the digital media space, with features like Ethernet ports on their PVR, ReplayTV, from the very beginning.

It’s not all bad news, as D&M Holdings, which in turn owns Denon & Marantz, has bought their ReplayTV and Rio business units for $40 million. One worry is that these products will be taken to the high-end and not remain at their currently generally affordable levels.

While in the US last week, I was trying to arrange a meeting with Jim Hollingsworth (Vice President of Marketing and Connected Products) to discuss their involvement in IBC. Now I know why he didn’t call me back.

Media player for Xbox

There’s an interesting open-source project on SourceForge called XboxMediaPlayer that gives modded Xboxes the ability to show video/audio/pictures on a TV’s. The development is highly active, which has taken it to the four most active on SF.

This kind of project will make Microsoft deeply unhappy.

Reuters launch “Raw Video”

In an interesting move, Reuters announced the launch of their “Raw Video” service coverage of the now-current war. After looking at it, it’s not quite the warts-and-all unedited rushes that the service first sounds like, but is certainly a step in an new direction.

Yahoo Platinum AV service launches

Yahoo launch their $9.95/month Platinum audio and video service on Monday. It’s going to be going head-to-head with RealOne SuperPass. Lots of the sports content that Yahoo have is from the purchase of Broadcast.com, who had signed exclusive, opened ended deals with the baseball teams — at a time when the teams hadn’t recognised that there was value in it.

Microsoft Xbox Live – Now Live

A significant milestone in broadband gaming today as Microsoft Xbox Live goes live over most of Europe, and enters the shops in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden.

I’ve been really impressed with the multi-player concept during the UK beta, as have the hardcore gamers I’ve shown it to. I have major reservations about the system poor ability to put together players of a similar skill level, and as a result many people find they get slaughtered, leading to a less than for-filling experience. I’m sure this will be cured in later software titles and the publishers learn lessons from the early trials. Broadband gaming is only going to get better, more immerse and more rewarding.

[Purchase Xbox Live from Amazon UK]

Microsoft and MPEG-4

Astonishingly, Microsoft appear to be trying to buy another market, in the same way that got them in trouble with the US DOJ. This time it’s video.

Having effectively dismissed their one time competitor, Real Networks, MS now has bigger fish to fry – the future of digital delivery of media to consumers.

The current and fairly long-running excitement with MPEG-4 compression as the standard for consumer delivery looks like it might have a challenger and strangely its from a prominent member of its own standards steering committee.

My understanding from the Gartner research [PDF] is that licensing the MS version of MPEG-4, Microsoft Media 9, is less expensive than licensing the official version. If this is correct, it’s not only strange, it’s madness.

How can you undercut an open standard? – there’s got to be something wrong with picture (pun intended).