By Paul Hosford, partner, New Media Law
In another crammed auditorium full of music industry and mobile phone industry delegates, keynote speaker, Takeshi Natsuno, MD of i-mode strategy at Japan’s NTT DoCoMo in revealed that its straightforward, entertainment-based service had attracted 40 million users to its subscription based model, because it is an utterly consumer focused offering. He urged his European and North American counterparts to leave behind current industry specific perspectives and to develop viable marketplaces for mobile content, where the key to overall success would be equal roles for all types of hardware manufacturers, content providers, and service providers.
His advice to the music content owners was to translate pricing models into the world of the packaged IT product – lower price higher volume, but to consider that the mobile operators need business models that address their industry’s concerns as well. Service providers should stay user-centric ensuring that even the most unsophisticated user is comfortable with, and enjoys using the product, for it to be properly commercially viable. DoCoMo’s model is to only take 9% commission on sales for themselves – preferring that “the revenue must go to the content providers”. In fact Natsuno said when other people within his organisation had suggested that they took a higher percentage, “I fired them”. This is a refreshingly different approach to current income sharing with many mobile service providers, particularly in the UK, where the operator takes as much as 40% of some services. His expectation is that their 40 million paying subscribers in Japan and 1.5 million active subscribers outside Japan will grow to a target of 100 million by 2010.
“Making Money from Mobile Music, Today” panel
In the panel session “Making Money from Mobile Music Today”, these different industry perspectives were apparent in the lively discussion of how ringtones and their increasingly musical offspring, “Hi-Fi tones”, had proved to be massive money spinners for the mobile operators. HiFi tones are near perfect reproductions of music. Representatives from T-Mobile International (Germany), Comverse (Israel), Musiwave (France), EMI Music Publishing (UK), Sony Music (UK), and Faith West (US) debated the future growth of “real” mobile music content with the development in mobile technology and the increase in personalisable ring-tones of various kinds beyond the mono and polyphonic tones that most of us are used to hearing. From the music industry’s side, as the quality of ringtones reproduction increases, record companies and publishers will overcome their initial reluctance to put their music on what they say has, up to now, been a platform with inadequate reproduction quality (they say they have been protecting their artists from low quality renditions of the music). The operators and service providers view is that it is clear that business models that take into account airtime and subscription considerations may or may not work for the rights owners. The record labels and publishers whilst obviously keen to collect revenues for themselves and artists from this potentially massive distribution opportunity will have to continue to develop open licensing policies across many territories. And if the operators follow Takeshi Natsuno’s advice, they will lower resale rates from the 10 to 40 % currently talked about.
As in the online environment, the on-demand mobile music world that will come to consumers in the near future will require the multiple rights relationships that exist within the music industry to be simplified and standardised – this in itself is a large task. As ever, what is all too apparent is that there are many expecting their slice of the pie – at an extreme the list could be as long as record company/label, music publisher, possibility the artist (depending on their contract), content aggregator, mobile service provider and payment system provider. One of the challenges facing the mobile music industry is whether the pie will be as big enough for everyone to get their slice.