Why isn’t there a Spotify for television? I don’t necessarily mean from Spotify themselves, but why is nobody actually doing it? Before you scream the house down – Hulu! Seesaw! YouTube! MSN Video! iTunes! – they’re not the same. Not the same at all. Let me explain…
What makes Spotify unique is not so much the features of the client software it provides (for Mac, Linux, mobile and even Windows), although these are very nice indeed. The software is very usable, streaming appears instant, and the local cache functionality allows you to keep bandwidth usage down to a minimum (Spotify will even take files from other computers on the same subnet if they are there, to lower the load).
The DRM isn’t unique either; more or less everything is protected. When things stop being available, you can’t play them – unless another version of the same item is available, or you’ve bought the MP3. And you can even play MP3s you didn’t buy through Spotify. And yes, Spotify is a walled garden – whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is an exercise I shall leave to the reader…
What is unique about Spotify is their business plan. Napster, in its modern incarnation, perhaps approaches some of the same ethos, but without the “most favoured nation” status Spotify have acquired.
Quite simply, Spotify chose to head for major labels to licence their content, and has just kept adding deals ever since. They have multiple layers of payment options – a slimmed down “Open” account that anyone can have, with a streaming limit and adverts; the invitation-only “Free” service, with no streaming limits, but still adverts; and then the “Unlimited” and “Premium” accounts. Premium enables offline play – useful for people on the move, or for playing on your mobile.
But at no point do you get to keep anything you’ve streamed, even if you’re a Premium subscriber, without paying for that download. That’s a model we’re all familiar with – advertising or subscription funded TV channels, with the DVD box sets coming out a few months after the season has finished. It’s no accident I used the TV model as a metaphor there, because Spotify’s model most closely parallels the modern TV market rather than the music industry at the moment, albeit that Spotify’s equivalent of the DVD box set is perhaps the MP3 single.
Now we are beginning to see the advent of web-based services, such as Hulu, BlinkBox and Seesaw, that have multiple charging models – free or paid for, usually dependent upon the content – I’m wondering where’s the Spotify for TV? It wouldn’t take a genius to make a Spotify-type client application that plays video, but it would take some heavy-hitting in terms of deal making to populate it with content in a one-price-fits-all subscription model. But then, if TV stations can have their online players (paid for, such as Sky, or free in the case of the BBC and Channel 4) – why can’t someone else? After all – almost what else is BBC iPlayer?
And if they need usage – there’s plenty of copyright expired material they can use, quite a bit of which is available on Blinkbox and MSN Video already. Then – it’s “let’s make a deal” time.
To deliberately misquote “Field Of Dreams” – “if you build it, they will pay”.