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Sony’s M-Buzz too expensive and niche – analysts

Analysts have serious reservations about Sony Ericsson’s new mobile promotional space for breaking or emerging artists, dubbed ‘M-Buzz’.

The new service is being marketed as a compliment to the firm’s existing ‘PlayNow’ download service and its range of Walkman phones.

M-Buzz will, according to Sony, enable consumers to download featured full tracks, videos, biographies, gig schedules and other content. However, the content on M-Buzz will centre on new, or emerging artists and to download a tune will cost Eur 2.50 in Europe (£1.68) and “more in England”. No final details on UK pricing was available.

The announcement comes just weeks after Telecoms.com reported that the mobile music download market is in danger of stalling. That followed an assessment of the market by music research specialist Entertainment Media Research (EMR). EMR’s findings indicate that just 11 per cent of those questioned actually pay to download music onto their mobile phone. That, said the research firm, represents a drop of 50 per cent from 2005.

At the time, Russell Haart of EMR said pricing was critical and that generally, music download services needed to reduce the cost to a consumer. However, Sony’s M-Buzz is actually more expensive than i-Tunes or Napster by around 133 per cent.

M-Buzz’ focus on new talent, according to several industry observers, could also hamstring the service, particularly as it will be viewed as significantly more expensive and more restrictive than models championed by 3UK, Vodafone and Jamba. All three have launched similar full-track services but using a subscription model rather than pay-per-track. Unlimited downloads from the trio cost around £2 ($3.70) per month.

E-Music – the world’s second largest download site for music to Apple’s iTunes – also uses a subscription model as the vast majority of its artists are unknown or emerging. It charges for unlimited downloads in a variety of packages starting with 3 months’ subscription that allows 40 downloads per month for 3 months (120 tracks) for £26.97 (Eur 40). Using Sony’s European pricing, an M-Buzz customer would be charged around Eur 300 for a similar package.

Martin Blomkvist, head of content acquisition and partner management at Sony Ericsson dismissed the comparisons. “Sony’s position in the mobile music industry is very strong. We have leveraged our brand strength and ease of use to make ours the best experience.” Asked if he was concerned by EMR’s argument that full track downloads need to drop below the standard £1.50, Blomkvist remained unmoved: “No, we are following the market with our pricing.”

John Arber at Industry analyst Ovum described M-Buzz as more of a value-add service or promotional tool rather than a fully-fledged music system. “Selling only new artists at this price point… does make it a difficult sell” said Arber. “It’s very difficult to say whether this will be a revenue generator or a loss-leader for new artists.”

The first phones offering M-Buzz will be the Sony W850 and W950 Walkman models announced earlier this year and scheduled to ship in European, Asian and Latin American markets during the second half of 2006.


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