Word Emerges Of Microsoft's In-Development Streaming Music Service
April 27, 2012

Word Emerges Of Microsoft’s In-Development Streaming Music Service

Enid Burns for RedOrbit.com

For those who missed out on Woodstock in 1969, or even the more recent 1994 and 1999 music festival events of the same name, the spirit of the music goes on, and online. Microsoft is expected to unveil its new streaming music service at the video game trade show E3 in June. A few details made the rounds online this week in advance.

Woodstock will operate as a cross-platform music service that will likely work with the upcoming Windows 8, Android, iOS and Xbox. Release is expected to be timed with the availability of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, later this year, according to a news story posted on The Verge.

"Microsoft's music system as it is, is built into Microsoft connected systems, the biggest of which would be Xbox Live on the console side," Billy Pidgeon, senior analyst at M2 Research, told Redorbit in an interview. Beyond the Xbox system, Microsoft has several platforms where Woodstock will live. "They've got Live, PC, mobile, it's on everything. The only area where they're going to be tied down is Android."

While initial rumors list Android as a potential platform, Pidgeon feels that the relationship may create problems when it gets carried on the Google-backed platform. "On the marketing side it's a push," says Pidgeon. "Will they have to pay for third-party positioning? There's not a lot of incentive for Google to make a deal with Microsoft. Sony has a better chance of getting carriage on Android than Microsoft just because of inherent competition with Microsoft and Google."

Even if Microsoft sees challenges with visibility on the Android platform, there are other channels to consider. Pidgeon points out Smart TVs in addition to the other platforms circulating under the Woodstock rumor. "Smart TVs, that's another platform you have to think about in the mid-term if not the near-term," says Pidgeon.

News of the Microsoft streaming music service drops just as competitor Sony gets ready to release Music Unlimited, a cloud-based music catalog - originally called Qriosity - of roughly 15 million songs that will be released in Japan by the end of the year, after debuting first in 16 other countries. Music Unlimited is available in the U.S. currently, but still has room to grow. "Music Unlimited is out on the [PlayStation] Vita and I'm hoping that evolves more. It's got a lot to compete with these days."

Spotify is one of the top competitors in the space. The cloud-based music service has a growing following, which will be hard for Microsoft and Sony to chip away at. While it has a lot of traction, it also has some limitations which may or may not effect Microsoft when it releases Woodstock. One notable drawback is that users often find out a song is not available in their area when they try to add a song to their playlist or simply listen to a song. "They're sticking to this regional stuff, it's bonkers. It's online, it should be everywhere," Pidgeon says.

For Microsoft, as well as the competition, the music industry still presents kinks. "There's so much room for innovation in the space, if the music industry gets out of the way," says Pidgeon.

The software giant has had its hand in music before. Microsoft released Zune, a line of portable media players, in 2006. To support the player, Microsoft created the Zune Marketplace, an online store that offered music, podcasts, TV shows, movies, music videos and mobile applications. This service became available in late 2010, and the company hoped it would revive its lagging Zune line. Microsoft discontinued the Zune line in October 2011. Focus in that market was instead put on Windows Phone.

While Microsoft turned its attention to Windows Phone, perhaps it didn't throw out its music system entirely. "The Zune as a service was not too bad, and they were really early with social in Zune," Says Pidgeon. "The Zune's interface was influential; a step toward what became Metro for Windows Phone."

Metro was the working name for the windows Phone 7 operating system.

Competition between Microsoft and Sony is already heated. The two companies compete with their video game console systems. Microsoft's Xbox 360, a second-generation console for the software giant, was released in 2005 for the holiday season. The Sony PlayStation 3 was released a year later in November 2006. Both companies are looking to add life to their aging systems in order to extend the time before the next console release cycle. A third player in the console space, Nintendo, is expected to release its Wii U system to replace the current Wii system, which it discussed last year at E3, for holiday season later this year. Neither Sony nor Microsoft is expected to make major console announcements in June.

Release cycles on video game consoles are typically five years, though the current generation systems already exceed that time span.

Microsoft's efforts to keep its Xbox 360 console vibrant since its 2005 release include motion-based control and streaming services. In 2006 Microsoft added Xbox Video Store alongside its Xbox Live Arcade and other services through its online gaming service Xbox Live. Since the Xbox Video Store introduction, Microsoft has forged several partnerships with content streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and YouTube. Microsoft developed Kinect, a motion-based controller with a growing catalog of games, in 2009. Kinect updated the system with motion and gesture-based controls that replaced the need for a physical controller.

Official announcements from Microsoft are expected at E3 in June. E3, the Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3), is the annual trade show for the video game industry held in Los Angeles. Microsoft will hold its press conference on May 4 in advance of the show opening on June 5.