I sat in a conference room at Universal Music Group a few months ago with some very high ranking officials and was surprised to hear one marketing executive tell me that music videos were, “valuable content” and, “UMG should be compensated when a network or show airs them.” I asked her the obvious question, aren’t they really just long promos created to sell albums? “Yes,” she answered, “… but we ain’t in the album business no more.”
So, today’s twin big music company announcements follow the sentiment expressed by this particular music executive. Universal Music will start charging online, satellite and cable companies for each music video streamed over VOD (video on demand) services. The change in policy will effect companies like AOL, Yahoo! and Viacom’s MTV.
Verizon and Warner music have teamed up with another “charge for music” video play. Hoping that the 3G (third generation) cell phone gets a toe hold. (LG VX8000, UTStarcom CDM8940, etc.) they are going to start offering downloadable music videos for your cell phone. Verizon’s V Cast is already $15 per month, but you’ll pay an additional $3.99 for each music video you download to your phone.
OK, here are the big questions: 1) Are music videos content or just long commercials for music-based entertainment products? 2) If I skip commercials by a) walking out of the room, b) changing the channel and c) fast-forwarding my PVR (personal video recorder), why will I pay $3.99 to watch them at some reduced frame rate with reduced audio quality on a postage stamp-sized screen? 3) If I really want them, why won’t I just download them for free to my WM9 compatible smart phone? 4) Just how many people have that kind of money? I will pay $.99 for the whole song on iTunes, $2.49 for the 10 second ring tone, $2.99 for the 30 second ringback and now, $3.99 for the low resolution/low quality video in an emotionally unsatisfying form factor? That’s $10.46 invested in one song.
We are going to learn a great deal about what consumers will and won’t do here. This is not a technology play. It is not like mobisodes of hit television content that are emergent and plot specific. It is not about news that is emergent and relied upon. The music business is obviously desperate to reinvent itself and, knowing the players that I do in the business, I find it absolutely amazing that this kind of future-thinking “content” play could get done at all. But, they should have done their advanced media homework. Remember a few years ago when record companies made you buy 12 songs for $17.49 even though you only wanted on song off of the CD? Consumers just found a way to get what they wanted and it took a computer industry executive to “get the online music business right.” Wow! This feels like an old mistake. Remember, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!