Sony May Be Tuning In Too Late to Streaming Music Subscriptions

Sony launched a subscription-based music-streaming service Wednesday, but the move to leverage its music studio and numerous music-playing devices comes surprisingly late in the game.

Sony's Music Unlimited beats Apple's iTunes to the punch in offering a subscription-based service, but it comes years after Apple (AAPL) launched its pay as-you-go iTunes download service. And now that Sony (SNE) has finally entered the steaming music game, it also now finds itself competing with the likes of free streaming Internet "radio" services like Pandora that allow users to customized their listening habits.

Why Pay When You Can Get It for Free?

"I think music lovers want to own content and get their streaming music for free from services like Pandora, etc. I think [Sony's] announcement will have zero impact on the sale of music on iTunes," says Brian Marshall, an analyst with Gleacher & Co.

And while the industry has engaged in heavy speculation that Apple may one day launch an iTunes subscription service, analysts say they don't expect Sony's move to spur the computer maker into action.

"This probably won't make Apple move any quicker. There are already other similar services out there like Pandora and Real Networks that will be offering a subscription service soon next year," says Andy Hargreaves, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities.

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Real Networks, for example, is indeed gearing up to launch a streaming subscription music service in the first quarter, according to ZDNet, and the former peer-to-peer pioneer Napster is currently offering such a service for $10 a month.Rhapsody is another subscription-based music service that offers music downloads for $10 a month.

Sony's Music Unlimited, which launched in Europe and is expected to hit the U.S. sometime next year, will face a number of challengers as it gets fully rolled out. The service will currently work on such devices as Sony's Bravia TVs, Blu-ray players, PlayStation3 systems and personal computers. But it's not yet ready for smartphones and other portable devices.

Are Music Subscriptions Ultimately the Way to Go?

"I've been surprised that music subscriptions haven't caught on much sooner," Hargreaves says. "Maybe people don't really want it in the end."

For some, music subscriptions carry a number of flaws, as noted on a post, including an insufficient selection of music, despite some services touting millions, upon millions of songs. Sony, for example, says it will initially offer 6 million songs from its collection and from other major labels like Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group. Other shortcomings of some subscriptions include the inability to merge selections from a personal collection with the streaming music portfolio.

Sony's service definitely has its work cut out if it wants users to play it again, Sam.

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