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Sony to shut Music Unlimited and push Spotify on the PlayStation Network, but what about Japan?

By | Published on Thursday 29 January 2015

Sony Music UnLimited

So, a handful of plums to anyone who had Sony Music Unlimited down as the first streaming music service to shut down in 2015.

Sony Corp finally bailed on the digital music market yesterday by announcing that its subscription service Music Unlimited, originally known for a short time by the baffling name of Qriocity, would cease to be in all territories on 29 Mar this year.

It brings to an end the various digital music adventures of the consumer electronics side of the Sony empire, which began with the ill-fated Connect download store, part of the firm’s initial bid to try and stop Apple’s iPod from trouncing the Walkman brand in the digital music player space.

The Omnifone-powered Music Unlimited service primarily lasted this long because it was the music channel on Sony’s PlayStation Network. And in that domain we get a bold new alliance with Spotify, which will soon be pushed out to users of the games console under the brand PlayStation Music.

In a blog post yesterday announcing the Spotify partnership (and, lower down, the Music Unlimited culling), PlayStation users were told: “We know how important music is to our community of gamers, and this partnership combines the best in music with the best in gaming. PlayStation Network users will enjoy the convenience of linking your accounts to Spotify, making it easy to sign up with your existing ID and subscribe to Spotify’s Premium service. You can also use Spotify while playing games on PS4, enabling you to soundtrack your gaming sessions with your favourite songs in the background”.

Echoing most of that, Sony Computer Entertainment’s Andrew House told reporters: “Music is a core component of the entertainment offering that consumers expect from Sony, and our goal with PlayStation Music is to provide the most compelling music experiences to the millions of PlayStation Network users around the world. This partnership represents the best in music and the best in gaming coming together, which will benefit the vibrant and passionate communities of both Spotify and PlayStation Network. We’re thrilled to make Spotify the foundation of our strategy with PlayStation Music”.

Meanwhile Spotify’s PR team managed to pry their boss Daniel Ek away from his PlayStation long enough to exclaim: “We are incredibly honoured to partner with Sony and PlayStation to give gamers around the world an amazing experience wherever they listen to music. As a gamer and PlayStation 4 user myself, I’m super excited to be able to soundtrack my ‘FIFA 15’ Arsenal matches later this spring”.

It’s a good deal for Spotify, which is seeking to capture more mainstream consumers through partnerships with established brands, and the PlayStation Network will expose it to a massive audience worldwide.

As for Sony, it’s probably a wise move to get out of the increasingly competitive but still loss-making streaming music market, and instead try and encourage people to use those streaming services that are gaining traction on its hardware. (Though, of course, we should probably note Sony isn’t entirely out of the streaming music game, with the Sony Music record company still a sizable shareholder in Vevo).

Quite how Spotify integrates into the PlayStation Network will be interesting to see, and will likely impact on what kind of subscriber figures the partnership brings the streaming music firm. It will also be interesting to see what occurs in Japan, where Music Unlimited is one of the few established streaming music services and Spotify is yet to launch.

Sony’s blog post noted that the 41 markets where Spotify will be available via the PlayStation Network includes “nearly all” of the nineteen where Music Unlimited has previously operated. Presumably Japan is the market that prevents a “completely all”.

Sony is a shareholder in another new streaming service in the Japanese market, Line Music, a joint venture with messaging app Line and the fourth Japanese major record company Avex. That venture is seen as a last ditch attempt by Sony Music Japan (a separate though commonly owned business to the global Sony record company) and Avex to control the digital music market in the country. It’s a plan some are already predicting to fail, not least because the Japanese units of Universal and Warner increasingly favour speeding Spotify et al into the local music market, and are not partners in the Line Music project.

A formal Spotify alliance elsewhere in the Sony empire might ultimately remove one of the barriers that has stopped the service entering the second biggest recorded music market. Or perhaps Sony Music Japan will lobby for Line Music (or Line’s recent streaming music acquisition MixRadio) to be the provider that is pushed to Japanese PlayStation gamers.

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