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First Take: Urge from MTV Networks May 15, 2006

Posted by David Card in Media.
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Finally got the long-form briefing on MTV Networks’ Urge music service, and have been playing with it a bit. The NDA’s lifted, the press release goes out Wednesday when the beta gets more widely available. BTW, press coverage was amazingly light. What’s up with that?

Urge is deeply integrated with Microsoft’s as-yet-also-unreleased Windows Media Player 11, but otherwise has the same free software and snippets and/or 99-cent downloads and/or $9.95 subscription hybrid business model as Rhapsody, Napster, Yahoo Music Unlimited, AOL Music Now, etc. (Each of which licenses various elements of Windows Media technology and/or DRM.)

Urge is not about competing with Apple’s iTunes business. However, it is totally about competing with iTunes as a platform. At least as far as Microsoft is concerned. And empowering alternative MP3 players with portable rentals ($14.95/month).

As you should expect from a product that’s seen excellent predecessor competitors, Urge is slick and polished. Well, it looks polished — it’s buggy now, but heck, so is Yahoo. MusicNet built the Urge back-end, but Urge doesn’t look like MusicNet powered services like Yahoo or Virgin Digital.

It’s not MTV, hence the brand, and it’s not programmed for 14 year olds. Rather it targets the same demos as Rhapsody or Napster. Youngish, male-ish, adults. Music fans with more money than time. Many of whom are Music Aficionados. Urge is as heavily programmed as Rhapsody or Napster — more so than Yahoo, way more than the iTunes Store. Its coolest programming differentiator is its hundreds of playlists. Playlists are associated with everything. They’re programmed by humans, not recommendation engines. Some playlists are designed explicitly to fill a device, sometimes with the canon of a genre.

There’s no community. (Coming later this year, supposedly.) And way less video than you’d expect. Urge is pretty easy to use. WIMP 11 is more or less abandoning its lame obsession with Windows-like file folder hierarchies. And WIMP 11 is leading strongly with music, instead of balancing video and other formats upfront.

Another cool thing that shows off modern technology and MTV integration: you can subscribe to an RSS feed, for instance, of MTV’s Total Request Live playlist. That way you get a refresh of the playlist every week, based on what was hot on TRL. Nice. There are feature stories and blogs, some by people you’ve heard of. There will be tons of on-air promotion, URLs, links.

Some things, besides community, that the other guys are still way ahead on:

– Experimenting with an ad-supported business. There aren’t any third-party ads in Urge, although there will be sponsorship opportunities. This strikes me as downright weird. I mean, what’s Viacom good at, if not selling ads? (Yes, programming.)

Deconstructing your Website or product. Everybody‘s playing with Web services, in part to better support syndicated content modules. Urge is very old media — let alone Web 1.0 — in this regard. It’s all about holding onto the audience. (Which makes the lack of an advertising angle even weirder.)

Hmmm, iTunes is lagging in these elements, too.

Michael’s take.

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