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Bronfman Preaches Gospel of Mobile Music

Frank Ahrens

Today in Barcelona, Warner Music Group President Edgar Bronfman Jr. addressed a meeting of mobile operators, tech vendors and content companies about downloading music to your cell phone.

Bronfman is an interesting cat. He comes from a long, wealthy line of Canadian liquor moguls. But he got the entertainment bug. He's an amateur songwriter and persuaded the family to sink its fortune into the entertainment biz. They bought Universal music and movie companies.

It's ironic that Bronfman is preaching mobile because he and his family nearly got destroyed by a Frenchman doing the same thing about seven years ago. Jean-Marie Messier, a French investment banker, was head of Vivendi, a water company that got into the entertainment business. He seduced Bronfman into a merger with the dream that kids on Paris's Left Bank wanted to download music and video to their cell phones.

Messier may have been right, but he was ahead of his time. He nearly bankrupted the company by buying up companies. He's long gone.

But Bronfman remains and he's resurrecting his rep at Warner, where he's trying to lead the big music labels into the mobile era.

In his speech today, Bronfman observed that of the world's 6 billion people, about 2 billion have mobile devices. It took 12 years from the introduction of the first consumer wireless devices to reach the 1 billion mark, but less than three to hit the 2 billion mark, he said.

But only 8.5 percent of all those with phones capable of downloading and playing music actually use their phones to do so.

Why? Too slow, too complicated, too expensive, Bronfman said.

Warner has partnered with Motorola and is working with mobile operators in China, South Korea, the Middle East and North Africa, to name a few regions, to provide music to cell phones.

In many countries, the telephone landline never caught on. Bangladesh, for instance, has only 1 million landlines but 10 million mobile phone customers, a figure expected to hit 50 million in two years. Bronfman said these markets also will "leapfrog" music technology, bypassing CDs for mobile, digital music.

"Remember if you're as old as I am, how rewarding it was to buy a new LP with great art on the album cover, liner notes, and the music itself? What if people had to go to three separate stores to get all that? Essentially, that's what we're asking many of our customers to do today, instead of giving them a really great music experience," Bronfman said.

What do you think? Are you ready to give up or augment your iPod or Zune for music downloads in your phone? Is it easy or hard to download music into your phone?

By Frank Ahrens  |  February 14, 2007; 12:38 PM ET  | Category:  Frank Ahrens
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

If large media companies really wanted to provide a unified experience, they would drop DRM and allow the purchase of a song liscence on the phone to also be downloadable via a controlled interface from a desktop computer. However, that would siphon away from the phone carrier's ability to charge for the added convenience of purchasing music on their networks. The phone carrier's reluctance to embrace music without dictating it on their own terms is part of the reason the US phone/media player hybrids have so lagged behind those internationally.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 14, 2007 1:33 PM

Greed. Some time back, a prominent business leader in the tech field gave that description to the music content companies. Greed. I would like to add another, Control. Both are very dangerous ingredients for abuse and eventually, consumers lose out. Apple brought the convenience of music out of the computer and CDs etc. to a mobile platform. After years of observing the iPod business model, the phone companies cannot even come out with a similar one and now, a mere announcement of a yet to be launched 3-in-1 gadget, yet to be approved by FCC, yet to be officially named permanently ("iPhone") is causing such a topsy turvy rukus in the related industries? The comment by a senior manager in Samsung on the launch of their "iPhone killer" that this is the trend now. Excuse me! Where was Samsung in the last 3 years when portable music was already around? They wait till Apple, a non player in the mobile phone market to announce a product and these giants jump on board like shameless copycats.

Posted by: TheBoots | February 14, 2007 2:58 PM

It is absolutely ridiculous trying to download music through Sprint. After being overseas for so many years, I was new to the American cell phone thing. I went into Sprint to buy a cell phone that I could listen to music on (I wouldn't have even bought a cell but there aren't pay phones anymore). I didn't want to carry around both an iPod AND a cell. Well, I bought the expensive cell thinking I could download music to it (that's what I was told by the Sprint rep.) Turns out I have to connect to the internet to listen to my music--an extra $40 a month!!!!! I wish there was an easy solution for this. I need the cell and I would really like to listen to music. These people would really fall into some major cash if they could create a cheaper cell that could listen to music.

Posted by: Trey | February 14, 2007 3:11 PM

The issues with high tech is it cost less to follow innovation from Apple and a few other companies than to create, research and devolope new ideas and high tech. Most of your tech companies have followed the Microsoft Plan of re-marketing tech, thus cutting R&D out of the budget.

Posted by: KappaDon | February 14, 2007 3:28 PM

Music, Music,'s all that seems to be written about these days by TECH writers. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy music, but aren't there more interesting things going on in the tech world than who has the latest iPod/iPhone killer? Or whether or not mankind will survive another day with DRM? As Steve Jobs said the vast majority of music is still purchased on CD, and some how millions upon millions of people can deal with the few steps required to rip their favorite songs into a non-DRM format. Even if you purchase a song with DRM, there's only few additional steps needed to remove the DRM (ie burn to CD and rip back to MP3 or your format choice).

It's time for "technology" writers to find and write about more interesting technological breakthroughs than whether consumers want songs on their cell phones or not. It's frightening to think what this generation of tech writers would have written about had they been around during the early days of the space race. Perhaps they would have obsessed about the song NASA played each morning to wake the astronauts and whether it was a copyright violation to upload it into space without DRM.

Posted by: Tom | February 14, 2007 3:37 PM

If buying a download from iTunes is what passes for a "really great music experience" these days, then it's sad a world we're living in. There's only one reason labels are interested in digital - GREED. They don't have to store any units, they don't have to ship any units, they don't have to risk anything to put product in the marketplace, especially once they've got the consumer thinking in terms of digital as the preferred, standard audio format. It's all about instant gratification with no regard for the future of music as anything other than virtual space junk.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 14, 2007 4:29 PM

Execs are focusing on the hardware, building tools that are supposed to offer integrated experiences, but they are ignoring significant barriers to using these features. Buying a $15 album back in the day meant that the music was yours and it was perfectly portable. I could take my cassette (later my CD) home, to my friend's house across the street, on vacation across the country, wherever I wanted to listen to it. All I needed was a player. It could be my stereo, my walkman, my friend's or my car's. Now I'm supposed to spend $15 for an album that may only play on my home computer, another $15 for a version that is compatible with a mobile device and if I upgrade to a new mobile device, another $15 for a new compatible version. This is what is keeping me from investing in new music these days. About 15 years ago I moved my music collection from cassettes to CDs, 5 years ago I moved CDs to mp3. I refuse to spend money on music that has no flexibility and in a format that will be obsolete with the next hardware upgrade. This is a fundamental issue to the future of music. We need someone who is strong enough to take the long view, not just focus on getting me to buy the White Album for the 5th time.

Posted by: It's all about DRM, Stupid | February 14, 2007 5:28 PM

Have listened to my music on the radio for 50 years. It is in every room of my home and in my car and on my portable boom box when I'm away from both; and all free to boot!
Does anyone else know about this?

Posted by: Mike | February 14, 2007 5:49 PM

I have a cellphone (Motorola) that is capable of playing music, but I haven't downloaded any for two simple reasons: 1)If I want music, I not only have to pay for the song, I have to pay for airtime to download it to the phone. No thanks. And 2)I already have a 30G iPod and have all of the music I want in my other coat pocket.

If these telecom companies are serious about making these services available to customers, they need to start dropping their prices. I don't need to surf the web from my phone, so why on earth would I pay absorbitant amounts of money to do so?

For example, I had a bunch of custom ringtones on my previous phone, and was told it would cost me $30 to load them onto my new phone. End result: I've only got one new ringtone on my newer phone, for when my husband calls. I'm not dumb enough to make the same mistake twice. At the rate consumers get new phones, it's a waste of money to pay to download, then have to pay AGAIN to have the stuff loaded onto the new phone. No thanks. I'll stick with the two separate devices.

Posted by: Alayne | February 15, 2007 10:39 AM

Several issues

1. The interface(s) are too cumbersome

2. People are not inclined to carry multiple devices that, in part, do the same thing; And, just think of the confusion in trying to remember what song or piece is on which device.

3. As a corollary to number (2), the inability to seamlessly transfer music from other devices to the phone and vice versa. From a consumer stand-point it does not make sense from a functionality, cost, or licensing standpoint. It does make sense, however, to the revenue and marketing models of the cell providers.

In general, such issues point a long-standing practice by the US cell phone of crippling devices in an effort to protect revenue channels.

Considering the relative youth of the US cell phone or personal communication device industry, they seem to think and act just like the stodgy, old music recording industry.

Posted by: Greg | February 15, 2007 10:48 AM

I still buy my music on CD. I refuse to buy from music services due the strange formats which limit which player it can be played on.
I also like listening to music in the album format. Since I'm accustomed to backing my cd's up to a iRiver hard drive player, it was easy to copy a few albums to the micro sd card of my phone.

Posted by: Fred | February 15, 2007 12:03 PM

Hi, Tom:

Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment.

I know we do write a lot about digital music. The reason being: It's a consumer-tech interface that lots of people deal with, it's the most commercial of digital products (though movies and TV shows are catching up) and lots of people have iPods and other digital players.

But of course we want to write about lots of things.

I'd be pleased to hear your suggestions for other topic.


Frank Ahrens

Posted by: Frank Ahrens | February 15, 2007 1:53 PM

I would be really interested in an expose examining the financial incentives/disincentives of offering a truly integrated all in one device with pda/phone/music player capacities. Aside from the DRM/software issues that has the carriers, record companies, and hardware manufacturers a la apple competing for the right to charge, it seems that there would be a huge financial disincentive to sell one device instead of 3. I think I read somewhere that apple used price-based-costing to come up with the charge on the iPhone, arguing that $600 was a reasonable cost for a device that replaces the $200 dollar pda, $250 iPod, and $100 phone + added convenience. In response to previous comments about the copycat manufacturing of the iPhone, I think they probably all got the same idea in response to similar emerging technologies as I don't think the product cycle would allow them to come out with a copycat so quickly after the iPhone if they just saw it somewhere and copied.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 15, 2007 2:49 PM

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