December 22, 2010, 1:30 PM — Apple's online music empire is under assault.
Japanese entertainment company Sony on Wednesday launched a previously announced subscription-based music streaming service that enables users to access songs from multiple network-connected devices made by Sony.
(Also see: Will Google Music be a lock(er)?)
"Music Unlimited powered by Qriocity" was announced in September and expected to be available by year's end. Which it is, but not everywhere. It launched Wednesday in the U.K. and Ireland. Next year it will be rolled out in the U.S., Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and New Zealand.
Unlike Apple's 10-year-old iTunes online service, which allows (requires) users to download purchased media files to their own computers and connected devices, subscribers to Music Unlimited won't have to download anything.
Instead they pay a monthly fee for streamed access to a catalog of 6 million songs. Subscribers can listen to songs on Sony devices such as PlayStation 3s, Bravia TVs, Blu-ray Disc players and Blu-ray Home Theater systems, and personal computers. (It's a little unclear whether this means any PCs or just Sony's VAIOs.)
And in a tremendous sign of disrespect for Apple, Sony's service can be synchronized to a user's iTunes files. Whoa.
OK, maybe I'm reading too much drama into that. Still, there's no denying Apple's online music business is drawing formidable competitors. Sony, let's not forget, is one of the four biggest music publishers in the world, and thus not predisposed to parting unnecessarily with one dime. If Sony can generate decent music revenue with its subscription service, it may finally stop whining about what the Internet is doing to the record business.
Then there's Google's Music Service, which is expected sometime next year (see link above). The online search giant reportedly is ready to pay millions of dollars to the major music publishers to gain their approval for a "music locker" service, in which users buy songs but can store the files in a secure part of the cloud. Music publishers have opposed music lockers on the grounds that they enable copyright violation.
Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.