By Robert Menta- 7/17/01
As it moves closer into a subscription model, Napster will no doubt move towards secure music files provided by three of the five major record labels via the MusicNet alliance. Napster joined the group as a fifth member through its parent company Bertelsmann AG. The group's fourth member, Real Networks, will probably provide the technology that encompasses that security, most likely an updated form of its Real Audio format.
With secure files to sell, and the possibility that the service will no longer deal in the unsecured MP3 format, Napster will need a new player that can access and play this music. Today Napster announced that it has chosen PlayMedia Systems' to develop a secure digital music player for its new membership service.
"Napster is at the forefront of using some extremely advanced rights management and security technologies in a file-sharing environment," said Napster's interim CEO Hank Barry. "PlayMedia's technologies and consulting services for playback and advanced file security have been instrumental in helping us build a new Napster service that will give our users a satisfying experience for discovering and listening to new music."
PlayMedia's technology has powered Napster's player since the beta 8 version was released at the end of last year. Napster, which has been down the last two weeks to improve its filtering technology to satisfy a court order, has found that 100-150,000 people are still using the software's player even though the service itself is offline.
The question is when will Napster be up again, and when it IS active again will anybody care? A recent setback in the courts may keep Napster shut down until the subscription service is ready. The few details about the subscription service itself seem less than compelling for the average user to spend money on, especially with so many Napster clones out there. Users have been flocking to these alternative services ever since Napster went down on July 1st.
Some of these services, like the FastTrack technology powered products Morpheus and KaZaa, have done a very good job in replicating the original Napster experience. The traffic for these free services has grown exponentially as Napster lay dormant, seriously threatening the viability of a pay Napster, especially since the new Napster will be limited to the music of only three record labels.
Napster does have a branding that is the dream of almost all other technology start-ups. That branding may be all that Napster has left, but it is a powerful possession if it can be leveraged properly. Still, drawing users to the new Napster is not the same as keeping them.
PlayMedia has won the contract and that will make their product the default player for many - as long as it will also play the millions of unsecured MP3 files Napster's users have already collected. It looks now that Napster will only be able to play a new proprietary .NAP format and Real's Network's Musicnet format. If that is the case then PlayMedia's success will be more tightly tied-in with how many people actually buy into Napster's upcoming service.
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