Napster Targets iPod at Super Bowl

By Richard Menta 2/3/05

Creative Technologies already announced their 100 million ad campaign to slay the mighty iPod juggernaut. Now it is Napster's turn to big spend money - Super Bowl money.

Napster will run a 30-second ad during this Sunday's Super Bowl. The photo on the right is a clip from that ad that asks digital music shoppers to "Do the Math".

The Super Bowl is just the start of a $30 million campaign to promote "Napster to Go", their $15 all-you-can-eat plan. For $15 users can download as many tunes they wish from Napster's catalog and pack them into their portable players. The service utilizes Microsoft's Janus technology that allows portability on a select group of new digital music players. The technology eshews MP3 files, which have no digital rights management (DRM) technology, for Microsoft's own DRM-laden WMA format.

Napster Goes to the Super Bowl

"Janus allows you to take an encrypted download from your PC hard drive and move it to your portable device with an electronic license, then that has to be renewed every 30 days," Napster CEO Chris Gorog told Wired magazine. Renewed means you have to hook up your player to the Internet every month for Janus to re-validate your user license.

This music rental v buy plan has been tried before. Notably by PressPlay, the download service created by Sony and Universal whose architecture was sold to Roxio to be the underpinning of the today's Napster.

The original PressPlay (their first name was Duet) rent-a-song plan did not work, mostly because of pricing. As I detailed back in 2001 in my story "Musicnet and Duet: downloads expire after 30 days" that service wanted $20 for each CDs worth of music for each year the user had it. Holding it for two years cost $40, etc.

That old service also did not allow songs to be transferred to portable players either. It was a poor value, one that offered much less than just purchasing a CD outright.

Napster, with its cheaper and more open pricing plan hopes to revive the rent-a-song code that until now ran dormant under its service and use it as a market differentiator between them and Apple's iTunes service. The price is much better than before, but right now only a handful of portables work with the Janus technology right now.

Janus has for its marketing cry the phrase Play-for-Sure. Unfortunately, less that 5% of the millions of already purchased digital music portables presently work with the technology. More iPod competing manufacturers should adopt it, though, as one strategy to keep pace with Apple.

For now if you really want play-for-sure capability you get an iPod and use iTunes like two-thirds of users already do. Or download songs in the MP3 format, which plays everywhere and is free to boot.

As for Napster's latest strategy, time will tell if their new take on an old plan will sway consumers.


The Olympus m:robe MR-500i Digital Music/Video Player is available on Amazon

Other MP3 stories:
Sony PSP Music Service
The Digital Media Winners of 2004
The Digital Media Losers of 2004

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