BT investigating music service options

By | Published on Tuesday 8 November 2011


BT is talking to the majors about launching a music service, according to the Mail On Sunday. It’s thought that the tel co wants to offer its internet customers its own music platform rather than bundling in an existing music service with its net packages, as Virgin is doing with Spotify and Orange with Deezer. Think about that for a moment, a proprietary BT music service, just imagine how awful that will probably be.

Of course BT, as with most ISPs and mobile firms, has dabbled with the idea of bundling music with its internet services for years, though the Mail says the tel co giant is now more proactively talking to the music companies about such a thing.

As reported yesterday, record label trade body the BPI is putting pressure on BT to block access to file-sharing websites such as The Pirate Bay – using the precedent set in this year’s Newzbin court case as legal grounds for why they should comply with that request – and it’s possible BT could use that as a negotiating tactic, ie do a deal with us on BT-tunes and we’ll voluntarily block file-sharing enabling services rather than you having to get an injunction for each and every separate infringing site.

The Mail also quotes the CEO of BT’s retail arm Gavin Patterson as saying his company would forego making any profit on a music platform in the short term if it helps secures deals, but the labels would have to agree to a “business model that makes sense”, which probably means paying royalties somewhat less than those usually demanded by the labels from digital start ups.

BT will dangle its six million customers as a negotiating tactic too; this is a digital music service that could be truly mainstream. Though ISPs frequently talk about how they “have the good customer relationships” when trying to strike up more favourable deals with content owners, which ignores the fact many people choose their ISP on price alone (or in BT’s case technical convenience), have little loyalty towards the net firm (often they actively dislike their net supplier because of terrible customer service experiences), and routinely by-pass any services provided by the net company other than actual access to the web.

And if Virgin Media – an ISP which enjoys a good relationship with the music industry – couldn’t get a proprietary music service off the ground can BT, a long term adversary of the record companies which is currently trying to have the copyright section of the Digital Economy Act, which the BPI lobbied to hard to secure, overturned in court?

Still, striking up a partnership with BT would win a big ally in the net sector which could help overcome the need for pursuing numerous costly web-blocking injunctions while also pleasing the record label’s friends in government, who have long wanted more label/ISP collaboration on legal music services. So an interesting one to watch. Even if BT-tunes would almost certainly be awful and die a death within two years.