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Are MTV’s URGE and Windows Media Player 11 iTunes Killers?

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For years now, no one has been able to touch Apple’s iTunes when it comes to downloading and playing music. But a new and competitive partnership just might have Apple shaking in its boots — because MTV and Microsoft, both industry leaders and pioneers in their own right, have come to town. Matthew David takes you into the front lines of the battle and lets you know just what impact the new service URGE might have on your music experience.
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"Now look at them yo-yos that's the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
That ain't workin' that's the way you do it
Money for nothin' and chicks for free
Now that ain't workin' that's the way you do it
Lemme tell ya them guys ain't dumb
Maybe get a blister on your little finger
Maybe get a blister on your thumb"

Money for Nothing – Dire Straits (Mark Knopfler)

Do you remember that great Dire Straits song from the 1980s Money for Nothing? The opening lines have become prophetic in many ways: I want my, I want my, I want my MTV! At the time MTV really did dominate the music landscape. It was all about cool music, cool videos, and outrageous VJs with BIG hair. It has been 21 years since Money For Nothing issued its prophetic lyrics and, you know what, it's happening all over again. This time the landscape has radically changed. It is not about a breakthrough cable channel that forces you to watch the videos MTV has selected. Today the music landscape is dominated by Apple's iTunes Music Store. When you look at the music landscape it is apparent why MTV was successful. In the early 80s there were few channels, few ways in which to watch music, and the teen audience MTV catered to had a limited number of entertainment outlets.

Apple, on the other hand, is not a clear-cut case for success. Apple has a proprietary rights management solution coupled with software you have to use—software, it must be said, that is not as easy to use as your TV’s remote control. Teens have a massive number of ways in which to get the music they want online, including dozens of other legal music stores and many more illegal alternatives, while offline they can take advantage of the dropping cost of CDs.

In addition, teens today have more entertainment options available to them than they have had at any other time. From multiplier game systems, mobile phones, online chat and even old standbys such as skate board parks, movie theatres and more – all these things are ever more sophisticated and focused on what teens want.

With all of these options, Apple is playing a careful game. Apple has a triple threat of key, interconnected solutions. They are:

  • iTunes Music Store
  • iTunes
  • iPod

It isn't that Apple hasn't had competition—they've actually had lots of that. But Apple, at least so far, has outstripped its competition by keeping the whole process of buying music, storing music and playing music effortlessly easy and cool. You could say that Apple is the cool music solution of the 21st Century. And you can bet there are a lot of people upset about that.

MTV gets its game on

This spring, MTV announced that it's partnering up with Microsoft to compete directly with Apple's triple threat. The strategy behind this assault is simple: when it comes to music no one knows how to market it better than MTV.

Through a tight partnership with Microsoft, MTV created a new online service called URGE. Figure 1 is from the URGE music store.

URGE is not like the many other music stores Microsoft has partnered up with. (These other stores include Real's Rhapsody, Wal-Mart Music Downloads, and Napster.) In this case, MTV worked closely with Microsoft to develop a music experience. The result is Microsoft's Windows Media Player 11 and MTV's URGE. On the whole, it looks like a very good combination.

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