Platform upgrades quality, adds territories

While music streaming service Spotify commands the spotlight for its growth over the years, a giant looms in its shadow: Sony.

As Sony rebrands its online offerings, Sony Network Entertainment could prove an important platform for delivering music to consumers through a host of devices.

Music Unlimited, the Sony Network Entertainment arm that directly competes against other streaming services, takes a different approach than its competitors, concentrating initially on the living room rather than mobile devices. While some have criticized the company for this direction, Sony’s big footprint of electronics in the home made the choice a logical one.

The company is also pursuing a measured global expansion. Music Unlimited launched in Japan last year and has proven successful. This year, the division will add another two to four countries, according to Shawn Layden, chief operating officer of SNE. Also in the works is an upgrade to the quality of the music. Key tracks will be streamed at 320kbps within the next month and the company is raising the baseline of other tracks to 64kbps.

Layden says he’s not worried about being outshined in the short term.

Spotify boasts 20 million accounts worldwide, but Sony’s service has 100 million accounts — and has a broader focus. Beyond music, Sony Network Entertainment offers a deep catalog of video content and oversees the sales branch of the PlayStation Network, a leader in the videogame industry’s digital distribution arena.

“We do play the long game,” Layden said. “What we’re really concerned about is every step forward we make, hold that position and sustain, then take another step. What you sacrifice in velocity, you make up for in totality.”

While there’s a definite focus on music, it’s videogames that make up the majority of sales for the unit, due to the huge installed base of the PlayStation 3. Users and game publishers are becoming increasingly comfortable with digital purchases of major games on the same day as their brick and mortar release, and while Layden shied away from any direct discussion of the pending PlayStation 4, he did hint that Sony Network Entertainment would play a big part in it.

“The Sony Entertainment Network is a very large church and we have a lot of aspects to it,” he said. “The rock it was established upon was the PlayStation Network and the PlayStation user base. And as that platform expands, and different devices and businesses come to Sony via the PlayStation, I think Sony Entertainment Network will be a key partner.”

The company is already letting PlayStation users purchase games via the Web from their browser while at work or when mobile, which are then ready to be downloaded when they get home. But it won’t be long, says Layden, before the experience is smoother.

Perhaps not coincidentally, developers who are familiar with Sony’s next generation plans have said the system will have a constant live connection to the Internet.

“The end state is on your break time, you download the game and when you get home, it’s available to play,” Layden said.

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