Streaming services: Free, but at what price?

Music for Screens: Summer 2011


Already a major player in several European territories, Spotify launched to much fanfare in the U.S. this past summer. Differentiating itself from competitors with a free subscription option that allows unpaid access to its entire catalog, the site has reportedly nabbed 1.4 million U.S. subscribers in its first several months of operation, with a little over 12% buying into the premium paid tiers.
Launched: 2008 (2011 in U.S.)
Catalog size: 15 million songs
Free service: Yes (ads, monthly hourly limit, no mobile)
Paid: $5/$10 per month
Bitrate (kbps): 160 (free), 320 (paid)
Device compatibility: desktop, iOS, Android, Windows, Sonos
Local library sync: Yes
Territories: U.S., Finland, France, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, U.K.
Exec provenance: Sean Parker (Napster, Facebook), Daniel Ek (Stardoll), Martin Lorentzdon (TradeDoubler)

The first major subscription music-streaming service, Rhapsody was also the first service of its kind to obtain licenses from all major label groups. Previously under the auspices of Viacom-owned RealNetworks, Rhapsody was spun off as an independent company in February of last year, and has amassed 800,000 paying subscribers, the largest number of any U.S. streaming service.
Launched: 2001
Catalog size: 11 million songs
Free service: No
Paid: $10/$15 per month
Bitrate: 256
Device compatibility: desktop, iOS, Android, Blackberry
Local library sync: No
Territories: U.S.

Boasting arguably the best user-interface of all the streaming sites, Rdio allows users to view their friends’ recent listening activity, as well as compiling real-time “charts” of the most popular tracks among their personal social circle. The service is looking to expand into South America and Asia in the coming months.
Launched: 2010
Catalog size: 9 million songs
Free service: No
Paid: $5/$10 per month
Bitrate: 256
Device compatibility: desktop, Android, BlackBerry, Windows 7, iOS, Sonos, Roku
Local library sync: No
Territories: U.S., Canada
Exec provenance: Janus Friis, Niklas Jennstrom (Skype, Kazaa)

Initially started as a blog platform and music-based social networking site, MOG initially partnered with Rhapsody to allow access to streaming music before launching as a subscription service of its own. The blog network continues to thrive, giving the service a leg-up in the ease of music discovery and supplemental information.
Launched: 2005 (2009 as music subscription service)
Catalog size: 11 million songs
Free service: No
Paid: $5/$10 per month
Bitrate: 320
Device compatibility: desktop, iOS, Android, Roku
Local library sync: Yes
Territories: U.S.
Exec provenance: David Hyman (GraceNote), Rick Rubin (Def Jam, American)
Others: Grooveshark, Music Unlimited Powered by Qriocity (Sony), Napster, Zune Pass


Using a patented playlist-generating technology called the Music Genome Project, Pandora took advantage of the proliferation of smart phones to become the No. 1 most-downloaded free iPad app and No. 2 most-downloaded free iPhone app. Debuting as a publicly traded company this past summer, Pandora was valued at $2.6 billion on its first day on the market.
Launched: 2000
Catalog size: 1 million songs
Free service: Yes (ads, skip limits)
Paid: $36 per year
Bitrate: 192 (paid)
Device compatibility: iOS, Blackberry, Android, Palm Pre, Roku, Sonos, GoogleTV
Subscriber base: 100 million
Auto: Native technology in some Ford, Toyota, Mercedes, GM, Hyundai and BMW cars.
On-demand listening: No
Territories: U.S.

Though it trails Pandora substantially in its subscriber numbers, Slacker has aggressively beefed up its offerings of late to include on-demand streaming functions and unobtrusive news and sports content.
Launched: 2007
Catalog size: 3 million songs (not official)
Free service: Yes (ads, skip limits)
Paid: $4/$10 per month
Bitrate: 128
Device compatibility: iOS, Blackberry, Android, Windows
Subscriber base: n/a
Auto: No native technology
On-demand listening: Yes.
Territories: U.S.

Initially intended to coordinate playlists from thousands of Clear Channel-owned terrestrial radio stations into a single online interface, Clear Channel recently announced a relaunch of iHeartRadio in order to compete with Pandora, allowing for users to stream programming from Clear Channel stations on their mobile devices, as well as creating individual playlists.

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