- To Control. While perhaps the hardest to monetize, this is the most important feature for device makers and those hoping to win the digital video ecosystem war (see 9 and 10 below). Recurring app usage starts with utility.
- To Discover. Trying to find content to watch, with many in the ecosystem seeking to influence that decision through some form of advertising.
- To Enhance. This will come in the form of a) searching for or receiving additional (perhaps synchronized) related information to the program and b) second screen-based commerce (a subset of M-Commerce). Just a few weeks ago, Nielsen reported that of consumers using a tablet while watching TV, roughly 40% are using them to check information related to the program and 29% of 25-34 year olds are shopping while watching TV.
- To Share. Already hyped in the press to the nth degree, expect to start to see attempts to measure how impression affect viewership across demographics and how they influence others decisions to view content.
- Nearly 60m Xbox consoles have sold worldwide, nearly 40m of them believed to be in the U.S. Half of those Xbox consoles subscribe to Xbox online services--even if we use the same ratio as installs to be conservative (the U.S. rate is likely much higher), that gives Xbox more than 20m homes in the U.S.--roughly as many as Comcast or Netflix.
- Microsoft's stated goals with the second screen platform are to enable 1) Discovery and Control, 2) Immersive Entertainment, 3) better Gaming.
- Principles as stated in a slide by Mark:
- 1) Connect via People and Content, not devices. There are only 5 different versions of the platforms in terms of UI: Android, Microsoft Windows 8 PC/Tablet, Microsoft Phone, iPhone, iPad
- 2) Each screen magically tunes to me. This is a REALLY BIG deal and we will talk about this most of the blog.
- 3) Each screen as a "superpower" and the 2 screens cooperate together.
- 4) There is a clear focus at any given time between the screen.
- 5) Every second screen experience provides and end-to-end consumer experience.
- Control (Simple). Tuning required (esp on iPad version). Better feature control of the Xbox (editing playlists for music, for example), dropping music into a upcoming queue, etc.
- Enhanced or immersive experience (Stimulating). The basic experience could be readily improved in breadth and depth just by implementing a scene-level metadata solution (see Digitalsmiths) for every title, and the metadata set for the scene level objects need to be extended (too cursory when compared to Fanhattan or IMDB).
- Discovery. Currently, this is very rudimentary (a collaborative filtering approach). There are 3rd party discovery engines out there that could quickly improve the feature set, but they also need to import my existing effort in the social world (my Facebook likes) and leverage the concept of multiple sources for their partners Netflix and Hulu. I realize it may be counter-intuitive for Microsoft to launched you to Netflix for a title where they make no money vs. their own version of the same title, but they are not trying to make $0.30 on a rental, they are trying to gain a subscriber who becomes loyal to their ecosystem.
- Social. Mark did spend a significant amount of time on the concept, but I left it out up top because it is a closed, Xbox only approach. There is still nothing that allows me to leverage my other social networks in the "real" world. This, similar to my comments on leveraging other sources of content, is counter-intuitive, but if you want me to switch to Xbox for the majority of my needs, you need to solve this.
- Content. The only major drawback in both the music and video content for Xbox--I cannot take it with me. I like to purchase/own TV and Film and Music in my Apple ecosystem because I can watch it on a plane, use it while traveling, etc. This is a must have for the Xbox ecosystem to take on Apple.
- Cable/Telco - MVPD / Pay TV Operators. So far, DirecTV and Xfinity lead the way, but are a generation behind this "OS-level" concept of ACR for all content in the ecosystem.
- Apple. Obviously we will never know what they are working on until it is out, but so far, it looks like Microsoft has them flatfooted.
- Android. Has a long, long ways to go to create a living room ecosystem, though GoogleTV offers them that chance, but they need tighter integration with various players in the chain (the CE players).
- Amazon. Has announced "X-ray" for their Kindle Fire HD titles (gives some enhanced experience with related metadata), but this has yet to progress to titles delivered to other non-Amazon devices and into the living room.
- Sony. Seemingly asleep, though they own all the right tools for this (Gracenote, Playstation, portable devices, phones, etc).
But is this enough for success?
Well, let's back up and examine what ingredients are required for consumers to "cross the chasm" in market adoption of new products. With roughly 110 million households in the U.S., UltraViolet (UV) is just approaching the 5% penetration point. While that seems like a lot of consumers when comparing it to Netflix (22m+ subscribers) and Comcast (similar numbers), the right comparison here is the DVD player install base (near 100%) or the PC install base (also in the high 90 percentile in the US). So, how do you convince consumers who are clearly buying and renting a lot of DVDs (despite the press to the contrary, see this blog) to start paying a little extra to have digital ownership?
First, consumers need to believe that there will be title ubiquity. If this is only available on 50% or 75% of the titles that are available on DVD, then this is just another format that complicates their lives ("Hey, I want to get this on UV, but it isn't available..."). I know, I know. Many of you are going to chastise me with emails and tell me that 5 of the 6 major studios are now supporting UV and that eventually Disney will have to come around. Unfortunately, consumers don't shop for titles by studio (shocking as that is), nor do they care about the challenges our industry faces. What they know is that more titles are available to purchase digitally on their favorite list (let's assume the "IMDB Top 100" list represents that) from iTunes, Vudu and Amazon than from UV and for a price that is cheaper than the UV enhanced physical SKU. What can the studios do about this? Start by standing up themselves and making a public commitment to start putting every new DVD / Blu-ray title on UV (even if there is a not a UV SKU sold physically at retail) and give a reasonable time table to make their top 90% of SKUs available in the format (only Warner to date has demonstrated this kind of commitment).
Second, it is difficult to crow about having retailers signed up when the largest DVD / Blu-ray sales retailer (Amazon), the largest digital video retailer (iTunes), and the largest digital "rentailer" (Xbox) have not signed up for the program. No matter how you slice up the markets where the consumers you want to attract are currently buying or renting, each one of these companies represents represents the lion's share of them and I would venture to say you cannot create mass adoption without them.
Third, consumers' appetites are VERY strong for accessing their content through subscription packages. They sign up in droves for cable, satellite, telco and even Netflix/Hulu packages. If you want to create mass adoption, work with those subscription services to allow consumers to stream the UV titles they already own thru their services as well (yes, make it part of the deal in your next licensing negotiation). Once consumers can access the content they "own" through the video services they use to watch the other 35 hours of content each and every week, they will see it as a valuable feature and may consider it during their decision process to rent or buy titles (physically or digitally).
review in September.
I am very curious to see what the marketing campaign leading up to Christmas looks like.
Ok, let the harassing emails ensue.
As theÂ UltraViolet academyÂ in London approaches to wake us out of our summer slumber and send us on to IBC, I sat discussing the onward march of digital video in today’s Top 20 ratings-driven world with some neighbors around the end of summer BBQs. Â There was a general view that most TV shows were available (in the US) on either HuluPlus or Netflix. Â While there was some discussion about network specific sites like ABC.com, HBO-GO and TV.com (CBS’ site) and some general understanding that there was content missing from HuluPlus and Netflix, most people felt like anything they were missing was probably available to purchase as a catch-up one-off show from iTunes or Vudu.
As I pondered this seemingly simple challenge, I though back to the end of May when I wrote aÂ blog about the current state of digital title availabilityÂ in the various service offerings (rental, sell-thru, subscription) and retailers (iTunes, Vudu, Netflix) and compared them to each other and to their physical counterparts. Â So, with the help of some colleagues, I set out to get to the bottom of the details.
We started with the current TV Guide Top 20 (as of August, 2012). Â I realize that the Top 20 would have been different in May and will be different in October once the season is underway, but this is a unique time of the year where even the most protected of shows has finally exited their Spring window and have been pushed out on DVD or at least a digital purchase service (if not a streaming one–rental by the episode is no longer supported by any site).
What were the results? Â Surprising to say the least. Â First, let me give you an idea of the list (since it is relatively short):
Now with this list, you would have thought there would be a high probability to have nearly all but the HBO and AMC series available already. Â The results?
- iTunes carries 75% of the content (in SD) for purchase (most recent season)–Vudu and Amazon were just a step behind them. Â The missing items were all some sort of reality show.
- Netflix has a (not surprising) poor showing for current seasons (strong for past seasons) with only 15% available, but to my surprise, HuluPlus only came in at 40% (disappointing in a big way). Â Combining the two options only yielded 45% availability.
- Physical still trumped all of the options with 80% of them available for purchase from Amazon and 75% for physical rental from Netflix.
- Combining digital purchase and streaming (across all services) yielded a 90% availability (with only X Factor and So You Think You Can Dance absent)–yielding a problem discussed inÂ my blog last week of finding content across multiple sources.
As I pondered this seemingly simple challenge, I though back to the end of May when I wrote a blog about the current state of digital title availability in the various service offerings (rental, sell-thru, subscription) and retailers (iTunes, Vudu, Netflix) and compared them to each other and to their physical counterparts. So, with the help of some colleagues, I set out to get to the bottom of the details.
We started with the current TV Guide Top 20 (as of August, 2012). I realize that the Top 20 would have been different in May and will be different in October once the season is underway, but this is a unique time of the year where even the most protected of shows has finally exited their Spring window and have been pushed out on DVD or at least a digital purchase service (if not a streaming one--rental by the episode is no longer supported by any site).
What were the results? Surprising to say the least. First, let me give you an idea of the list (since it is relatively short):
Now with this list, you would have thought there would be a high probability to have nearly all but the HBO and AMC series available already. The results?
- iTunes carries 75% of the content (in SD) for purchase (most recent season)--Vudu and Amazon were just a step behind them. The missing items were all some sort of reality show.
- Netflix has a (not surprising) poor showing for current seasons (strong for past seasons) with only 15% available, but to my surprise, HuluPlus only came in at 40% (disappointing in a big way). Combining the two options only yielded 45% availability.
- Physical still trumped all of the options with 80% of them available for purchase from Amazon and 75% for physical rental from Netflix.
- Combining digital purchase and streaming (across all services) yielded a 90% availability (with only X Factor and So You Think You Can Dance absent)--yielding a problem discussed in my blog last week of finding content across multiple sources.
- the 500 channels of content you were receiving from your Cable, Telco, or Satellite provider,
- the collection of DVD's on your shelf, and
- the available plethora of DVDs to rent at your local Blockbuster.
- Movies came out at the theater first, and then a few months later were available to rent (eg Blockbuster) or purchase (many locations) on the same day.
- A few months after this, they started appearing in your premium TV networks (eg HBO, Showtime).
- A few months after this, they came out on the standard, non-premium broadcast networks.
- BuddyTV let's you tell it which of several pay TV network operators you have in your house and will ask you for your sign-on credentials for popular subscription services. Then, as you search, browse, or hope to discover content, it will show you the available content, and if available on your set top box (live channel, DVR, VOD) will serve it on your first screen (integration with STBs is great, getting the right device to serve up everything else isn't easy).
- Matcha takes a slightly different approach and assumes your tablet is your intended viewing device from the start and even plays most content directly after your decision with one-click, but it does not attempt to integrate your local pay TV operator.
- Fanhattan currently has the most extensive list of sources of content, but acts more like a librarian did in days of yore, pointing you to the right service and leaving you to figure out how to get the video content to your viewing screen.
- Vudu is integrating it's own available library with your Vudu and UltraViolet purchased titles, but no 3rd party service is integrating all of those great "cloud-based" titles you own, and the few apps attempting to integrate your physical DVDs are too painful of an experience to mention.
- Well part of the answer will come from metadata service providers like TMS, FYI and Rovi who will work with subscription and cloud video service providers to be able to serve up better metadata about what is available when and where.
- Part of the answer will lie in the nascent discovery segment where service providers like Digitalsmiths, ThinkAnalytics and Jinni are working to create algorithms that can "see" across multiple content sources.
- Part of this will have to be work delivered by the video aggregation services themselves, allowing 3rd party APIs to query cloud-ownership of your account in addition to the available content for purchase, rental or subscription viewing.
- And finally, the last mile has to be delivered by your 3rd party app or video service provider of choice (assuming your local cable company or iTunes one day start offering you the ability to see content outside their network). The user experience (UX) can make or break any technical solution.
by Terence Keegan
Whatâs the value of a CD street date in the age of digital commerce? For Target, Tuesdays are purportedly still sacrosanct in the retailerâs dealings with music suppliers, and exclusives with digital competitors can lead to exclusion from its store aisles. But breaking the rules has almost become a codified promotional tactic among digital retailers such as iTunes and a handful of enterprising music acts.
Target has reportedly nixed plans to stock a new CD by Frank Ocean on July 17, after the hip-hop act staged a surprise digital release of the anticipated âChannel Orangeâ album on iTunes Monday. The iTunes release coincided with the artist’s buzzed-about performance on NBCâs âLate Night with Jimmy Fallon.â
Oceanâs manager, Christian Clancy, publicized andÂ complained about Target’s response on Twitter, intimating that the retailerâs decision was linked to the artistâs sexuality. That remark prompted MTV News to seek a statement from Target. While Clancy has since retracted and apologized for his comment, Target laid out its music retail policy for MTV, explaining why it would not carry the Island Def Jam-distributed “Channel Orange”:Â Â âAt Target, we focus on offering our guests a wide assortment of physical CDs, so our selection of new releases is dedicated to physical CDs rather than titles that are released digitally in advance of the street date.â
Over the past decade, âexclusivesâ between music acts and retailers had usually come to mean that a given chain would be the only source for a particular edition of a CD, featuring extra tracks or some other âexclusiveâ content. But chains also have secured âexclusiveâ periods of time to market albums â think Walmartâs 2007 deal with the Eagles for âLong Road Out of Edenâ (an album that is now available via other outlets, includingÂ Target).
Now, with the increasing frequency of this latter type of retailer exclusive â particularly in hip-hop, with acts such as Lil Wayne and Jay-Z and Kanye West staging high-profile promotions with iTunes last year â itâs unclear just how much longer the notion of a single street date will hold.
A few weeks ago, while reviewing the Walmart / Vudu disc to digital program, I was surprised at how few titles of my desired catalog were available on Netflix (I had assumed a large percentage of the DVD's in my closet would be available on Netflix).
Intrigued by this, I decided to explore further over the past few weeks and decided to check the availability of titles in a proverbial "Top 100" list for various digital video services. In addition to checking on the Disc to Digital service (still nascent), I thought I would check iTunes, Vudu and Amazon (digital rental and sell-thru) as well as Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming and compare them to what should be the "gold standard"--available for sale on DVD or Blu-ray from Amazon.com.
The first step in any good comparison is the source of the data. I combed thru the AFI (American Film Institute), AMC (theatre chain) and IMDB top 100 lists (IMDB does a top 250). I wanted to make sure the list was some what representative of the demographic for digital video consumers, and based on my view of the titles in the list (and the method of selection--IMDB takes consumer voting), I chose the IMDB list. Note of caution here--Amazon owns IMDB.
Also not surprising, Netflix offers 96% of those titles for physical rental thru their mail-based subscription service.
So, as a consumer, if I can wait 24-48 hours (Prime and Netflix shipping service levels), I can have access to all the titles that matter (pretty much).
But what if I want it NOW? Or if I don't want to deal with the physical good hassle? Your best bet is digital sell-thru (SD), with iTunes in the lead at 82%, followed by Amazon at 77% and Vudu at 73%. This is a factor of the complicated windowing of rental vs. subscription video on demand (SVOD), and in recent years, digital sell-thru has escaped this availability problem.
Have to have it immediately on HD you say? Surprisingly, your better option of availability is digital rental across the board, lead by Vudu at 59%, Amazon at 57% and iTunes at 52%. Oddly enough, digital sell thru for the HD format was held back by security concerns and perceived canibalization of Blu-ray sales.
Really want to own the HD version digitally? Amazon takes the lead here, with 54% of title available, followed by Vudu at 42% and iTunes at 34%.
What if you are that value consumer who is willing to wait until the window opens up for a streaming option? You will be disappointed as a paltry 13% of titles are available on Netflix and another 10% are available on Amazon Prime.
And if you have those Top 100 titles in your closet and want to watch them on your iPad? Before you drive to Walmart for the disc to digital conversion, check your titles on their site as only 42% are available in the SD format and a mere 15% are available in HD (again, the UltraViolet capability is still nascent in the market place).
What conclusions can you draw from this?
- Streaming (SVOD) services are not for new release windows--we already knew that with delays being 45 days to 6 months depending on the title an HBO (or Sky in the UK) exclusivity. But even if you just want to watch some great older titles, they are just not there.
- You can have access to a large number of the Top 100 titles digitally one way or another (70-80% if you are willing to live with SD quality and purchase the title). You will find that most new releases are available for sale in both HD and SD the day of the DVD release while some digital rental is still pushed by 2-3 weeks from that day (encourages you to buy more vs. rent more).
- If you have a collection of the greatest titles in your closet, the industry isn't quite yet ready for you to try to convert it in any meaningful way via UltraViolet.
by Chuck Parker
Iâve spent the last few weeks having renewed discussions with a variety of people whose opinion I respect in this space, including those in the Twitter-sphere, the blogosphere, and in plain old real life, and with the NCTA Cable Show happening in Boston next week, I think it is the right time to open this debate up again.
The debate is simple: Who is going to disrupt the current Pay TV industry?
A few months ago at the OTT Con in Santa Clara, I had this discussion in spades with many of the participants in the would-be âcable killerâ world (most of whom themselves are âcord cuttersâ or at least âcord thinnersâ). My takeaways after those discussions were that it was incredibly premature to even think about âOver the Topâ or âbroadbandâ video killing the established Pay TV operators like Comcast, DirecTV and Verizon because only the metrics had indicated that all of the current players combined had only made a minor dent in TV Viewing (3 hours of online viewing vs. 34 of traditional viewing per week, 2% of the $200B TV advertising spent on âon-lineâ video) and that so far the only business being disrupted in a serious manner was DVD sell-thru, which was suffering as much from physical Netflix and the shift from purchase to rental as it was from digital Netflix. My brief conclusion then was simple: Large pay TV operators were bringing in an average monthly bill per household of close to $100 (ARPU) and the would be disruptors were still in the sub-$15 range and those Pay TV operators were âStriking Backâ with their own TV Everywhere solutions, so any would-be survivors in the next 3-5 years would have to deliver an incredibly compelling user experience (UX) centered around Discovery (likely on the second screen).
Gigaom tried to articulate this a little more clearly in a recent article (that perhaps started this debate anew) called the 7 ways Comcast is killing the cable killers. In short, large operators have implemented a multi-pronged strategy of defensive and offensive initiatives including blocking peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic, prioritizing traffic on their network (i.e., giving their own video priority), implementing data caps and data cap exceptions (for their own TV Everywhere traffic), and unleashing offensive TV Everywhere strategies to counter Netflix and Huluâs impact (StreamPix, authenticated Hulu, HBO Go, etc).
But perhaps we should take a step back and look at the wider âhome entertainmentâ industry and look at what is driving content creators, distributors and consumers to change their business practices and viewing habits. Despite the recent decline in the physical media segment of the industry (DVDs and Blu-rays), physical media still represents 47% (~$15B) of the âpay for playâ video consumption market, while Pay TV has been slowly growing its share at 34% (~$11B, not including sports) and what we would affectionately call âDigitalâ (including PPV, VOD, SVOD, and EST) represents only 19% (~$6B), though this is the fastest growing segment. Since it is unlikely that consumers are going to significantly increase the amount of hours of video they watch (who has 37 hours anyway?), we should assume that any further growth in digital will either come at the expense of the physical DVD world or the Pay TV networks. Since Pay TV has continued to grow during the expansion of digital, it is probably a safe assumption that it will either slow its growth or stay flat in the next 3-5 years while physical media continues to decline.
But when you dig deeper into the economics behind all of this, you find out that the big money makers for the content creators and distributors are Pay TV packages and the sell-thru of movies and the least profitable segments are the subscription digital services and the subscription physical rental services….
Read the rest of Chuck Parkerâs article at his blog here.
The debate is simple: Who is going to disrupt the current Pay TV industry?
A few months ago at the OTT Con in Santa Clara, I had this discussion in spades with many of the participants in the would-be "cable killer" world (most of whom themselves are "cord cutters" or at least "cord thinners"). My take aways after those discussions were that it was incredibly premature to even think about "Over the Top" or "broadband" video killing the established Pay TV operators like Comcast, DirecTV and Verizon because only the metrics had indicated that all of the current players combined had only made a minor dent in TV Viewing (3 hours of online viewing vs. 34 of traditional viewing per week, 2% of the $200B TV advertising spent on "on-line" video) and that so far the only business being disrupted in a serious manner was DVD sell-thru, which was suffering as much from physical Netflix and the shift from purchase to rental as it was from digital Netflix. My brief conclusion then was simple: Large pay TV operators were bringing in an average monthly bill per household of close to $100 (ARPU) and the would be disruptors were still in the sub-$15 range and those Pay TV operators were "Striking Back" with their own TV Everywhere solutions, so any would-be survivors in the next 3-5 years would have to deliver an incredibly compelling user experience (UX) centered around Discovery (likely on the second screen).
Gigaom tried to articulate this a little more clearly in a recent article (that perhaps started this debate anew) called the 7 ways Comcast is killing the cable killers. In short, large operators have implemented a multi-pronged strategy of defensive and offensive initiatives including blocking peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic, prioritizing traffic on their network (ie giving their own video priority), implementing data caps and data cap exceptions (for their own TV Everywhere traffic), and unleashing offensive TV Everywhere strategies to counter Netflix and Hulu's impact (StreamPix, authenticated Hulu, HBO Go, etc).
But perhaps we should take a step back and look at the wider "home entertainment" industry and look at what is driving content creators, distributors and consumers to change their business practices and viewing habits. Despite the recent decline in the physical media segment of the industry (DVDs and Blu-rays), physical media still represents 47% (~$15B) of the "pay for play" video consumption market, while Pay TV has been slowly growing its share at 34% (~$11B, not including sports) and what we would affectionally call "Digital" (including PPV, VOD, SVOD, and EST) represents only 19% (~$6B), though this is the fastest growing segment. Since it is unlikely that consumers are going to significantly increase the amount of hours of video they watch (who has 37 hours anyway?), we should assume that any further growth in digital will either come at the expense of the physical DVD world or the Pay TV networks. Since Pay TV has continued to grow during the expansion of digital, it is probably a safe assumption that it will either slow its growth or stay flat in the next 3-5 years while physical media continues to decline.
Ok, so what does that mean?
The content creators need to find a way to reduce the impact of the two least profitable market segments on their business. They need to:
- convert physical rental to digital rental (where they change their economics from a ~25% split to a ~70% split),
- provide consumers a reason to purchase content digitally vs. renting, and
- support their large Pay TV customers in their battle with the disruptors who are delivering the most impact on subscription digital rental.
Practically, this means they:
- support digital rental windows that are on par with the physical windows by supporting Apple/iTunes, Vudu, Amazon and of course Pay TV Operator VOD while constantly reducing the viability of physical rental distributors (pushing the Netflix and RedBox windows out past the digital rental windows or forcing them to buy from Wal-mart and others instead),
- put tremendous effort behind UltraViolet and Disc to Digital programs so that consumers can build a digital library of owned titles and attempt to drive household movie purchases per year from the current average of 7 back towards its 2004 zenith of 14, and
- empower Comcast in their StreamPix efforts, support the TV Everywhere models of DirecTV and Dish's Blockbuster, and consistently ratchet up the content cost for Netflix to acquire their content to a price on par with their subscriber base (meaning they pay the same as Comcast for content deals).
- the VOD and PPV offerings from our cable and telco operators were completely abismal until iTunes, xBox, and Hulu launched (and the BBC iPlayer in the UK), forcing the Pay TV operators to improve their own VOD and catch-up channel offerings to combat "churn" (cord cutting, cord thinning), and
- the success of Netflix has forced those same Pay TV operators to launch their own TV Everywhere strategies including HBO Go and StreamPix.
Boosters of UltraViolet have already faced negative reviews of the cloud-based movie platform from the tech press. But consumers are also panning studiosâ first implementations of the technology as well.
Poor consumer reviews have led Warner Bros. to offer codes for complimentary iTunes downloads of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2″ to those who have purchased the UltraViolet-enabled Blu-ray of the movie (via GigaOm). Warner has included UltraViolet on several of its releases to date. Consumers must register with the studioâs Flixster website to gain access to the UltraViolet streams; many of the complaints stem from compatibility issues.
The iTunes make-good is ironic given that Apple has been conspicuously absent from Hollywoodâs UltraViolet push; indeed, studiosâ direct-to-consumer UltraViolet services compete, in a sense, with the iTunes video store.
Analyst Richard Greenfield delves further into the poor ratings for UltraViolet on among Amazon.com customers (via BTIG, registration required). Greenfield does point out that Warner continues to improve the functionality of Flixster, most recently enabling users to download copies of movies onto their mobile devices.
Google added a retail storefront to its online digital music service on Thursday, offering some 8 million licensed tracks from EMI, Sony, Universal Music, and other labels. The store (via GoogleâsÂ Android Market)Â also promises hundreds of free songs and exclusive content, with launch-day offers including exclusive music from the likes of Coldplay, the Rolling Stones, and Shakira.
Google Music, as it exists today, is unlikely to topple Appleâs iTunes in digital music retail: for one, it lacks catalog from as much as one quarter of the market, according to CNET. But sites such as TechCrunch maintain that Google MusicÂ may yet become a contender for market share. The new storeâs cloud-based features â such as the ability to share single plays of purchased tracks with friends that belong to the Google+ social network â also show potential to give Google Music an edge over its competitors, PC Magazine points out.
Despite steady growth in app downloads on Apple devices, music remains the primary activity for the average iTunes user, according to a new study from research firm NPD. However, the percentage of users who purchase music through iTunes has fallen since 2010, as has the percentage of users purchasing video content.
The iTunes platform attracts one in four U.S. Internet users (51 million people), an increase of three percent since last year, NPD says. More than half of all iTunes users (54 percent) have uploaded music to an iPod or listened to music on iTunes in the past three months, while 28 percent downloaded a free app (an increase of four percent over the prior year) and 16 percent paid to download an app (also up four percent).
The total number of U.S. consumers purchasing content from iTunes increased by one million people this year, and a larger percentage of those purchases came from app buyers. While 82 percent of iTunes content buyers purchased music and 31 percent purchased apps in 2010, just 75 percent of iTunes content buyers have purchased music in 2011, while 39 percent have purchased apps this year. iTunes video buyers, meanwhile, have declined by one percentage point to 19 percent this year.
âThereâs no reason the music or video industry should accept a loss of buyers, as device preferences change,â says Russ Crupnick, NPDâs senior vice president and entertainment analyst. âThey have significant opportunities to foster discovery, engagement, and purchases using the tablet platform [namely the iPad].â
NPD based its findings on 4,011 completed responses from a May 2011 survey of iTunes users age 13 and older.
Digital music continues to deliver feel-good numbers, with sales of Lil Wayneâs âTha Carter IVâ (Cash Money Records/Universal Republic Records) topping 300,000 copies at Appleâs iTunes within four days of its release last week, according to the record label.
The digital store began selling the album at midnight on Aug. 29, as part of a retail promotion that was timed to follow Lil Wayneâs performance on the MTV Video Music Awards the night of Aug. 28.Â The new album bests first-week iTunes sales of Jay-Z and Kanye Westâs âWatch the Throne,â which itself set a new record three weeks ago with 290,000 copies (via Billboard).
The first-week numbers for “Carter IV” will feel even better if album sales remain strong in the weeks to come. Lil Wayne’s previous album, “Tha Carter III,” sold more than 1 million copies (both physical and digital) in its first week of release in June 2008, and went on to become the year’s top album with 2.87 million copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
It has been a relatively stable year for recorded music sales overall, with sales of track-equivalent albums up by 4.8 percent from 2010 in the year-to-date, according to Nielsen. Billboard muses that the industry could end the year “in positive territory,” depending on how upcoming releases perform.
No more 99-cent rentals of TV show episodes at iTunes, as Apple and content providers both shift their marketing marketing messages to condition digital access upon âownershipâ of content.
Appleâwhich with its new âiTunes in the Cloudâ service offers streaming access to TV programming that customers have purchasedâsays that the shift is in line with already-established consumer preferences (via All Things Digital).Â Content provider Fox, which says rentals of TV show episodes were only a âtrial,â states that availability of content through âiTunes in the Cloudâ will help âenhance the value of ownership.â
More at the Los Angeles Times.
With a four-day exclusive on Jay-Z and Kanye Westâs âWatch the Throne,â Appleâs iTunes seems to have captured nearly 67 percent of the albumâs first-week sales. The Apple store is reported to have sold some 290,000 copies of the album â a new record for iTunes (via The New York Times). Nielsen SoundScan reports physical and digital sales for âWatch The Throneâ totaled 436,000 units between Aug. 8 and Aug. 14; other music retailers only began selling the album on Aug. 12 (via Billboard).
Watch âThe Throne:â Retailers Mull Response Over iTunes and Best Buy Exclusives for Jay-Z and Kanye West Album
Since July 25, Appleâs iTunes has enjoyed a pre-order exclusive on âWatch the Throne,â the anticipated Jay Z and Kanye West release, under which customers can download a single immediately and receive the full album four days before its Aug. 12 street date. Now comes news (via Billboard) that Best Buy has secured a two-week exclusive sales window on the Def Jam albumâs deluxe CD edition â drawing ire from independent brick-and-mortar shops.
Independent record stores â which have long groused about the effects of top acts cutting exclusive-release deals with mass merchants and big-boxers â addressed a letter to Jay-Z and Kanye West personally, asking the artists to reconsider the distribution strategy. Otherwise, individual shops are vowing to increase prices on the artistsâ releases, or pull them from shelves entirely.
Amazon, meanwhile, might be mulling whether to sell the MP3 version of âWatch the Throneâ in another 99-cent promotion â a move that Billboard notes would be designed to alter consumer calculus on pre-order promotions going forward.
While Appleâs cloud-based music service remains a rumor, BusinessWeek reports that the company may bundle streaming iTunes music access as part of a relaunched MobileMe service.
MobileMe users currently pay $99 a year to have access to their contacts, e-mails, and other data synchronized across multiple devices. Citing anonymous sources, BusinessWeek reports that the Apple music service would scan usersâ iTunes libraries and mirror their collections in a cloud-based locker.
While such a service could effectively enable users to stream songs that they have obtained illegally, record companies and publishing organizations would be getting paid for the streaming rights, according to the report.
A firm that helps iTunes users transfer music playlists to Android devices says that its customers never play most of the songs and albums they have acquired.
âThe average iTunes library has 5,409 songs of which 4,195 have never been played. Put another way: we listen to about 19% of the music we own,â according to Music WithMe, which tells Music Ally that it derived its figures from anonymous customer data.
The company concludes that services such as Google Music, which invite users to upload their entire music libraries to cloud-based lockers, largely represent a waste of usersâ time. (While in its beta version, Googleâs music storage service is free.)
Some question the accuracy of WithMeâs numbers. Digital Music News points out that song play counts reset in iTunes when a collection is loaded onto a new computer; the mobile music firm does not appear to account for zero play counts in rebuilt iTunes libraries.
Music fans in the U.S. purchased 1.16 billion digital tracks in 2010, representing a 2% increase from 2009, according to year-end figures released by the Recording Industry Association of America (via MusicWeek).
The value of the single-track market was up 12% last year, to $1.36 billion, as labels priced more hit song downloads for $1.29 each on iTunes. That value could prove to be short-lived, however, if Amazon succeeds this year in capturing market share with its newly introduced 69-cent pricing of hit tracks.
Overall, the RIAA says, the digital music market in 2010 was worth $3.2 billion â an increase of 3% over 2009, despite double-digit declines in mobile music products. On the physical distribution side, CD sales declined 21% to $3.36 billion.
Ever aggressive in its bid for a greater share of the digital music market, Amazon is lowering its sale prices of select hit tracks to 69 cents each â nearly half off of what many of the songs fetch on iTunes.
Amazonâs 69-cent MP3 store lists some 200 best-selling songs, all of which are transferable to the companyâs new Cloud Drive and Cloud Player services upon purchase. Apple markets many of the tracks for $1.29 each.
Whether the tactic gives digital music consumers enough of an incentive to change their habits remains to be seen: more on this angle at the Los Angeles Times.
Discussing its fiscal second quarter earnings (ended March 26), Apple said that sales at its iTunes store totaled $1.4 billion during the period, representing a 27% increase from a year ago and a new record for the company.
Apple, per its custom, did not offer further details on its iTunes sales. As All Things Digital reckons, paid apps likely drove the revenue increase. While Apple still maintains a dominant share of the digital music and video markets, the global market for music downloads has seen tapering growth, while markets for Internet video-on-demand andÂ electronic sell-through of movies and TV shows remain nascent.
App downloads from Apple passed theÂ 10 billion mark over the weekend, representing exponential growth (233%) from one year ago. But how much revenue does the growth represent?
Itâs difficult to ascertain â Apple does not break out app revenues in its earnings, reporting instead total revenue for music-related products and services (including the iTunes Storeâs app sales). But as All Things Digital notes, the app revenue growth rate is likely lower than the surge in app downloads.
For both Appleâs last fiscal year (ended Sept. 25, 2010) and most recent quarter (ended Dec. 25), net music-related product and service sales grew by 23%. The relatively modest growth rate is likely a result of tapering digital music sales, along with the fact that free apps are still more popular than paid.
As it happened, the 10 billionth-downloaded app â Neon Play’s Paper Glider game â is free (albeit ad-supported).
Total app downloads from Appleâs App Store have not yet overtaken cumulative digital music sales at iTunes, as market research firm Asymco expected they would by the end of 2010. But Asymco asserts that app downloads, if they reach the 10-billion mark in January, will surpass iTunes track sales by the end of March.
The total-apps figure already represents an attach rate of more than 60 apps for every iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch sold, the firm estimates. As Gamasutra points out, Asymco does not take into account users that have replaced an old iPhone or iPod Touch with a new version; this factor likelyÂ drives the actual app attach rate even higher.
Also among the unknowns: the balance between free and paid content, something that has not historically been much of a factor on iTunes.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has added search and share functions to several of its new releases on the iTunes store, in efforts to make download-to-own movies more than just the electronic equivalent of a DVD. paidContent reports that consumers who purchase electronic copies of movies such as âThe Other Guysâ on iTunes have access to exclusive features, including tools that lets users search the film for key one-liners, share clips on social networks, and discover/purchase songs from the soundtrack.
The standard-definition version of âThe Other Guysâ sells for $14.99 on iTunes, $10 more than a high-definition rental of the movie. As is the trend in the packaged media market, renters do not have access to the new search and share features.
The Beatles sold some 450,000 albums and 2 million individual tracks on iTunes between the bandâs Nov. 16 debut and Nov. 22, according to Apple (via Billboard).
Industry sources tell Billboard that the Beatlesâ first week on iTunes equated to 119,000 albums sold in the U.S. â including 13,000 digital box sets â while Stateside track downloads topped 1.4 million. Apple reportedly counted box sets as multiple sales units for its worldwide sales total, though it is unclear how many units each set represents (as well as whether the two-volume âPast Mastersâ represents one sales unit or two).
In any event, Beatles album sales continue to rank high on iTunes as the titles enter their second week of availability. As of this morning, 16 of the 17 Beatles releases on iTunes are among the storeâs top 200 best-sellers. âAbbey Roadâ continues to rank highest, at No. 14; the bandâs $149 digital âBox Setâ itself ranks at No. 43.
The group also still claims eight singles on iTunesâ 200 best-selling tracks today, led by âHere Comes the Sunâ at No. 76.
Media outlets have characterized the road that the Beatles took to iTunes as âlong and winding.â In actuality, EMI chief executive Roger Faxon tells AP (via NPR), the deal between the label, Apple, and the bandâs Apple Corps ultimately was âquite easy.â
And quite quick, according to The Hollywood Reporterâs legal blog, THR, Esq. The publication reports that Faxon, who became EMIâs CEO in June, made a key decision in royalty negotiations with the group that led to the iTunes agreement. Whatâs more, the law firm that drafted the contracts, London-based Eversheds, only began its assignment on Oct. 25, according to an interview with UK-based site The Lawyer.
As it turns out, Apple didnât have much of a surprise in store for those who closely watch the digital space â but itâs good news nevertheless.
At long last, the Beatles have arrived at iTunes. Shoppers can purchase individual tracks ($1.29 each), albums ($12.99 each), or the bandâs entire collected output ($149.99). The latter set contains the same material as record label EMI marketed last year in mono and stereo CD editions, both of which are still widely available.
The digital albums are exclusive to iTunes through some time in 2011, an EMI spokesman tells All Things D.
Without the Beatles (and a handful of other legacy acts), the iTunes store was incomplete. Sure, the notion of âcompletismâ has evolved from 2004, when Apple introduced the digital-boxed-set concept as part of its pivotal iPod marketing partnership with U2. As any fan of the Netflix or Pandora Radio apps for iPhone/iPad would agree, todayâs entertainment services want to be more complete in the breadth and depth of content they offer.
But consumer takeup of such access-oriented services is not mutually exclusive with their continuing desire to own copies of their favorite movies or music.
Todayâs Apple announcement, then, is essentially in furtherance of increasing availability. And you know that canât be bad.
Apple promises âan exciting announcement from iTunesâ tomorrow at 10 a.m. ET, with a homepage teaser leading to frenzied speculation from digital entertainment industry observers.
All Things Digital doubts the company will unveil a streaming service or music subscription packages, as none of the websiteâs label sources claim knowledge of any new distribution deals with Apple. But USA Today cites a Piper Jaffray analyst who believes Apple will announce backups of usersâ music collections as an extension of its Mobile Me service. GigaOm notes Appleâs Ping is still wanting for Facebook integration. Billboard, meanwhile, muses the iTunes music store may finally stock Beatles albums.
Apple will soon be lengthening song previews in its iTunes Store from 30 seconds to 90 seconds, in efforts to spur track sales, according to CNET. The site publishes a letter that Apple sent to label representatives earlier this week detailing the plans; longer samples will come to songs over 2.5 minutes in length. Apple had planned to debut the longer samples on iTunes in September, CNET says, but rights negotiations with music publishers stalled the rollout.
âUnit sales are up, not down â that means people are buying more music, not less,â says Jeff Page, chief executive of digital music distributor TuneCore, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. TuneCoreâs business model is accordingly looking up: the companyÂ charges a flat fee to send song and album files to digital retail, as opposed to the conventional practice of taking a percentage of sales. Since the companyâs 2005 founding, TuneCore has grown to distribute as many as 30,000 songs each week, from both aspiring and established artists, to the likes of iTunes, Amazon.comâs MP3 store and Microsoftâs Zune service.
Starbucks and Yahoo are teaming up for a new spin on the marketing of digital content from brick-and-mortar locations.
âThe Starbucks Digital Network,â accessible exclusively in 6,800 stores via the chainâs free Wi-Fi service, offers customers a range of free and premium content â including music and videos from Appleâs iTunes store, and e-books from the major publisher-backed Bookish Reading Club. iTunes offers paid downloads as well as a digital version of its ongoing âPick of the Weekâ free-song promotion with Starbucks. The Bookish Reading Club, meanwhile, offers free access to e-books from publishers such as Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Penguin Group (USA) and Simon & Schuster.
Starbucks says it used HTML5 to design various versions of the Digital Network site to suit customersâ laptop, tablet, and smartphone screens.
Launch promotions on the networkâs Entertainment channel include free iTunes access to two songs and a video from band Fistful of Mercy, as well as a clip from Paramount Vantage film âWaiting for Supermanâ; and an e-book excerpt from Hachetteâs forthcoming Anita Shreve novel âRescue.â
Starbucks is mum on the terms of its deals with content producers and distributors for positioning on the in-store site; The Christian Science Monitor reports that the chain earns a percentage of in-store content sales.
Suffice to say, entertainment retail at the coffee purveyor has come a long way since the days of the âHear Musicâ coffeehouse, even as stores continue to sell the odd CD from their counters.
Appleâs top iTunes executive has been trying to revive the concept of monthly digital music subscriptions with major labels, according to the New York Post. The paper, citing an unnamed source, says that Appleâs latest music-subscription pitch envisions a service with tiered levels of music access, and monthly prices ranging from $10 to $15.
Labels are reportedly supportive of Appleâs latest idea, which follows the news that Europe’s much-vaunted music subscription service, Spotify, will be integrated within Microsoftâs forthcoming Windows Phone 7 operating system (as giddily reported by Wired). Of course, integration within Windows does not render Spotifyâs U.S. launch a foregone conclusion.
While stateside digital music executives remain skeptical of Spotifyâs ad-supported “freemium” edition (see story by CNET), labels now seem to regard a paid-subscription service as having potential to offset the stalled market for music downloads.
While downloads for both music and apps are on the rise at Appleâs iTunes, app growth could soon outstrip track sales at the digital store, according to Finland-based app developer and research firm Asymco (via TechCrunch).
App downloads have topped 6.3 billion at iTunes in less than half of the time it took for song downloads to reach that number, Asymco says. As of Sept. 1, iTunes users were downloading 17.6 million apps per day, compared to fewer than 9 million songs per day.
If that rate persists, Asymco notes, the total number of apps downloaded will surpass the total songs before the end of the year.
Billboard has a roundup of the mixed reviews and observations that Apple has received on its Ping social network in the past 48 hours. Itâs early days indeed â Ping has only been available through iTunes 10 since yesterday â but pundits are offering arguments from a range of perspectives.
GigaOmâs Om Malik came out early as a Ping proponent: âTh[e] click-and-go-somewhere-to-download model of affiliate links can never match a unified experience. Amazon, for example, encourages bloggers and others to link to things they like and then get a piece of the action. This separates social from commerce and treats them as two discrete activities. On the post-Facebook Internet, I donât think anyone can afford to keep these two actions distinct.â
Forrester Researchâs Mark Mulligan offers an alternative view: âAt the risk of sounding over cynical this sounds very similar to Microsoft and Yahoo citing their massive installed bases of email users as a social network simply waiting to be connected.Â Similarly Nokia with their handset customers. Apple now appears to be joining the ranks of multinational companies who mistake large installed bases of engaged customers as a dormant social network.â
Appleâs self-described âhockey puckâ set-top will offer $.99 streaming rentals of new TV show episodes from ABC and Fox, along with $4.99 streaming rentals of first-run movies.
The revamped Apple TV device costs $99, and will begin shipping to purchasers in four weeks, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in a keynote today. Other features include integration with would-be rival streaming services from Netflix and YouTube.
With the device, Apple seeks to bring its brand of interface simplicity to video on demand, as cable providers seek to refine their own VOD services.
Jobsâs Apple TV announcement followed the launch of a new version of iTunes that added âPing,â a social network for music discovery, as well as a line of ever-more-sleek iPods. More analysis in tomorrowâs newsletter; in the meantime, Engadget has coverage from the Apple event in San Francisco.
Record industry executives tell the Wall Street Journalâs All Things D that Apple may be planning to introduce a Web-based version of the iTunes music store â but not necessarily for streaming customersâ digital music collections. A Web-based storefront could make the store easier to access on mobile devices, and foster closer ties with customers via their social network profiles.
Apple is rumored to be planningÂ an event in San Francisco in early SeptemberÂ to unveil a new line of products ahead of the holiday season. Update: Engadget confirms that the event will take place September 1.
The company has often held September media events in the past to launch new iPod versions, and this year may be no exception. But Billboard hopes the months-old rumors of an iTunes cloud music service will finally become a reality in one weekâs time.
In related news, Bloomberg reports that Apple is preparing to offer 99-cent rentals of TV show episodes with broadcast networks including News Corp.âs Fox. Customers of iTunes can currently âbuyâ show episodes or full season passes. At the very least, an ad-free, a-la-carte rental service represents an âincremental opportunityâ for both Apple and content owners, RBC Capital Markets analyst David Bank tells Bloomberg.
Cloud-based music distribution â a service many in the tech press expected Apple to add to iTunes following its acquisition of Lala â appears to have been tabled at the company. As of yet, Apple has not struck the requisite licensing deals with major labels to unveil such a service, according to CNET. Whatâs more, the company is telling label executives that if it adds any cloud-based features to iTunes in the next few months, they will be âmodest in scope.â CNET speculates that Apple may be shifting its cloud focus to video distribution.
As many as eight million iTunes users in the U.S. register a strong interest in paying a $10 monthly fee for either streaming music or access to their personal music libraries on multiple devices, according to a survey from NPD Group.
Thatâs a relatively small proportion of iTunesâ total customer base: NPD estimates that there are 50 million iTunes users in the U.S. But the audience for the new service could grow quickly after launch, as users âupgrade to newer connected devices and actually experience the benefits of cloud-based music,â says the research firm’s Russ Crupnick.
âIf the consumers who indicated strong interest in a paid subscription actually adopted one of those services at $10 per month,â Crupnick says, âthe market opportunity is close to $1 billion in the first year, which is roughly two-thirds the revenue garnered by the current pay-per-download model.â
NPD does not venture to speculate on what effect a cloud-based services might have on Appleâs traditional music download model â be it positive (spurring download sales), accretive, or cannibalistic.
Apple is instituting new security measures after an app developer hijacked some 400 iTunes accounts, in what the Wall Street Journal reports as the latest in a string of fraudulent spending at the online store.
Trade group The Merchant Risk Council says the incident brings to light a critical issue for digital retailers: how to fulfill consumersâ desire for instant gratification while also providing a comprehensive check for fraud.
Streaming music service Lala, acquired by Apple in December, told users this morning that it will shut down on May 31, issuing iTunes Store credit to those who have purchased 10-cent streaming âweb songsâ on the site.
The news has tech blogs abuzz with speculation that the next move for Apple will be the introduction of an iTunes.com site, through which users will be able to access their digital media collections from any Web-enabled device. (MediaPost has a comprehensive roundup of the coverage.)
Blogs such as paidContent say that itâs high time for Apple to introduce a cloud-based media service, with the rise of Web-based streaming and consumer acceptance of subscription models. âiTunesâ a la carte reliance looks archaic and one-dimensional, tooled for a market thatâs plateaued,â the blog asserts.
However, none of the techbiz pundits subject the profit potential of current streaming subscription models to too rigorous an analysis. The speculation seems to rest on the faith that if any company can build streaming entertainment into a bonafide business, itâs Apple.
But new streaming music licenses and back-end server capacity would need to be underwritten by some established product line. Netflix, for instance, is investing its savings from renegotiated DVD deals with studios into its streaming video offer. An analog between iTunes and music labels is not immediately apparent.
There is also the question of scale â just how large is the market opportunity for a virtual music locker room? Lala itself met with a certain measure of critical acclaim, but few iPod owners will even know to miss it.
Apple could render any speculation moot with an announcement at its Worldwide Developers Conference June 7. In any event, it seems better positioned to keep any plans for a streaming service under wraps than it was in keeping its next-gen iPhone out of the public view.
The majority of magazines and newspapers for the iPad are downloaded through iTunes, the channel to purchase music, movies, books and other entertainment for the iPhone and iPad. The more than 125 million iTunes account holders can order iPad periodicals with just a few taps on a screen, instead of pulling out their credit cards and signing into multiple Web accounts.
But even as they polish up their iPad offerings, some publishers have been trying to band together to create their own payment systems and strategies to circumvent iTunesâ grip on sales of digital content. By The Wall Street Journal
In exchange for a âDaily Dealâ promotion on a new album, Amazon has been asking labels to provide it with a one-day exclusive before street date and such digital marketing support as a banner ad on an artistâs MySpace page and messages on label and artist Web sites and social network feeds. In response, iTunes has been withdrawing marketing support for certain releases featured as Daily Deals. By Billboard
Total revenues from download services such as iTunes and Amazon Video on Demand amounted to $291 million in 2009, falling short of research firm Screen Digestâs expectations for the year by some $69 million. paidContent cites a forthcoming report from the Screen Digest that blames the underperformance on a lack of effective marketing from studios.
As it stands, four movie download services — iTunes, the Zune (Xbox) Video Marketplace, Sonyâs PlayStation Network, and Amazon VOD â account for 97 percent of the market. iTunes alone has an 80 percent share, Screen Digest says. But the download figures do not take into account streaming movie services from the likes of Netflix, which are increasingly taking root with consumers. By paidContent
The door is wide open for Google to poach iTunes users with a cloud-based music service, argues Wiredâs Eliot Van Buskirk. Among the ways that Google can rise to unseat the digital music incumbent: align itself with consumer electronics manufacturers to bring the service into living rooms, and continue leveraging its music search functionality. By Wired
Apple wants to ignite TV show sales, especially as it prepares to introduce the iPad tablet computer next month. But its proposals to lower prices across the board are being met by skepticism from the major networks. By The New York Times
Steve Jobsâs effort to cut prices on TV shows sold on iTunes has found at least partial backing from CBS. CEO Les Moonves says the broadcaster will mark down the price on some of its shows from $1.99 to 99 cents. By All Things Digital
As the four biggest record companies wait to hear more about a proposed iTunes cloud music service, word comes now that Google has kicked the tires on a start-up specializing in cloud media. Google has showed interest in possibly acquiring Los Angeles-based Catch Media, a company that intends to help make it simple for consumers to enjoy their digital movies, music, and books across numerous different hardware and service platforms, according to sources with knowledge of the negotiations. By CNET
In a story on Appleâs putative plan to market a tablet computer, The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple may launch a Web-based version of the iTunes store as early as June. An iTunes.com store could obviate the need for iTunes software to purchase music downloads and other content. For record labels, that in turn could spell online sales growth via Internet radio widgets and other music sites. By The Wall Street Journal