A Free Service That Plays iTunes on Your Phone? That’s nuTsie

As any gadget-happy music lover knows, the Holy Grail of mobile personal electronics is having all functions on one slim device: voice calls, photography, music, mobile Internet access, personal organizer, calendar, and maybe a few little PC applications on the side. However, most multifunction devices released so far fall short in some way — too big, low resolution, not enough music storage.

Streaming media companyMelodeo is seeking to address at least the last of these issues with nuTsie, a service that will give customers access to the songs in their individual iTunes libraries through a mobile phone. It’s kind of like phoning home, only you’re phoning your music.

Music in the Air

Currently available for free in its beta version, nuTsie takes the index of a user’s iTunes library and matches it with the songs already in the service’s database, which is about half-a-million tracks strong right now. Those songs that match are streamed out to the cell phone or personal computer of the user in random order in shuffle mode.

No music is copied to make the service available, Dave Dederer, Melodeo’s vice president of music content, told the E-Commerce Times. Rather, nuTsie is building a song collection on its own servers. Since the stream to which the customer is listening is being fed out to a mobile phone in real time, the music does not take up storage space on the cell phone.

How Do They Do That?

Of course, someone has to make money somewhere to make such a service available, and Dederer says his company is working on a variety of business models intended to monetize the nuTsie service. The first involves exploring options for running advertisements through the Web interface for the service and also in audio through the music stream delivered to a user’s phone.

Research shows that 70 percent of mobile music users would prefer to have their service free and would be willing to put up with advertisements to make it so, he noted.

A second option involves offering the service through wireless carriers and charging a per-month subscription fee, a model currently in use with applications such as photo-sharing programs. A third option is to sell the service for a one-time fee as a downloadable mobile phone application, much like a game.

Whichever route to revenue materializes, says Dederer, the free beta version of the service is expected to be around for six to 10 weeks while deals get hammered out.

Coming in From the Cold

The music industry should welcome the new technology, said Dederer, because it offers the opportunity for performers and recording companies to garner royalties from lots of music that previously was pirated. When a nuTsie user uploads an iTunes library to the service, no music files actually change hands; only the song titles and artists do. This is true no matter whether the music was legitimately copied into the user’s iTunes library or was downloaded in violation of copyright.

However, when nuTsie starts feeding even a pirated song out to a user’s mobile phone, it begins to pay per-play royalties on the song. This turns music that had escaped the confines of the music industry’s business model back into revenue-creating intellectual property.

Dederer should know the pain of piracy; he is one of the founding members of the rock band The Presidents of the United States of America — a band that has released several platinum albums and been nominated for a Grammy award.

Even music lovers trying to respect copyright sometimes fail to do so, he points out.

“For anybody under 25,” Dederer noted, “loading a friend’s CD into your iTunes library feels entirely legal. At least they’re holding something real in their hands. The music industry has to find ways to monetize all that pirated music, and this is one of the first ideas for doing so.”

Do You Feel Lucky?

If all this sounds too good to be true, in some ways it is. The issue of business model is a big one. While music lovers always will be willing to have their music delivered to them on the fly — and perhaps even pay for it — advertisements are a more difficult issue, Mike Goodman, director with Yankee Group’s consumer research group, told the E-Commerce Times.

Context is everything, he noted. Streaming jukebox services still must deal with the quality of the leads that will be created through ads and how companies will view the return on those ads.

In addition, the nuTsie site lists only about 15 phone models for which the service works currently. While some are lower-end models that consumers likely have in their possession, most are newer handsets. Speaking to this issue, the nuTsie site invites users to try their own phone and see what happens. “Do You Feel Lucky?” the page quips.

To be fair, Dederer points out that the nuTsie service is not intended to serve in place of mobile phones that also play music files, but in addition to them. He stresses that the Web interface allows users to access their iTunes music from any Internet-connected PC, not just the machine on which the library files reside.

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