Austin's a renowned live music mecca, which is no doubt why it became the home to South by Southwest (SXSW) the annual indie music festival. But it's not just where indie bands come to be discovered and hipster kids come to rock out, it's also the destination for music industry folks to sort out the future of a challenged business. Appropriately for the industry transformed by the ability to download songs over the internet, the music fest is preceded by an Interactive festival.
There covering the music festival, I quickly found that there wasn't a hot up and coming band in the spotlight-- it's technology that's at center stage. These days it's impossible to talk entertainment without discussing its distribution mechanism. I sat down with execs from Napster and Real Networks (which owns Rhapsody), both of which run subscription services, which give consumers access to their respective 3 million song libraries, and give the respective companies, nice steady revenue streams. Both are partnering with cell phone companies to offer access to their music libraries over the phone. So instead of having to dock your iPod and load up music when you're at your computer, you can now make a music impulse purchase, or dip into your existing subscription service, on the go.
And mobile phone music is quickly headed to the mainstream. By the end of this year a third of all phones purchased will be music-enabled, by 2010 it'll be two thirds. Apple's iPhone may be coming out this year, but at $500-plus per phone, Nokia's offering through Rhapsody, which demands no expensive additional hardware, will sound awfully appealing. Plus, it appears that Apple won't allow you to actually buy music for your iPhone unless you're at your computer, whereas with these mobile phone deals all your music downloading, streaming, and purchasing will be wireless.