Hoping to destroy Apple's 70% market dominance in the music download field, SpiralFrog is a new player who has dared to think outside the box in an attempt to draw away the crowds from the iconic iPod manufacturer. Its business model seems to use the phrase "if you can't sell it, give it away", but is this a desperate attempt at gaining popularity, or an amazing idea which will shape the way we listen and download music for the future?
Despite being months away from a launch, SpiralFrog, the ad-supported music download site, has garnered interest from industry insiders, analysts, and consumers alike.
The site is often described as offering “free” music downloads, but in reality it's not quite so simple. Pocket-lint spoke with Joe Mohen, the Chairman and found of SpiralFrog, to find out exactly what the company will offer when the site goes live, hopefully before the end of the year.
The music and video files on offer on SpiralFrog are all protected with Windows Media DRM, and are therefore WMA or WMD files. The files are marked for use on the computer on which they’re downloaded, and can also be transferred to up to two portable media devices.
“The files time out if you don’t visit the site”, explains Mohen. The site expects you to return about once a month to view more ads or download more files, but the files don’t self-destruct if you haven’t been back to the site; they simply lock up. You aren’t required to re-download the files when you want to use them again, but rather, you have to watch the advertisements again.
The kicker is that each advertisement last 90 seconds – approximately the time it takes to download the music or video file. “These are rich media ads that are displayed” says Mohen. “They’re targeted to the user, so they’ll be relevant.” It’s unlikely, then, that you’ll be stuck watching an ad from a used-car lot.
The ads won’t be intrusive, however; there won’t be any popups, and users can continue to surf the site while the 90 second ad is playing. “We think the ads have that 'cool factor’ They’re trendy”, says Mohen.
This does mean that you can’t just download an entire album at one time. If you want all 8 tracks on an album, you’ll have to watch 8 ads, each about 90 seconds long, which translates into 12 minutes of advertisements for that album.
The DRM on each file integrates Secure Clock technology that sets up an expiry time for each track. If you’ve transferred your downloaded tracks and videos to a Windows Media-compatible portable device, you’ll have to make sure to sync it with your PC to ensure that the Clock is reset.
Watching the ads is a way of paying for a sort of rental, rather than ownership. It's a money free system that is not dissimiliar to Napster to Go's; with that service, you can play tracks on your portable device as long as you continue to subscribe to the service. If your subscriptions expires, so does your music.
Mohen and the other exec expect SpiralFrog to be big; so big, that by next year the site is predicted to be the biggest consumer bandwidth site in the US. It’s been built with a scaleable back end system based on a Microsoft .net platform by former Microsoft developers, and it will support both Windows XP and Vista.
Of course, the tracks and videos cannot be transferred to Apple’s iPod media devices, but Mohen says, “We would seriously consider working with Apple in the future”, if the computer company wanted to as well.
Mohen doesn’t have dates for when the service will roll out in Europe and the rest of the world, but the team is hard at work negotiating for rights to songs and music videos. Already having on board EMI Music Publishing for mechanical rights in the US and Universal for rights in the US and Canada is a huge coup.
The question is, will this new business model for music downloads take off? The buzz around the site is positive, and if it becomes as big as Mohen predicts, then it may even have the power to create more interest in non-iPod media players and shift the focus away from Apple in the music download market.