Is Spotify on Virgin second best?

Spotify's good, but Virgin planned something better

Spotify logo

Every now and then, I like to travel back in time to dispense wisdom from the future. This week, I chose 1999 and ended up talking to a bunch of Napster users.

"This is just a blip," I told them. "One day, you'll be able to get all the music you want without worrying about being sued."

"Ooh," said the music fans.

"It'll be instant, too. Click a song, it'll play immediately, in CD quality."

"Wow," came the reply.

"Not only that, but it'll work on anything. Your TV. Your PC. Even your phone."

"Blimey," they said.

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"All you need to do is wait twelve years."

I'm not allowed to print their reply to that one.

I wasn't kidding, though. We finally have a UK ISP offering a celestial jukebox, a service where you can play what you want, when you want, without paying per track. It's just a shame that it's taken more than a decade to turn up - and that it's not the service Virgin Media really wants to give you.

Music non stop

Does anyone want a music service from their ISP? Playlouder MSP spent 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 trying and failing to launch a music-streaming ISP, while Sky dumped its Sky Songs subscription service late last year because of insufficient demand. Other ISPs have fiddled with music services too, without much success.

There are several differences this time. First, the Virgin Media/Spotify deal has the blessing of the major labels (although that's taken Virgin Media two years to get), which has been the stumbling block for many music services - including previous attempts by Virgin Media. More of that in a moment.

Secondly, Spotify has a free version for people who don't want to pay extra for music, something Sky Songs didn't offer. And thirdly, Virgin is reportedly considering offering paid-for Spotify services as part of a bundle rather than as stand-alone services. "Buy broadband, get Spotify" could be an attractive offer.

So should we be grateful to the big record labels for letting Virgin Media team up with Spotify? After all, they have the power to veto Spotify's content deals, and they could easily have scuppered this one.

The answer is yes and no. Yes, because Spotify's not a bad service, and deals with the other big ISPs can't be far away - and no, because it seems that the labels have scuppered what sounds like an even better offering.

According to The Telegraph, Virgin Media developed its own music service, a service that makes Spotify look rather limited: not only would you get unlimited streaming, but you'd get unlimited downloads too. A "senior music figure" apparently told The Telegraph: "Virgin Media has built its own service and it's really good... Warner and EMI are driving a tough deal, but Sony US management has really stuck its heels in and is not budging. The company do not like the idea of offering unlimited amounts of downloads for a monthly subscription fee."

So much for progress.