This is a guest post by Michael Pinto who is the Creative Director of Very Memorable, Inc. a design firm that specializes in the youth market and interactive media.
Over one year after EMI took the first step to offer DRM-free downloads (April 2007) Rhapsody has decided to play catch up. Rhapsody is a joint venture between Real Networks and MTV, and that’s where its problems start: At this point for the youth market MTV is no longer associated with music – if anything on cable it’s been replaced by MuchMusic and on the web there are upcoming dynamic brands like Pitchfork.tv that are poised for high growth.
The sad reality is that while MTV is doing better than ever before, its original core competency has faded with time. But even if you go with the nostalgia value of MTV, then it’s a poor idea to keep the name “Rhapsody” which carries no branding weight – if anything the service should incorporate the MTV moniker in some shape or form, even if it’s something as simple as download.my.mtv. If Rhapsody is to break out of its generic funk it’s going to need to take advantage of the creative packaging that MTV Networks use to be well known for – but up to this point has been ignored.
However the problem goes deeper than a superficial identity issue: The very idea of “downloadable music” goes against the core of MTV’s DNA. MTV was always about “music videos” which shouldn’t be confused with music itself as a standalone product. Music videos are an art form onto themselves which MTV brought into the mainstream. A good video can make an average song shine: And as genre music videos are waiting for an overdue renaissance which logically should involve MTV. In fact the very idea of MTV giving up on being the home of music videos to YouTube and Pitchfork.tv should make Viacom executives weep.
So instead of playing “me too”, Rhapsody should be selling something different and be willing to do something bold to change the game. Yes, right now you can buy music videos on iTunes, but it’s a very poorly done section of the service. The offerings are sparse compared to what you can get on YouTube and the navigation doesn’t allow you to explore what is offered. What if Rhapsody took advantage of this and did a service that just sold DRM free high quality mpeg files? MTV can add value to picture by including exclusive interviews and other goodies. In fact if music videos can become a marketable medium onto their own, MTV could cut the old record labels out of the game by working with new upcoming artists.
Also see: How to save the Zune
Lastly, MTV and Real Networks have to think about what the next phase of the technology will bring and how they can be the disruptive technology for a change. It’s inevitable that the next phase of mobile media will be streaming video in some shape or form. With the youth market being focused on mobile devices as the center of their life, Rhapsody should make its mission to bring a streaming music video network to this medium. This would play strongly to MTV Networks ability to sell advertisers on sponsoring a music video network, which is how they got their start in 1981.
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