Nokia no longer Comes With Music as Ovi Unlimited is mostly discontinued

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Nokia have put in place plans to close the all-you-can-eat version of the Ovi Music store. Originally called Comes with Music, and currently branded as Ovi Music Unlimited, the service was available with a select number of handsets, including the X6 and N97 Mini. Nokia have no plans to supply this handset/service combination beyond the end of this year to the majority of territories.

China, India, Indonesia will continue to have the 12 month option available, while 6 month subscriptions will remain available in Turkey, Brazil and South Africa. Everywhere else will see the service phased out of the retail chain, and twelve months after that those subscriptions will naturally expire. Existing customers can rest easy that they won’t be losing the service that they bought, but don’t expect any extensions.

No more Music UnlimitedNokia are keen to stress that Ovi Music will continue to be available, with single tracks and albums available to buy “a la carte” but when we asked the reasoning behind the closure of Ovi Music Unlimited, we got an interesting answer. “We are currently working with our partners to deliver new, innovative music services as part of the Ovi experience during 2011.”

There’s no doubt that at launch, Comes with Music had a potentially huge disruptive potential on the mobile music market. And perhaps that’s what doomed it as it fizzled out. We can only speculate on the cost of the music licences that Nokia had to buy (in each territory, remember) to make the service work – and they needed every one of the major record labels on board. That took a lot of time, and was likely to be more herding sabre toothed tigers than the traditionally Sisyphean task of herding cats.

The small number of handset that took advantage of the Unlimited service, and the fact you needed to buy these specific handsets to get Unlimited (as opposed to something like the Zune Music Pass from Microsoft) gave the appearance of a strict watch on the costs being incurred. There’s also the question over marketing – Nokia never seemed to communicate the full benefits of the value proposition.

So what now?

The regular Music Store will continue, and given it’s one of the biggest mobile music stores on the planet, that should be obvious. But I get the feeling that Nokia still want to offer something special in the way of music services, in the same way that Ovi Maps is one of the best navigation ecosystems out there.

The obvious area to look at is streaming audio, similar to Pandora and Spotify, but they’ll likely come across the same issues of territorial contracts and licensing fees that those services have had (and to a certain extent that they’ve dealt with in Ovi Music Unlimited). I’m not sure they’ll want to commit to this road – Nokia have rarely relied on always connected smartphones as part of their offering.

I wonder if the clue is in the Zune Pass concept, and offering a monthly subscription service, available to every handset, but one that includes the carriers? As we’ve seen with the Ovi Store, Nokia have a wealth of experience in carrier billing, and letting the networks share their slice of the app pie. Could they be looking to extend Ovi Music the same way, providing the infrastructure and back-end but enhancing the carrier-user relationship in a way that makes the carrier-manufacturer relationship even stronger?

I’m sure we’ll find out as the year progresses.

-- Ewan Spence, Jan 2010.