J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
M U S I C M E D I A W A T C H
Commentary on the week's music technology news
Issue No. 41
Friday, March 28, 2003
++ FEATURE: European i-mode Ringtone Update
++ NOTEWORTHY NEWS:
- Demand for "Chaku-uta" Exceeds Expectations
- AOL to Replace Real Audio with Dolby
- Sonicblue Files for Chapter 11
++ FEATURE: European i-mode Ringtone Update
It's been several months since we last looked at developments in the
European i-mode ringtone market. During this time, a few new handsets
and services have been released, and the landscape is changing
quickly. NEC's N22i, the first 40-voice polyphonic model for Europe,
is quickly gaining ground on the 16-voice models, and the various
ringtone services are now offering much larger song catalogs. In this
feature, we'll provide an update on how the i-mode ringtone market is
progressing in various regions of Europe.
1. Germany, Netherlands and Belgium
It has now been one year since the launch of i-mode in Germany, and
the i-mode ringtone download sites are still the largest and most
advanced in the region. At present, there are three models in use on
1. NEC's N21i (16-voice MA-2 sound)
2. NEC's N22i (40-voice MA-3 sound)
3. Toshiba's TS21i (16-voice MIDI, Rohm sound)
In addition, Siemens and Nokia are each expected to release a new
model for the i-mode service in the coming weeks, and it is widely
anticipated that these new models will follow Toshiba's lead in
supporting playback of MIDI (SMF-0) files rather than DoCoMo's MFi
format. Most of the recent Nokia models can also play files in SP-MIDI
format, which Nokia licenses from Beatnik.
France is the host of Europe's most recent i-mode launch. Bouygues
Telecom began the French i-mode service on November 15, 2002. At
present, only the N22i and TS21i models are available in France. We've
spoken with a few Japanese content providers who say that, at least
for the initial launch, places on the official ringtone menu were
reserved for local providers. Recently, however, we know of at least
one Japanese company that is partnering with French content provider
TF1 to make its ringtones available via a French i-mode site.
It appears that Telefonica is working hard to make Spain the next
European member of the i-mode family. Spain will also be the first
European country to use i-mode technology under a different brand
name. According to various sources, NEC is working on the platform
infrastructure for Telefonica. At present, the service is open to a
limited number of users on a closed trial basis, using NEC's N22i
handset. When the service opens officially to the public, however,
this model will not be offered. It is rumored that this is due to the
fact that the N22i is the only model currently capable of playing
40-voice ringtones (which the Spanish CPs want to test), but that it
has some other compatibility problems which will not be fixed in time
for the service launch. At present, it is unclear exactly which models
will be offered when the service officially begins.
So, that's the basic situation with i-mode ringtones in Europe. In
terms of subscriber numbers for the ringtone services described above,
actual figures are hard to come by, but suffice it to say that even
the most popular European i-mode ringtone sites still count their
users by the thousands rather than the millions. While a few of the
larger Japanese providers have started running services in this
region, the majority seem to be taking a "wait and see" attitude
before investing in the development of a new i-mode site.
Next week, we'll present a similar update on the US ringtone market.
-- Steve Myers
"I-mode Goes Continental" from our March 2002 issue
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++ NOTEWORTHY NEWS
** Demand for "Chaku-uta" Exceeds Expectations
In Brief: In a recent interview published on the Nikkei Communications
site, Yuiichi Katoh, Director of Label Mobile, says that demand for
the company's "chaku-uta" music download service is much greater than
they had originally expected. Katoh says that 20,000 to 30,000 songs
are downloaded daily from the KDDI site, and that the number of users
with chaku-uta capable phones is now around 100,000. The service sells
song fragments less than 30 seconds in length for 80 to 100 yen per
"The Debut of Chaku-uta" from issue #36 of Music Media Watch
** AOL to Replace Real Audio with Dolby
In Brief: AOL is expected to announce within the next two weeks that
it will be replacing RealNetworks' audio streaming technology with
Dolby AAC in its narrowband Radio@AOL product. While the move is seen
as a severe setback for RealNetworks, both companies say that they
will continue to work together in other areas.
** Sonicblue Files For Chapter 11
In Brief: Late last week, hardware manufacturer Sonicblue, which
created the portable MP3 player market with its popular Diamond Rio
product, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a California
court. The company's Rio and ReplayTV product lines have been sold to
the holding company for Japanese manufacturers Marantz and Denon,
which means that the lines will probably live on under different brand
SUBSCRIBERS: 1,277 as of March 28, 2003
Written by: Steve Myers (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Steve Myers heads the Theta Group at Layer-8 Technologies,
which specializes in the development of music-related
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