MMW-60 -- Review of DoCoMo's Chaku-uta Service

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
Commentary on Japan's music technology news

Issue No. 60
Wednesday, May 12, 2004



++ FEATURE: Review of DoCoMo's Chaku-uta Service

** Sony's Connect Online Music Store Launches
** RIAJ Sends Warnings to Japanese File Sharers
** "Any Music" Distribution Service Set to Start Next Week

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++ FEATURE: Review of DoCoMo's Chaku-uta Service

In January of this year, NTT DoCoMo launched its own chaku-uta (master-tone)
service to compete with services offered by 3G rivals KDDI and Vodafone.
While KDDI's service continues to be a huge hit with 3G users, response to
DoCoMo's service appears to be lukewarm at best. We recently took some
time to check out some of the latest mobile music services from DoCoMo,
using NEC's N900i handset for our review. At present, these services are
only available to users of DoCoMo's 900i FOMA models.

Accessible via the "chaku-uta/chaku-motion" category on the DoCoMo's
i-mode menu, the chaku-uta sites are divided by genre. These include J-pop
(12 sites), rock/pop/club (8 sites), indies (6 sites), jazz/classic (6 sites),
and a few others. For our tests, we surveyed the rock/pop/club sites on
the menu, which includes services by Label Mobile (Zettai Yogaku) and Cybird
(Coolsound Real).

Right away, it was evident that none of these providers have much to offer
in the way of a song catalog, at least not yet. In fact, some of the sites
appeared to be void of even one recognizable (let alone major) recording
artist. The best selection of pop/rock songs was found on Label Mobile's
site, which is not surprising given that Label Mobile is the company which
started the first chaku-uta site for KDDI's au service.

Like most of the i-mode chaku-uta services, Label Mobile offers two
subscription plans, one for US$3/month and the other for $5/month. On
subscribing, you receive 315 "credits" for the $3 plan, and most songs
cost 105 credits to download (plus packet charges), meaning that on average
you're paying a little over $1 per download. However, the more popular songs
cost 210 credits, and in some cases, the same song is listed two or more
times in the catalog, meaning that each "part" (verse, chorus, etc.) counts
as a separate download. To give an example, in order to download the first
verse and chorus of "We Will Rock You" by Queen, you would pay over $3 for
about 50 seconds of the song, split into two files of 25 seconds each.

Most of the files on the services appear to be between 80KB and 125KB in size,
requiring around 10 to 20 seconds to download. Playing time for each file ranges
from about 15 to 30 seconds. The overall sound quality is not too bad, especially
considering the low sampling rates. Unfortunately, it does not seem possible
yet to download individual songs on most of the services -- once your points
are used up, you must wait until the following month to download again.

Overall, DoCoMo's chaku-uta service has substantial room for improvement.
No doubt, a large part of the "poor selection" problem is due to the
difficulty in obtaining licensing rights for most songs. In many cases,
acquisition of these rights requires direct negotiation with the foreign
copyright holder -- not something that most content providers here are eager
to do. Additionally, we believe that DoCoMo will need longer clips (meaning
it may need to relax its filesize restrictions) and more handsets that support
chaku-uta before the service can be really competitive.


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** Sony's Connect Online Music Store Launches

In brief: Last week, Sony launched its Connect online digital music store.
Like Apple's iTunes store, Connect will offer single downloads for $0.99 per
song. The store started with a catalog of 500,000 songs from both major and
independent labels. All of the tracks are encoded in Sony's proprietary
ATRAC3 format. Songs can be transferred an unlimited number of times to
Sony portable players, and the company says it plans to add
compatibility with devices made by other manufacturers.


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** RIAJ Sends Warnings to Japanese File Sharers

In brief: The Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ) announced on
its web site that it has started using the IM function to send warnings to
individuals it believes are illegally uploading music files. The RIAJ says
it has also sent letters to 1,200 universities and junior colleges to urge
improved LAN management.


** "Any Music" Distribution Service Set to Start Next Week

In brief: Any Music Inc. is set to launch its music distribution service
on May 20. The new company is a collaboration between Kenwood, Sharp,
Sony, Pioneer, Onkyo, D&M Holdings, Victor Japan, and Yamaha. The new
broadband service will distribute music directly to compatible audio
equipment. The initial catalog will have about 38,000 songs, which are
priced from 158 yen per single song to 1,050 yen per album.


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Written by: Steve Myers (
Steve Myers is president and chief enthusiast of Theta Music
Technologies, which specializes in the development of music-related
software applications.

Edited by J@pan Inc editors: (


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