Facebook Prepares Social Music With Partners

1 Sep, 2011

Facebook is putting finishing touches to new features on users' home pages that deeply integrate music services from partners including Spotify, MOG, Rhapsody, Slacker and Rdio, according to people familiar with the plans.

The music platform is expected to be unveiled at Facebook's developer conference, which kicks off on Sept. 22.

Facebook was not immediately available for comment.

Though Facebook is the world's most popular social networking services with more than 750 million users, its founder Mark Zuckerberg is keen to increase the amount of time users spend in the Facebook environment.

Music is said to be just one aspect of the strategy to improve Facebook's 'stickiness' and it is also expected to partner with other media content owners like movie studios.

"They are working on a platform for music where the goal is to create a connective tissue for fans," said one person familiar with the talks who asked not to be named as the plans are confidential.

Facebook has declined to comment on its new music platform before, but in July several technology blogs reported a software engineer had uncovered programming code for a Facebook product called 'Vibes' for music downloading.

Facebook could give an important boost to its fledgling music streaming partners as they try to compete in a digital music sector dominated by Apple Inc's iTunes's download store. Apple is also readying a streaming service called iTunes Match expected to launch this fall.

The largest music subscription service, Rhapsody, has about 800,000 paying users after nearly 10 years. The next largest in the United States is believed to be Slacker, which claims some 400,000 subscribers, while more recent start-ups like MOG and Rdio are estimated to have significantly less than that.

London-based Spotify, which launched in the United States in July, has more than 1 million paying subscribers and some 10 million users registered to its free access service across Europe. Spotify is believed to have partly benefited from its early integration into Facebook's platform.

The most popular music app on Facebook is currently BandPage, a service from RootMusic that enables artists to market their songs, videos and tour dates. It has over 250,000 artists and 30 million active users monthly. Last month it raised $16 million in Series B funding.

While all the existing music services can already be used on Facebook, the deeper integration will enable Facebook users who are subscribers to a service to share songs and playlists seamlessly with each other and to see what friends are listening to, and more.

The digital music services hope Facebook users will sign up with them after seeing friends sharing playlists that require subscription.

Another senior executive close to the talks said social networking is important to help overcome one of the key challenges for digital music companies: how to help fans discover new music rather than just search for artists and songs they already know. "Your friends are engaging with you on Facebook, he said. "It's the new form of radio or TV."

Though the prospective business partners have high hopes for Facebook, combining social networking and digital music hasn't always been a guarantee of success.

In 2008, Myspace -- then still a leading social network -- created a music service in partnership with major labels. It had early traction, but not enough to save Myspace's popularity from collapsing.