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Apple plans late June launch for revamped iTunes, despite obstacles
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May 6, 2015, 02:06 PM
Speculation and unconfirmed reports have run rampant over Apple's progress in its effort to revamp its iTunes music services, with recent reports suggesting the company may have difficulty hitting its planned June target for formally introducing both a revised Music app for iOS in the forthcoming iOS 8.4, and a significantly revamped iTunes Radio and Beats Music streaming service designed to compete with Spotify. Various reports, however, claim obstacles -- ranging from music label reluctance to federal investigations.

Apple is said to still be working to complete deals with labels ahead of the June 8 Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, and is bringing its hiring of music executives Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young (the latter better known as Dr. Dre) to bear in securing rights. Sources say that Apple is planning a significant expansion of iTunes Radio into other countries, and is dealing with the big three US labels as well as music right organizations around the world. Currently, the service is only available in the US and Australia.

The company is said to be seeking to both streamline the multi-function iTunes, particularly in OS X, while at the same time unifying its disparate (and currently separate) iTunes Radio, iTunes Match, and Beats Music services under a rumored "subscriptions" banner. While iTunes Radio will remain ad-supported and free, reports indicate that Apple may charge for certain options, such as unlimited skipping. The current beta of the Music app in the iOS 8.4 beta is said to be just "the tip of the iceberg" on the app's repurposing, according to an unnamed source.

It is not unusual for Apple to work on securing deals right up to the last minute, but there have been reports on some disagreements with labels that could endanger the late June launch window. Reportedly, labels have fought back an effort by Apple to lower the monthly cost for streaming music services to $8 a month, forcing the company to stick to the current standard of $10 per month, though a discount for a yearly sign-up is expected.

Unsubstantiated rumors that Apple was trying to pressure labels to stop offering competitors licenses for free listening tiers has allegedly drawn the scrutiny of several agencies, including the US Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and the European Commission. The former agencies are claimed to be concerned about any anti-competitive moves by Apple, but the company already has an antitrust monitor reporting on the company as part of the current DOJ agreement over iBooks, and the monitor -- Michael Bromwich -- has not indicated in his public reports that there is any anti-competitive behavior afoot.

It would, again, not be unusual for such agencies to keep an eye on Apple's dealings, given the enormous power and influence the company has in the music sphere. Sales of legal digital music through iTunes remains the primary revenue source for the industry, though subscription money from services like Spotify is growing at a rapid clip. Artists have complained that the record labels' embrace of streaming services have resulted in less money being made by all but the most popular celebrities, leaving the format as a bad venue for up-and-coming and undiscovered artists.

This could tie in to Apple's rumored plans for iTunes Radio -- the company has hired a slew of top tastemakers and BBC Radio 1 talent to work on the service, perhaps expanding its ability to give exposure to underplayed genres and artists, much like college radio in the US works today. Iovine and others are said to be working on securing more "first play" or debut deals for top artists, while former Beats executive and now Apple employee and performer Trent Reznor is said to be heading up the effort to revamp the Music app for iOS, with all the various efforts being coordinated under the aegis of SVP of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue.

Should Apple be attempting to use its leverage with iTunes to secure more favorable deals with labels versus those worked out with Spotify and similar rivals, the DOJ would be unlikely to hesitate in acting against Apple, given that it already has a federal court judge in its pocket who has a history of going to extraordinary lengths to stop Apple from any perceived or imagined anti-trust action. DOJ officials are said to have already interviewed a number of Apple executives on the matter, but have thus far not commented or raised the possibility of any wrongdoing.
( Last edited by NewsPoster; May 6, 2015 at 02:17 PM. )
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