Is Research in Motion's BBM Music Service a Sign of the Company's Demise?

Contrary to popular belief, imitation isn't the sincerest form of flattery. It's the sign of a company's death.
This doesn't mean that Research in Motion
, which is looking more and more like a
patent warehouse
, is going to fold anytime soon. The company still produces one of the most successful mobile phone platforms in the world. That said, RIM is playing the me-too game this week, announcing a
new music service
that's sure to excite those who collect music services (there's a collector for everything, right?), but could equally bore the masses to sleep so deep it would take an air horn to wake us up. If I sound quick to judge a music service I have yet to try, allow me to be clear about one thing: we already have more than enough music services. Between the golden services we can't live without (iTunes and…well, mostly just iTunes), the streaming services with promise (Spotify), and the mainstays that most people ignore (did you know that MySpace has
a ton of free music
?), we are covered. Between the ability to upload our music library to Apple's
upcoming iCloud service and competing services from Amazon
and other corporations, we are covered. Between YouTube
, which has become a music video utopia, and the numerous YouTube competitors (as well as the many on-demand options available through cable providers like Comcast
, Time Warner
, etc.), we are covered. We are covered to no end! Satellite radio,
Livio Radio
, Pandora
– the list goes on and on. Facebook is jumping into music as well, which is somewhat ironic. MySpace attempted to use music to save the site. That strategy failed. But Facebook thinks that music can make its own site more…profitable? How, exactly? This is where the Research in Motion deal gets into trouble. Why would the company look to music as a new source revenue – or, if nothing else, as a new way to draw customers to its phones? Described as a service for “socially connected music fans,” BBM Music is another cloud-based venture that will allow “social and viral music discovery by allowing users to build an evolving, community-based music library that is shared amongst their BBM Music friends.” EMI, Universal Music Group, Sony
Music Entertainment, and Warner Music Group are already on board. Mike Lazaridis, President and Co-CEO of Research in Motion, gave the typical PR praise in this week's press release. “More than 45 million customers already love the social communication benefits delivered through BBM and we are thrilled to be extending the experience into a uniquely social and interactive music service,” he said. “We have partnered with leading music companies to provide a ‘full track' music sharing and discovery experience that will provide users with quality music on demand and allow them to connect with friends on a whole new level.” Lazaridis' emphasis on providing a “full track” experience is not in vain. Many sites lure users with the promise of free music streams, only to disappoint them with the reality that they don't have the legal rights to stream a full song. It's a slippery slope of sickening proportions, and it is part of the reason why the music industry is in such a mess. That said, we already have several “full track” options. They might not come from the same company that manufactured our phones, but so what? Ford
does not actually provide satellite radio service to its customers – Sirius XM Radio
takes care of that. Do we care? Not one bit. When we leave the lot with a shiny new Mustang, all we care about is the quality of the car. Sirius can take care of the music. Bose (or any other audio equipment manufacturer) can take care of the stereo. The same is true for our cell phones. While Apple may attempt to be everything to everyone, providing services in addition to hardware, not every company can get away with that strategy. Most corporations need to focus on what they do best. The rest are little more than a distraction – which is good for the competition, but very bad for Research in Motion and any other company that's struggling to compete.
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