Rhapsody’s mobile strategy is bigger than offline playlists

by Kristen Nicole

Music when you want it, where you want it. Rhapsody is all about access, recently updating its cloud music service to support offline playlists for Android users. It’s a small step in the grand scheme of things, but puts Rhapsody on par with rivals like Spotify, making offline access an emerging standard amongst music cloud providers.

Rhapsody has been struggling to regain prominence and users, after suffering a decline in subscribed users over recent years. Plenty changed at Rhapsody lately. It gained independence from MTV Networks/Viacom and tweaked products and prices, including a subscription price cut around the time Rhapsody’s Android app first launched in 2010. Now Rhapsody turns to the mobile cloud for a second chance at the top, differentiating their experience around access and recommendations.

Right music, anywhere

That means Rhapsody isn’t just about delivering music on-demand, but delivering the right music. Mobile gives Rhapsody a fresh opportunity to grow its distribution channels, adding context to a music service that initially centered around streaming radio. The music cloud has become far more personal since, storing user playlists, friends and activity as well.

“The majority of subscription users come through mobile,” says Paul Springer, SVP of Product and Design at Rhapsody. “We’ve seen slow and steady growth over the last 18 months, and that includes offline playback.”

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What comes after mobile?

Indeed, mobile is a promising reset button for many consumer services that leverage the cloud, but where does Rhapsody go from here? Apps are notorious for their limited functionality and usually require a significant amount of activity to personalize. Even Spotify faced criticism for leaving out features originally found on their desktop version, and this is an obstacle for Rhapsody as well.

Springer notes one pattern he’s seen: people consume music via mobile but are more likely to manage it on the desktop. But I know for certain that I’d do more playlist and preference management on my mobile device if the functionality were there. So while Rhapsody is making strides in the mobile space, it still has a ways to go to fully catch up to the likes of Pandora and Spotify when it comes to mobile access. Their absent iPad app is surely impacting their goals for total access music, but fortunately they have one in the works.

Rhapsody: the melody of metadata

But instead of just playing catch up, Rhapsody wants to leap ahead of the competition through personalized recommendations. To Rhapsody’s benefit their music service has a very broad distribution channel beyond smartphones and tablets, streaming through connected cars, televisions, set top boxes and wireless entertainment centers. In business for over a decade, Rhapsody has had time to build up an extensive database of consumer activity. That’s something Spotify doesn’t have yet, as demonstrated by the short-sightedness of their recently launched radio service.

Rhapsody may be leveraging connected devices at large, but they’re really writing a data story as a central theme. “We’re looking to enhance editorial for songs and artists,” Springer says.

That means more curated content, more playlists to subscribe to, more recommendations that look beyond mainstream trends and tap into the unique DNA behind your music preferences and listening behavior. It means Rhapsody is turning into a consumer-driven service, a far cry from the type of business it was, or could’ve been, ten years ago.

“Expect to see that data unlocked,” hints Springer, talking about Rhapsody’s plans to contextualize its treasure of consumer information for the greater good. “What we do differently is combine man and machine.”