Sony chats up future of Music Unlimited, PlayStation Store

At CES 2013, Sony Network Entertainment COO Shawn Layden talks Music Unlimited and the PlayStation Store with CNET contributor Christopher MacManus.

Sony Network Entertainment CEO Shawn Layden stands next to the latest version of the PlayStation Store for PlayStation 3. Photo by Christopher MacManus/CNET

LAS VEGAS--Nearly three years after the formation of Sony Network Entertainment, the company still struggles to capture consumer attention with its Music Unlimited media-streaming service, but things look better than ever for the PlayStation Store.

Sony Network Entertainment COO Shawn Layden remains upbeat despite his company living in the shadow of Pandora, Xbox Live, and other competitors. In a conversation with CNET, Layden relayed the primary goals for Sony's entertainment services: bring content to more regions, expand the number of compatible devices, and design a common user interface across device categories.

The future appears relatively sound for Music Unlimited, which sports 18 million tracks, has more than 1 million active users, and is available in 17 countries. Compared to this time last year , that's an increase of 3 million songs, a very minor increase in users, and availability in four additional countries, including Japan. To entice people to check out Music Unlimited (available on iOS, Android, and various Sony devices), Layden said the service will this month increase the baseline streaming codec from 48Kbps to 64Kbps AAC and add a high-fidelity 320Kbps option for all of its songs.

"It will take a while to update the whole catalog to this spec, but new songs will have that option immediately," Layden noted.

A glimpse at the Web browser version of the PlayStation Store. Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET

Following a similar move in Europe , Sony plans this month to launch a Web browser version of its PlayStation Store so U.S. gamers can remotely browse titles and make purchases. Eventually, the Web store will allow users to buy a game on the browser and have that content automatically downloaded on the PlayStation 3.

Layden emphasized that the recent PlayStation Store redesign led to double-digit growth in the U.S. and Europe, and users were spending more time browsing there, as well. He agreed that the previous design, which remained in place for nearly six years, was a frustration due to its lack of change.

Throughout our conversation, we often returned to the subject of Music Unlimited. Despite offering more songs than Pandora, and no commercials or interruptions, many people still don't know about Sony's music service. I asked Layden why the service often remains absent in the conversation about streaming music.

"We need to see a greater alignment with our partner devices to make Music Unlimited more front and center. Layden said. "We have the partners, we have the devices, and a presence in retail. As we bring those factors into greater alignment, we expect a snowball effect in 2013. It takes a long time to get the Sony machine to start moving. We'll bring things to a different level this year."

 

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