For Rhapsody, a company that pioneered the music subscription model now in vogue, streaming music has become child's play.
The service launched on Thursday a new section dedicated to kids, becoming the first streaming-music service to make such a direct overture to little ones and their parents, with an eye toward turning both into more-loyal members.
"We're not trying to sell you anything else but a music experience," said Ethan Rudin, chief financial officer of Rhapsody. "That expands beyond just [young adult] millennials or adults."
Seattle-based Rhapsody was one of the earliest companies to offer all-you-can-eat subscriptions to music for a set monthly price, a model that's quickly becoming the norm a decade and a half later. As streaming music gains popularity, Rhapsody is often overshadowed as tech giants like Apple and hot startups like Spotify get most of the attention. But Rhapsody's long history puts it in an unusual position: Its core membership of longtime customers has used the service long enough that their children have grown up with it.
Rhapsody said more than half its subscribers use the service with their young children.
Rhapsody Kids is a dedicated area of the service's mobile app designed with young listeners in mind. In addition to collecting tunes made for children, Rhapsody Kids takes into account the unique listening habits of kids and the concerns parents have when they hand a cell phone over to their offspring to use.
Rhapsody set up its kids corner to automatically have a catalog of kid-appropriate songs and playlists available. Parents can handpick and add songs that aren't necessarily children's tunes but would still be something kids might light -- favorite oldies songs, for example.
The app also comes with several clever default settings designed to win over parents.
Anything that's bookmarked for kids automatically downloads for offline listening. That means if you're stuck driving somewhere outside the reach of cellular reception or a Wi-Fi signal, you still have your kids' music to keep them entertained. Songs and playlists in Rhapsody Kids automatically loop, so that when your kid demands to hear the "Frozen" soundtrack over and over, you don't need to restart it every time it ends.
The kids section is also designed to prevent young ones from getting back to the main Rhapsody catalog. It does this by requiring users who want to return to swipe the screen in a specific direction. For example: "Drag the circle to the northwest corner with one finger." It's tricky enough that a very young kid wouldn't be able to figure it out and return to his dad's NWA or Slayer playlists. But it's simple enough for an adult that it's not a hassle to get back to the main app.
Targeting kids and their parents has been a tactic of streaming-video services for years, but it hasn't been a focused effort by streaming-music services in the same way. Netflix launched a dedicated kids section in 2011, and Amazon has put as many resources into its original children's series as it has into buzz-worthy grown-up fare like its Emmy-winning "Transparent." But streaming-music services' overtures to children are mostly focused on kid-appropriate playlists or adding more child-friendly songs, rather than on crafting a special section.
Rhapsody Kids is available as a free update for the Rhapsody and Napster apps for Android, the Google software that runs many phones. Rhapsody and Napster apps for Apple devices are expected soon in the US and across Latin America. Napster Kids will be coming soon to Napster customers across Europe, the company said. Napster is Rhapsody's brand for international markets.