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Zune ad campaign focuses on free software. Why?

It's the beginning of Microsoft's expansion of the Zune brand beyond the portable music player.

Microsoft is trying to push Zune sales along with a price cut, as CNET's Ina Fried already reported Tuesday, and Donald Bell has the scoop on the firmware update that will deliver bug fixes, three new games, and head-to-head Texas Hold 'Em via the Zune's Wi-Fi transceiver.

But the most interesting part of the announcement was the advertising campaign. Not the advertisements themselves, although I'll be interested to see what the oddballs at Crispin Porter + Bogusky (who did the Gates-Seinfeld and "I'm a PC" ads) come up with. The fascinating part is that the campaign will focus on convincing users to download the free Zune software. Microsoft will still be doing other forms of advertising for the Zune players, but this TV campaign is all about promoting a product from which Microsoft earns no direct revenue.

The new Zune advertising campaign focuses on the brand and the software, not the devices. Microsoft

Why? Because music players were never the endgame. The company has always said that Zune is meant to be a broader entertainment brand that will find its way into other products. As I've posted before, a Zune interface for Windows Mobile 7 is a near-certainty, but I also would expect the Zune Marketplace to find its way into Xbox Live in short order--in fact, the new Xbox Live Experience gives Microsoft a much smoother way to introduce new features than the old "blades." I could also see Microsoft adding a Zune Marketplace page to the Media Center interface in Windows 7.

Of course, this (once again) raises the question of the future of the Windows Media Player. So far, Microsoft is committed to releasing a new version of the Media Player with Windows 7, in part for corporate customers who would never allow consumer software like Zune anywhere near their employees' PCs, but who still need media playback for corporate videos--training, presentations, and the like. But as long as Microsoft has three teams working on three digital media interfaces for Windows--the Zune software, the Media Player, and the Media Center software--there's room for consolidation, and my guess is that the Media Player will eventually get no further updates.