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Sony offers cheaper -- and non-mobile -- $5 music service

The Music Unlimited subscription should attract more customers and help free music from "the tyranny of the earbud," Sony says at IFA.

Shawn Layden, chief operating officer for Sony Network Entertainment
Shawn Layden, chief operating officer for Sony Network Entertainment
Stephen Shankland/CNET

BERLIN -- Sony announced a lower-cost $4.99 monthly option for Music Unlimited, a plan it hopes will increase adoption of the streaming-music service.

Sony announced its Sony Entertainment Network's $9.99-per-month music plan a year ago at the IFA consumer electronics show, letting customers tap into a library of 16 million songs using personal computers, PS3 game consoles, and Android devices. This year at the show, it announced the cheaper alternative, which offers the same library but which doesn't work on mobile devices.

"It's going to bring new customers in, that's for sure," said Shawn Layden, chief operating officer for Sony Network Entertainment, in an interview today. And, Sony hopes, the company will be able to get those customers to upgrade to the premium service once they're hooked.

In addition, the company announced a 14-day free trial that lets people test the service without having to give a credit card number and a 60-day free trial for people who own compatible Sony products, including TVs, Android tablets and phones, PS3 devices, Google TVs, and Blu-ray Disc players.

Getting the 16 million songs from a variety of record labels isn't free for Sony, of course. "We have deals with record labels," Layden said. "We work contractual deals based on the amount of play and market share."

Sony also offers a Video Unlimited plan, which lets people rent or buy video one title at a time. Together, the services compete with a wide range of alternatives from Apple, Hulu, Amazon, Pandora, Spotify, Google, and others.

The cheaper Music Unlimited plan isn't yet available in Japan, where Sony just launched the premium option July 3. Why so late? Because streaming music is unusual in Japan -- indeed Sony's service is the biggest so far, Layden said, since people still tend to buy CDs in Japan.

"Businesses still enjoy physical music sales," he said. "The Japanese marketplace has built upon those labels, customers, and stores."

Sony thinks it has a bit of an advantage since its products extend beyond mobile phones and PCs. PS3s and home-theater systems are often in the living room, where people don't always listen to streaming-music services, Layden said.

"We want to bring music back to the living room, to free it from the tyranny of the earbud, to bring it back into the family and the home," Layden said.