Motorola is quietly testing a digital music service for phones called iRadio with hundreds of consumers, and it could officially roll out early next year, said David Ulmer, senior director of marketing for digital media services at Motorola Inc.
"We're not trying to drive traffic yet; it's being tested with a really controlled group," Ulmer said in an interview Wednesday at the Digital Music Forum West in Hollywood. "The tests revolve around price, demographics and content."
To date, the service offers more than 800 commercial-free radio stations, from classic rock, new age and jazz, to news and talk. Carriers, such as Cingular and Verizon, will likely offer the monthly service for between $7 and $10, Ulmer said.
Consumers subscribe to iRadio and download the software to a PC with Windows XP, which provides access to the music catalog. Users also can build and manage a separate playlists from the digital music collection they already own.
Up to six channels at one time are available to download and take along on the iRadio-enabled mobile phone.
The phone plugs into the PC via a USB connection. Through a software application on the PC, users can choose up to six radio stations to hear that day. Using Bluetooth, iRadio can transmit music into other environments, such as automobiles' digital systems.
"We are building the service onto more phones, but it's only on three models now," Ulmer said. "One of the limitations, we needed to make sure there's good digital rights management on the phone."
Motorola has worked during the past year to build license agreements with many of the independent and major music labels. Originally, Ulmer said, the handset maker thought they would have to provide all the programming themselves, but artists like Crosby, Still, and Nash, and Billy Bob Thornton have their own channels that the company can tap into.
"Many traditional broadcasters like NPR and Clear Channel have provided programming that comes through our Internet feed down into the phone," Ulmer said. "If the consumer wants to listen to KIIS FM in Los Angeles, or a particular NPR segments, they can listen to it from their phone."
Ulmer said it won't stream live to the phone, but rather "time shifted," where the music downloads to the phone and the consumer listens to it at a different time than originally broadcast. Time shifting is a practice most radio stations use today.
Motorola iRadio pre-released as a preview earlier this month an entire album from J/Arista artists, part of a larger deal with parent label group Sony BMG. Although others will soon join in, Monica is the first artist to "leak" her album, The Makings of Me, earlier in October through the iRadio service.
Rod Stewart will pre-release his new album to consumers through Motorola's iRadio service next week, Ulmer said.