For a point of reference I am calling the 3 PC’s, 3 devices plan, Zune Pass Classic and the newer 1 PC, 3 devices option Zune Music Pass.
In short, I am surprised and left with more questions than answers. Zune Music Pass does nothing to help families adopt the service. In the time that I have been an MVP and Zune Pass Classic has existed, one of the largest amount of criticism I have heard about the service is the specific lack of a family plan. Perhaps other hear different requests concerning Zune Pass. In recent months I would suggest that more chatter has focused on moving the service to other smartphone platforms, via targeted apps for different mobile operating systems; but Zune Pass for families has always been a topic of interest. I think it remains popular in part because when using Zune Pass Classic the functionality many would expect of a family plan is almost there, but not quite.
Using Zune Pass Classic there is no way to stream music from any account other than the account paying for Zune Pass. Ideally, a hypothetical family plan,
- Would have been one that allowed people to have individual, child, Live ID accounts under a paying, parent, Live ID account at the old cost of $14.99 a month.
- Would allow child accounts to have the same ability as the parent account with regards to streaming music from a PC, Zune device or Windows Phone, Xbox 360, and web. All plays using various streaming methods would count as plays towards the Zune card of the child account and not that of the paying parent account.
- Would have Zune Pass tracks sync to devices of a child Live ID without having to sign into the parent Live ID to complete the syncing process.
- The ability to add a fourth PC/device combo to the $14.99 base price would be available for a nominal fee similar to adding another line of service to a family wireless cellphone plan.
Considering this ideal and then considering the current reality, the new Zune Music Pass does not address the issues families face such as managing multiple users, streaming from a Live ID not paying for the Zune Pass, and multi-user discounts for more than one Live ID within a household. If anything, it exacerbates the problem in households that have more than one PC or Live ID.
Looking at the remaining functionality of Zune Pass Classic when used within a family, you can sync music to a Zune device that is associated, but not linked by Live ID, to the parent account. In addition, you can downloaded Zune Pass music to one of the three authorized PCs and then play it using a separate Zune account. However, that is all you can do with Zune Pass Classic when used within a family-- barely sync music to a Zune device and barely play music from a PC. As a result, the process for discovering music, as a child account, using Zune Pass Classic is slow and cumbersome.
How do I know music discovery is slow and cumbersome? With a few exceptions, this is how I have been using Zune Pass since I first reviewed the service in 2008. It has not been fun. My play count has suffered because of lost streaming opportunities. I am sure others in Zune-centric families have missed out on streaming opportunities due to the difficult nature of using Zune Pass within families. In the three years I have used the service nothing has happened to make using a Zune Pass easier for families with multiple Live IDs. In addition, it has not become less expensive to use the service as being part of a family of four. From my initial review,
“For some users, the usage scenario I just described creates a problem. If an individual wants to maintain their musical identity (as represented by the plays on their Zune Card) as well as partake in Zune Pass by listening to all the music they can, then that individual cannot allow others sharing the same Zune Pass to stream music through the Zune software. The LiveID paying for the service is the only account that is able to stream music. This prevents two other potential Zune Pass users from browsing the music store and allowing streamed plays to be a part of their musical identities.”
To extend what I said about this usage scenario being a problem: The experience of using Zune within families has gone from being a problem in Zune Pass Classic to just terrible with Zune Music Pass.
Now come the questions.
Is Zune Music Pass the best compromise for families? Not really. For $5 less you are loosing two PCs and 10 free songs each month. Syncing music in multi-PC scenarios just became impossible when using the new Zune Music Pass. For a prospective family with three PCs trying to emulate Zune Pass Classic under the Zune Music pass model, a 30% price cut from $14.99 to $9.99 just became a 50% price increase, going from $14.99 to $29.97. Now, Mom cannot play Zune Pass tracks downloaded to her PC while Dad does the same in the study. Want two PC’s from which you can sync different music and videos to different Zunes? That’s another Live ID and another $9.99 a month. Using a Zune at college (if you do not have a Zune HD or your college uses a WPA 2 Enterprise wireless network) just became a lot more difficult, if the only authorized PC is miles away at home. Do not forget to add a third $9.99 charge when heading off to school and using the new Zune Music Pass.
In addition, Zune Music Pass still does not allow multiple Live IDs within one account. How does a parent manage the bill of a separate Live ID with another password to remember? How is adding another $9.99 a month for the ability to play music from a second PC supposed to better compete with the likes of Spotify, Mog, Rhapsody, or Rdio? If anything it is more of the same. Zune has never been more of the same, it has always been something different. If this price is supposed to be competitive with those services and you do not own an Xbox or Zune device what is the allure of a family choosing Zune over the competition? Where is the value?
Take Rdio for example. A single comparable subscription is $9.99 per month. At that price you can play music on the web, PC, smartphone, Roku, and Sonos. This is the same price as Zune Music Pass. Rdio even has an app that works with Windows Phone 7. Recently Rdio introduced a family plan that reduces the price when multiple subscriptions are stacked together on one paying account. Rdio called this a family plan. How did Rdio introduce a family plan before Zune? Using Rdio in a family of three would cost $22.99 versus a price of $29.97 under the new Zune Music Pass (oddly bits of this functionality fit quite well within Zune Pass Classic, at the price of $14.99 per month). Is the ability to stream music videos, and stream from an Xbox or Zune worth an extra $6.98 per month? Speaking of Xbox, how did offering a family plan escape Zune when Xbox offered a family plan in the past?
Thinking about Zune Music Pass in Canada leaves me wondering where the Zune devices are for non-smartphone owners and people already locked into three year cellphone contracts. Further, how are all the non-Zune users in Canada going to hear about this change? Currently, the amount of press coverage Zune Pass receives is paltry compared to other music streaming services. Considering these points, there is too much missing to be excited for this news about changes to Zune’s music subscription service. This is my take. What is yours?