Will Consumers Baulk At Digital-Rental Lock-In?

With growing adoption of new unlimited-access media rental services like Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) and Spotify, I anticipate a future crunch point, around transportability of customers’ libraries to parallel services.

When subscribers have spent several years building a virtual shelf of their music or movies in a paid service, but they become tempted by a cheaper or better such service, how easy will it be to move over?

Harder than buying a new stereo or DVD player on which to play your song or movie discs, that’s for sure. Consumers may have to recreate their entire library from scratch.

It’s a potential issue Aspiro, which operates a white-labeled subscription music streaming called WiMP out of Scandinavia, is highlighting. Whilst enabling playlist export and import of playlists from and to its software this week, it also made a call for industry counterparts to do the same, arguing: “Many music lovers spend huge amounts of time building up a collection of playlists, favorite artists and albums.”

The problem for Aspiro – as much as the new wave of media services revolves around unlimited-access, it’s also predicated on exactly the kind of lock-in Aspiro is complaining about

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek last year told Midem: “For us, the most important thing is to drive the engagement in building the library. When you want to drive that library to your mobile phone or Xbox or Sonos, you’re paying for that access.”

Ek must hope that, after years of building their own precious playlist libraries, customers may baulk at the difficulty in migrating to a rival service. At the same time Spotify debuted a new buy-this-playlist feature this month, Aspiro enabled a rudimentary Spotify-to-WiMP migration feature, which works by users copying playlist content to their computer clipboard and then pasting it in to WiMP.

As much as Aspiro says “We see no reason to force users to stay with WiMP”, other services are surely hoping to operate as super-silos – lock-in is their leverage. Of course, Aspiro is not acting without its own self-interest, in this battle for consumers. With just three listed white-label clients, it is facing serious and growing competition from the growing wave including Spotify, Rdio and others.

Nevertheless, as the access model takes off in music, movies, TV and books, I expect this could become a real consumer issue, and one which could eventually attract the interest of the European Commission’s pro-consumer antitrust department, if consumers end up grumbling about lock-in.

Norway’s Consumer Council is backing Aspiro, saying “collections should be the user’s own property” and “it should be easy to move between digital services”.

Aspiro also announced it had doubled its music subscriber base to 200,000 in the last fouor months and it will offer the music service as well as mobile TV services to the 700,000 subscribers of Telenor Canal Digital pay-TV operator in its native Norway – a SEK 50 million (£4.85 million / $7.9 million) deal.