Redmond, Wash. — Microsoft is putting more marketing muscle behind Tuesday’s retail launch of an expanded selection of Zune portable media players (PMPs).
The company will roughly double its holiday season Zune advertising budget, run print and national cable-TV advertising throughout the year for the first time, and more closely target print ads to titles reaching potential customers, said Scott Erickson, Zune product management senior director. More TV ads will appear in prime time on TV compared with last year’s holiday launch, he added.
In addition, he told TWICE, Microsoft will sell Zunes on its own Web site for the first time beginning Tuesday. On the www.ZuneOriginals.net site, consumers will be able to buy the devices at the same price as they would at retail stores but with a choice of user-selected laser-etched graphics or text on the player’s metal back. For a limited time, shipping and etchings are free of charge. Laser etching isn’t available for the carryover 30GB model because of its plastic back.
In another strategy change, Microsoft on Tuesday is launching unprotected-MP3 downloads on the Zune Marketplace site for the first time to complement protected WMA downloads. About 1 million songs out of more than 3 million on the site will be available in MP3 format free of digital rights management (DRM) restrictions, said Erickson.
Three new Zunes — the 4GB model at an expected everyday $149, the $199 8GB version and the $249 80GB model — will join the re-priced $199 30GB model Tuesday in more than 30,000 retailer storefronts and on online sites. Because the line has expanded to four SKUs from one, and with new models available in multiple colors, Microsoft had to work closely with retailers to ensure that models with the right colors and memory capacities were available in the right quantities for specific markets and stores, Erickson said.
Besides bolstering its marketing plans, Microsoft also bolstered the feature set in its new trio, adding touch-sensitive navigation, wireless Wi-Fi syncing with a PC, playback of A/V podcasts available free through the Zune Web site, and the addition of native MPEG-4 and H.264 video decoding in the devices to join the WMV decoder, reducing the need for real-time transcoding of other formats for Zune playback, Erickson noted. Microsoft is also offering software that transcodes TV programs recorded by a Media Center PC to the Zune’s native WMV format. Like their predecessor, the new Zunes decode unprotected MP3, AAC and WMA files as well as WMA files protected by a Microsoft-proprietary DRM technology not compatible with other players. The new and existing models also support subscription-based music downloads at $14.99/month.
The new Zunes are not compatible with authorized WMV-download sites such as Vongo, CinemaNow or Amazon’s Unbox, Erickson said.
The 80GB model features the line’s largest screen at 3.2 inches, followed by the 30GB model’s 3-inch screen and the 4GB and 8GB flash-memory models at 1.8 inches.
Another enhancement allows for more flexible Wi-Fi peer-to-peer file sharing. A shared file will be playable three times, whereas in the past a song could be played three times but within three days. A firmware download will deliver this and many other upgrades to the current 30GB model, including Wi-Fi syncing with a PC and podcast playback.
In other enhancements, the new Zunes get a new design and new PC software to simplify searching for files. Their launch coincides with the launch of a new Zune Social online music community that lets users play 30-second clips of songs that friends play often on their Zunes.