Monday, January 22, 2007
If at first you don't succeed, give it away.
As college students all over the country devoured pirated music and movie files, Herndon-based Ruckus Network formed more than two years ago to provide a legal way for kids to get their download fix. The concept: Put entertainment files on a server and park it on a college campus -- for a licensing fee -- so students could download legitimate media files. Doubling as a social networking site, Ruckus let users share playlists, invite friends to join, make profiles and write reviews. Think Facebook meets Napster.
About 82 colleges, including the University of Maryland and Gallaudet University, signed up for the service. But there are a lot of online entertainment sites out there, and this one wasn't selling as fast as chief executive Michael Bebel had hoped.
So, starting today, the company is rolling out an approach it hopes will appeal to cash-strapped college kids everywhere: making it free.
Anyone with an e-mail address that ends in ".edu" will now have free access to 2.1 million music tracks. For an extra $15 a semester, students can also access 4,000 film and television files. University faculty and alumni can also use the network, but filters will recognize them as non-students, and they will have to pay a monthly fee.
The program works like other digital-media download sites, such as Rhapsody. After installing it on your desktop, you can download albums in less than a minute. But since it's provided over the Internet, high network traffic can cause slow download speeds at peak-usage times
Until today, colleges and universities have had to pay for the rights to use the entertainment content. Now, the idea is that advertising will cover licensing costs.
"The social component is as important as media content," said Bebel, who previously headed Universal Inc.'s music group as well as Pressplay, a music download venture by Sony and Universal that was later bought by Roxio and powered the newest version of Napster. "It makes for a terrific place to go and discover new music through a community."
Bebel expects Ruckus to spread among students living on campus first. The start-up has already been well received by local venture capitalists. Over the summer, Ruckus won $13.7 million in its third round of financing.