Streaming services expand free offerings as Beats Music nears

Streaming service Rdio's Web version is now free of charge (with ads).
Streaming service Rdio’s Web version is now free of charge (with ads).

The Internet music service Rdio is now letting people in the U.S. access its 20-million-song library on the Web without paying -- though those users will hear ads.

The change is part of a deal announced last year in which terrestrial radio company Cumulus Media acquired a minority stake in San Francisco-based Rdio, which was launched in 2010 by Skype co-creator Janus Friis.

Rdio’s on-demand Web version was previously available only to paying subscribers. The company had already made its algorithm-based, Pandora-esque stations feature available free of charge through its mobile app. To get unlimited, ad-free Web and mobile, users must upgrade to the $10 monthly fee.

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Rdio has never revealed how many users it has, but it’s thought to lag behind Swedish company Spotify, which has also expanded its offerings.

This week, Spotify eliminated its free listening limit for users outside the United States (American customers could already listen to as much ad-supported streaming as they wanted). Spotify has also introduced a free version for smartphones that lets people listen to playlists and artists, but only in “shuffle mode.”

The idea is to attract new music-seekers who will eventually decide to become $10-a-month subscribers to avoid the commercials and get full mobile access.

Meanwhile, Dr. Dre’s and Jimmy Iovine’s Beats Electronics is getting ready to launch its long-awaited subscription music service next week. So more established players are introducing more ways to access tunes for free.

Beats Music is set to launch Tuesday, Jan. 21, and will feature a vast catalog and playists from celebrities and veteran programmers for $10 a month. Beats and telecommunications giant AT&T are offering a “family plan” to allow streaming by up to five people on 10 devices for $15 a month.


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