I want to start this post by noting that I have used the Groove service since the day it came out in its original form through today. The service has been a great one and often misunderstood. With that in mind, I want to share what I think are some lessons we can learn from the rise and fall of Groove.
Some Quick History
The Groove brand may not be well known by most. It started as the Zune which was a combination of hardware and software. Microsoft created the Zune because there were concerns that existing partners were not addressing the threat of the iPod and iTunes and getting into this business would also open new revenue streams for Microsoft. As Microsoft moved away from Zune, the Zune Player became Xbox Live Music which was later rebranded to Groove.
Lesson 1 - Are We Willing to Step Away from Our Core Business?
From the start, the Zune focus was putting a great music experience on the Windows platform. Some services were later released for the Mac, but this was a Windows play for Microsoft. When it moved to Xbox Live Music, the focus went out a little further to the Xbox brand. Support eventually came for iOS and Android devices, but for a long time the only good mobile experience was on a Windows Phone and the only good experience at home was on the Xbox or your PC. Support for other platforms and even systems like Sonos took a long time to arrive.
The idea of making this the best experience on Windows, Windows Phone, and Xbox was to show how a complete Microsoft ecosystem could work. Waiting to bring a great experience to other platforms resulted in Microsoft not getting the attention needed. When we look at any business, how willing are we to step away from our primary revenue generators if we want to expand? And, are we willing to drive something that could even hurt a core part of our business? Most companies are not resulting in great hindsight, but poor outcomes.
Lesson 2 - Be Careful in New Version
The Zune Player, by the end of its life, was a great player. Zune added features that are common today that few offered at the time - social listening, streaming, free music each month, a great interface, and so forth. But, when Microsoft moved to Xbox Live Music, the new player was a rewrite giving up many of these features and it took a long time for the player to catch back up. The Groove player in Windows 10 is finally back to where Zune was years ago. I think the lesson here is when we consider making a change in our products and services, will be alienate our core audience in the move? If the answer is yes, are we willing to have that business impact?
Lesson 3 - Are We Known?
The Zune brand name was fairly well known - though often for the wrong reasons. It was oversold before release and the hardware timing was off resulting in jokes like those found in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 about the Zune. But, in the effort to shed the name and move to Xbox Live Music, the momentum was lost. Now it was a service that sounded like it required an Xbox. When Microsoft moved to Groove, it was yet another change and with all of the new services, it was lost in the crowd. Not enough was done to really market and push the brand name and the feature gaps held the service back. We often forget that the iPod didn't originally get the portable music market right away. Apple didn't support the PC when the iPod came out. It took a few versions of the software before iTunes finally came to Windows and that is when the iPod really took off. The question we need to think about is how well known are we in our field and are we making the changes needed to move our market forward?
Lesson 4 - Is This a Business We Want to Be In?
Microsoft got into the music business to add a revenue stream and to resolve the mess of music services and players in the market at the time. But, this was always a secondary business for Microsoft. As a secondary business, it meant the service didn't get the major push like other services, it didn't get enough development time and innovation to advance the market, and the challenges with the Windows Store in Windows 8 only made this tougher. Sadly this issue was finally fixed in Windows 10 with the new Microsoft Store experience, but too late to save Groove. We need to consider our own businesses. Are we in a business only as a secondary revenue, but not as deeply committed to making it successful?
In the End
At the end of this year, Groove will only be a shell of what it once was. Spotify will be the recommended music service. The Groove player will just be a music player in Windows 10. Groove could have been the Spotify brand and music service if Microsoft really wanted. Being a secondary service that was lost in the shuffle ultimately hurt the service bringing us to this point. I sensed the end months ago and started my switch to Google Play Music. Google Play Music offers FLAC support, let me quickly import my music, works across all devices in my house, has great Sonos integration, and family plans.
As of December 31, 2017, the Groove Music Pass streaming service will be discontinued and will no longer be available. The built-in Groove Music app will continue to play all the music you’ve purchased and downloaded or uploaded to OneDrive, but will no longer stream or play any Groove Music Pass content.