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How Microsoft Lost Its Groove

grooveblackOver the past decade or so—really since the introduction of the Zune media player—Microsoft has been offering one form or another of a music store and streaming service. The Zune Marketplace and later-introduced Music Pass offered Zune and PC users a digital storefront for purchasing, streaming, and downloading then-protected music files.

As it’s known to do, Microsoft later abandoned the Zune product line and re-branded the Zune services as Xbox Music, and then again as Groove Music. By this point, the music service wasn’t just limited to its own platforms but also offered apps for iOS and Android phones in addition to Windows-based PCs, tablets, phones, and the Xbox game console.

This Space is Crowded

Apple has been selling digital music online far longer than most and was the first digital music marketplace to overtake music sales on physical media. Spotify is the 1,000 lb gorilla in the market as the leading subscription-based streaming service in many countries. Google and Amazon are also in the game with their own stores and services, and now Apple’s newer streaming service is already in second place behind Spotify.

Was it all just too much for Microsoft to compete? Apparently so. Microsoft is officially pulling the plug on Groove, ending digital music sales (now in the Windows Store) and shuttering its now-named Groove Music Pass streaming service at year’s end on December 31, 2017.

Microsoft is working with Spotify to allow current Groove Music Pass customers to migrate their music collections and playlists to the industry leader’s own service. Customers will be get a reimbursement for any portion of their Groove Music Pass they paid for that remains unused by the end of the year.

While Groove never received the popular attention and audience of other streaming services, it had amassed something of an avid, albeit small, fan base—much like Zune in its day. Groove had some nice features and visualizations and serves those steeped in the Microsoft entertainment ecosystem well. But Microsoft has bounced the product around so much—switching up branding, lagging on core features, and lacking in the catalog breadth offered by other services.

What’s Next?

Over the years, Microsoft has struggled in the home entertainment space, abandoning more initiatives than we can possibly recount—media players, DVRs, …even an entire production studio—leaving a trail of neglected software and services in its wake, including Media Player, PlaysForSure, Internet TV, Zune software, Windows Media Center, and now the Groove app. In this case, the Groove app will continue to function, but only for “local” or downloaded music on your device or stored in your personal OneDrive space.

Despite our obvious slant toward and interest in Microsoft entertainment technology (you do listen to Entertainment 2.0, right?), we’ve long wondered why Microsoft was in some of these markets. Take Movies + TV for example. Is there enough of a base purchasing or renting video from Microsoft that it’s worth maintaining that section of its digital marketplace, or is that going to be the next casualty? Curiously, Microsoft recently ended its partnership with Disney Movies Anywhere, which may have been an early sign of the next impending demise.

Whatever happens next, we know that Groove Music will go largely unnoticed in the market, but those who embraced and enjoyed the service will likely miss it. If you identify with that group, just don’t forget to download your music purchases before the end of the year—online digital media is ephemeral.


About the author

Richard Gunther

Richard is a product experience consultant with a life-long interest in consumer electronics. He has been immersed in smart home tech for decades now and hosts The DMZ's home automation podcast, Home: On and co-hosts Entertainment 2.0 with Josh Pollard. Richard looks at products through an experience lens, always seeking the right mix of utility and delight.