iRadio - Apple's long-rumoured, eagerly awaited but still unconfirmed music streaming service - could be launched at next week's WWDC 2013 developers' conference, if reports of licensing deals signed over the weekend are to be believed.
It's understood that Apple secured an agreement with Warner, the second of the big three music labels, this weekend. It had previously signed a deal with Universal, leaving Sony as the last major hold-out. (There used to be a 'big four', until EMI's assets were split between Universal and Sony last September.) With all three firms on board, Apple would be ready to begin its assault on the internet radio market, currently dominated by Spotify, Rdio and, in the US at least, Pandora.
The New York Times reports: "Apple has signed a deal with the Universal Music Group for its recorded music rights, but not for music publishing — the part of the business that deals with songwriting. Over the weekend, Apple also signed a deal with the Warner Music Group for both rights. It is still in talks with Sony Music Entertainment and Sony’s separate publishing arm, Sony/ATV, whose songwriters include Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga."
The lovely Girls Aloud, whose music is released through labels owned by Universal
The iRadio service would most likely be free to use, supported by audio adverts, much like Spotify and similar streaming services. Apple would build in links to iTunes so that fans could buy tracks they discovered and liked.
Apple has strong ties with the big record labels after the success of iTunes turned around the music industry's fortunes. As I mentioned in a previous article discussing iRadio, moving into internet radio is a logical step for a company with such powerful industry ties and leverage.
But the relationship is complicated. There's a suspicion among record executives that they gave away too much revenue share when they set up the deals for iTunes, and that Apple now has too much power - indeed, Apple holds more sway in the music business than any record label ever did. And while the labels will be wary of jeopardising lucrative existing arrangements with the tech giant, the fact that the internet radio space contains established players means they've got a lot more room for negotiation this time around. If I were in charge of a big-three label - and it's frankly a constant disappointment to me that I'm not - then right now I'd be squeezing Tim Cook's wallet until the pips squeak. If that metaphor makes any sense whatsoever.
[Related: Apple 'close to deal on Spotify-esque iRadio service' | iRadio set for 2013 launch, Apple in talks with music labels | Apple's Tim Cook discussing new music service with Beats CEO | Apple's iRadio delayed by 'cheap' offer that left record labels unhappy]