Will Ads Be the Answer?

Robin Kent is back in the groove. After being forced out as chief executive of ad-supported music service SpiralFrog late last year, Kent has started an agency catering to the digital music business. Co-founded with former SpiralFrog colleague Lance Ford, Rebel Digital will sell advertising and create marketing plans for online music outlets.

Kent, former chairman and CEO of Universal McCann, says he came up with the concept after being constantly approached by digital music startups in recent months about how to monetize their ventures. "So rather than start another SpiralFrog, we said, 'Why don't we set up a firm to do consulting and ad repping to help some of these companies,' " he explains.

For its first major gig, Rebel Digital will handle ad sales for Qtrax, a new ad-supported music service launching in September that already has agreements with Warner Music Group, EMI Group and Sony BMG Music Entertainment. As a legal peer-to-peer file-sharing network, Qtrax will search the Gnutella network but only display tracks it has permission to play. The search results will also bring up relevant advertising.

Kent envisions Qtrax ultimately offering a full range of ad opportunities from search ads to sponsorships. Of course, its business model puts Qtrax in direct competition with SpiralFrog, which plans to rollout in the United States later this year after launching first in Canada. The music store was initially expected to open by the end of 2006.

"I don't see it having a dog's chance of survival," says Kent of his former company, citing a lack of sufficient content and funding. SpiralFrog so far has signed various types of licensing deals with Universal Music Group, EMI, and 20 independent labels, among others.

Regarding his departure from SpiralFrog, Kent would only say that he had a fundamental disagreement with chairman Joe Mohen over the company's direction.

One direction Kent says he never expects to take is back to Madison Avenue. As an entrepreneur, "there's a pot at the end of the rainbow you're never going to get at a corporate job."

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