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Download Update: Big Five Expand Selection Of Songs

11/13/2000 02:00:00 AM Eastern

NEW YORK -Retailers looking to boost fourth-quarter sales of Internet audio portables ought to point out that the five largest music companies in the United States have authorized the downloading of select songs using compression and digital rights management (DRM) formats supported by multiple brands of current or planned portables.

In recent weeks, BMG Entertainment and Warner Music Group authorized multiple sites to distribute select music electronically via the Internet, joining Sony and EMI. For its part, Universal Music is expanding its selection of downloadable music.

The EMI, Sony and Warner songs are playable on current portables, and the Universal and BMG songs, which use the Intertrust-protected AAC codec, will be playable on select portables in the near future, the companies said.

The latest company to go live with a commercial download is Warner Music Group, which has authorized the purchase of individual tracks, including exclusive Internet-only tracks, through seven sites. The music is available in the AAC codec, protected by Liquid Audio's DRM, and in the Windows Media Audio format, protected by the Windows Media DRM.

Liquid, whose delivery system is used by the sites, said the WMA songs are playable on a number of portables, including Creative, Iomega and I-Jam models. Sanyo and Toshiba models currently available or coming to market in the fourth quarter support Liquid-protected AAC, a Warner spokesman said. Compaq and S3 have also announced plans to support AAC, but it's not certain whether those two companies will support AAC wrapped in Liquid's DRM.

About 100 songs, including Internet exclusives, are available, and more than 1,000 are planned by the first quarter. At that time, Warner also plans to make albums available for downloading. Suggested retail prices range from 99 cents to $1.99, including CD singles that feature up to three tracks. Featured Warner artists include Yolanda Adams, Barenaked Ladies, k.d. lang, Matchbox Twenty, Orgy, Pantera, Phish and Keith Sweat.

Seven sites offer Warner's music: CDNow.com, CDPlus.com, towerrecords.com, and Musicland's mediaplay.com, samgoody.com, suncoast.com and oncue.com.

Warner has also licensed ATRAC3 but hasn't announced when its sites will support the codec.

Only a few weeks earlier than Warner's Nov. 1 launch, BMG Entertainment music became commercially available for downloading. At launch, more than 100 singles and albums went online on 10 sites. BMG said it didn't know how many of the 100 were tracks and how many were albums. The music selection is targeted to grow to 2,500 albums and tracks for the holiday season. Again, BMG couldn't break that number down by tracks and albums.

BMG's music is available in the AAC codec protected by Intertrust's DRM. Portable makers Compaq and S3 plan to support Intertrust-protected AAC music in the near future, BMG claimed.

BMG singles are priced from $1.98 to $3.49, with prices of $9.98 to $14.98 for single CDs and $11.98 to $20.98 for double CDs. The company is in discussions with Microsoft to use Microsoft's WMA codec, BMG said.

Authorized BMG sites are Lycos, Alliance Entertainment's TheStore24, ARTISTdirect, Best Buy, GetMusic, Musicland's sites, RollingStone.com, TransWorld Entertainment's TWEC.com, Tower Records' site and Wherehouse Music/Checkout.com.

Featured BMG artists include Christina Aguilera, Toni Braxton, Jennifer Day, Dido, Eve 6, Giselle, Whitney Houston, Lit, Sarah McLachlan, Brad Paisley, Pink, Carly Simon, Patti Smith, Santana, Carl Thomas, Tyrese and Vertical Horizon.

Since the launch of its commercial initiative in August, Universal has expanded its selection of authorized downloadable tracks to more than 300 and expects to have "thousands" online by the end of the year at $1.99 per track, a spokesman said.

All tracks are in Universal's Bluematter format, which is the AAC format protected by Intertrust's DRM. Universal said it expects portables supporting the two technologies to be available early next year.

Universal's tracks are available through the company's affiliate sites, which include Excite, Best Buy's site, Bolt, Get Music, Lycos, Penny Lane On-Line, RollingStone.com and distributor Alliance Entertainment's TheStore24 affiliate sites.

Although Universal considers it a commercial launch, the download program is still a work in progress, a spokesman said.

For its part, Sony has expanded its selection of music to about 240 tracks, dropped their price from $2.49 to $1.99 per song, and added support for Windows Media Audio protected by Microsoft's DRM. Previously, consumers could download Sony-authorized songs only in the Sony-developed ATRAC3 format protected by Microsoft's DRM. Only Sony currently offers Internet portables that play back Microsoft-protected ATRAC3 files.

The music was available initially on a Sony site in late April but has been expanded to include the Tower Records site, e music and about 40 retailers that are part of music distributor Alliance Entertainment's TheStore24 program. By now, distributor Hastings Entertainment was to have gone live with a site for its music retailers, but the site isn't live yet, a Sony spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, EMI Recorded Music has expanded its download program. Launched during the summer, the program initially offered more than 100 albums and more than 100 singles through more than 75 websites.

The program now offers 160 albums and more than 100 singles in the Liquid Audio and Windows Media Audio codecs protected by their respective DRMs. EMI said portables supporting Liquid's combined codec/DRM aren't yet available.

Significantly, EMI said all new music will be released simultaneously on packaged media, as well as in digital download form.

The newest sites to provide EMI downloads include Rioport.com and sites powered by Rioport, including the MTV family of sites. Other EMI-authorized sites include Virgin JamCast.com, Tower Records'site, Compact Disc World, Harmony House, Scotti's Record Shop and Canada's HMV.com.

Wholesale prices of discs and digital albums are the same and are retailing for $12 to $17, a spokeswoman said. Individual songs are priced from 99 cents to $1.99.


Download Formats Supported By Music Industry


COMPANY

SUPPORTED CODEC, DRM

BMG

AAC, protected by Intertrust Metatrust

EMI

Liquid Audio, protected by Liquid DRM

Windows Media Audio, protected by Windows Media DRM

Sony

Sony ATRAC3, protected by Windows Media DRM

Windows Media Audio, protected by Windows Media DRM

Universal

AAC, protected by Intertrust Metatrust

Warner

AAC, protected by Liquid Audio's DRM

Windows Media Audio, protected by Windows Media DRM

Source: Music companies

cTWICE 2000



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