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Download Sites Set 200K Song Library

MusicNet and Pressplay, the on-line music-subscription services being developed by the major music companies, revealed more details about their fall launches, including plans to initially offer a combined total of more than 200,000 songs for streaming and downloading through select on-line partners. They promise the catalog will grow from there.

The launch selection will greatly expand the number of songs available for authorized downloads from the five largest music companies, whose current selection of songs authorized for downloading numbers only in the thousands. MusicNet will offer about 100,000 songs at launch, and Pressplay plans about 125,000 at launch.

MusicNet is owned by AOL Time Warner, RealNetworks, BMG and EMI. Pressplay is owned by Sony and Universal.

Both services say they will offer streaming music and downloads at launch, but because of concerns over unauthorized copying of downloaded works, one service and possibly both will initially lock downloaded files to a PC’s hard drive. Both services, however, say file portability is planned as soon as they come up with ways to control transferred files after a subscriber’s subscription lapses.

One of the services, Pressplay, supports codecs and digital rights management (DRM) technologies compatible with select Internet audio portables already on the market or available before the end of the year. MusicNet’s solution currently isn’t supported by any portable device today, although it is supported by Hewlett-Packard’s hard-drive-based Digital Entertainment Center. Current programmable portables, however, could potentially be upgraded to support MusicNet’s solution; they could also be upgraded to support Pressplay’s solution.

Music portability: Although both services at launch will deliver music downloads, MusicNet said it will lock downloaded music to hard drives for the time being. Within about six months of launch, however, MusicNet will make files transferable to Internet audio portables, a spokeswoman claimed. “It’s a major priority for us,” she said.

Pressplay, which previously said it wouldn’t offer download service at launch, now says it will. The joint venture held out the possibility that downloads would be transferable at launch time. “Portability will exist, but perhaps not immediately at launch,” a spokesperson said. “Pressplay is committed to making as much music available to our consumers in as many ways possible, provided that such methods are technologically feasible and provide compensation to artists, songwriters and copyright owners.”

Neither service was sure if subscribers would be able to burn downloaded music files to CD-R/RW discs.

Codecs, DRMs: When they deliver music-file portability, both services will let users of select Internet portables take their music with them. MusicNet downloads will be available in the RealAudio 8 codec wrapped in RealNetworks’s RealSystem Media Commerce Suite DRM.

For its part, Pressplay will support Microsoft’s Windows Media Audio (WMA) codec and WMA DRM technology as well as the Sony-developed ATRAC 3 codec wrapped in the WMA DRM. A new portable from Panasonic (see Audio Briefs) and other companies’ models support Microsoft’s codec and DRM. Sony portables support the ATRAC3 codec and WMA DRM. Pressplay plans to add other codecs, a spokeswoman said.

Neither service discussed pricing models, saying pricing was up to their on-line distribution partners. Predictably, the on-line music partners declined to discuss their price plans.

MusicNet, however, did explain how a download service could be subscription-based. All downloads will time out on a hard drive after 30 days, a spokeswoman explained, even if the 30-day period ends after a subscription has lapsed. That means a subscriber who wants to hear a song 31 days after it was downloaded will have to download it again.

Pressplay declined to explain how its subscription-based download service would work.

Launch dates: MusicNet service will launch through the RealNetworks Web site on Nov. 12, a RealNetworks spokeswoman revealed. AOL declined comment on when it will make MusicNet service available.

Pressplay’s launch was originally targeted for the summer through Yahoo but is now scheduled for the fall. Pressplay recently announced its service will also be available through MSN Music and, but the company wouldn’t say which of the three online sites would offer service in the fall or if all would launch in the fall. “We plan on launching the Pressplay service through each affiliate as closely as possible,” a spokeswoman said. “However, since each affiliate has the option of customizing certain features, some may take longer than others to launch.”

Both services also plan to line up additional online distribution partners as well as content from additional music companies. Since the announcements of their formations, in fact, both services have added a new content partner. MusicNet, for example, recently signed up major independent music company Zomba, whose artists include Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, to jointly offer content with three of MusicNet’s owners: AOL Time Warner, BMG, and EMI.

When Pressplay announced its plans, it said music from co-owners Sony and Universal would be offered, but it recently signed up EMI.