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Zune Adds TV-Show Downloads

Redmond, Wash. — Microsoft is expanding the selection of downloadable videos from its Zune site with the addition of the site’s first downloadable TV episodes, available for around $1.99 each.

Microsoft also launched a new music-sharing service that enables Zune subscription-download users to easily download their favorite songs played by friends who also use Zune PC software. Subscription users are now able to download the six songs most-frequently played by each of these friends, plus six songs from each of the friends’ top artists, plus six more that the friends flag as their favorites.

Previously, Zune software users could only view the metadata of friends’ favorite songs, listen to 30-second snippets, and then choose to download them individually to own or for subscription use. Now, users can drag-and-drop all of the songs at once to their PC for side-loading to a Zune as long as they subscribe to the $14.99/month ZunePass subscription-download service.

The friends’ most-frequently played songs and top-artists songs are automatically generated by the service for sharing with others, but friends can also flag six more songs as favorites for a total of 18 songs to share.

In video, Microsoft has begun offering 800 TV episodes, with more to come. They join free downloads of video podcasts and paid-for downloads of music videos. Music videos cost about $1.99 each. The music videos and TV episodes are available in Microsoft’s WMV format protected by a digital rights management (DRM) technology that allows for playback only in Zune portables.

The half-hour to hour-long episodes are available from providers such as Comedy Central, FUNimation Entertainment, MTV, NBC Universal, Nickelodeon, Starz Media (including Manga Entertainment), Turner Broadcasting, Ultimate Fighting Championship and VH1.

Microsoft said it isn’t making movies available at this time because of portable users’ preference for short-form videos on their portable digital devices.

On its Zune site, Microsoft offers more than 3.5 million downloadable music tracks, two-thirds of which are available in DRM-free MP3 format from major label EMI, and almost all independent labels. The other songs are available in WMA with a proprietary DRM technology that prevents playback on any portable device but Zunes.

The site also offers 4,800 music videos and 3,500 audio and video podcasts.