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MusicNet Gives WMA Format Another Boost

The Windows Media Audio (WMA) format got another boost in the portable audio market when b-to-b download service MusicNet adopted the WMA format to supplement its ATRAC3-based RealAudio 8 codec.

MusicNet’s rival Pressplay also supports WMA. Both services are owned by different groups of music companies.

If MusicNet distribution partners decide to offer WMA, and if they decide to support transfers to portable devices, the MusicNet downloads will be playable on select portables, said a spokesperson.

Those devices would have to support the WMA codec and WMA’s digital-rights management (DRM) technology, but only about 50 of more than 200 WMA-decoding flash-memory and HDD portables available in the U.S. support the DRM, Microsoft said.

Pressplay, a business-to-consumer service, already lets subscribers transfer downloaded WMA files to portables equipped with WMA’s decoder and DRM technologies.

For now, only America Online is an authorized MusicNet marketer, and AOL hasn’t announced plans to offer WMA, nor does it currently let users transfer compressed songs to portable devices, MusicNet said. RealNetworks was also an authorized MusicNet partner, but RealNetworks is no longer marketing MusicNet service to new customers.

That decision came after Real announced plans to buy and its Rhapsody interactive streaming service, which also supports burning to disc in Redbook Audio form.

MusicNet and Pressplay each support one other codec. Pressplay offers music files in Sony’s ATRAC3 codec wrapped in the WMA DRM. Those downloads can be transferred to Sony portables.

For its part, MusicNet provides partners with tools to make its ATRAC3-based format compatible with Sony’s devices. The tools add Sony’s DRM technology and file format to ATRAC3-encoded music to allow for playback on Sony’s portables.

MusicNet partner AOL, however, doesn’t support ATRAC3 transfers to portables.