Sony Music CDs to access AOL

In a novel cross-promotion, Sony Music is placing a highly condensed version of America Online’s access software on millions of its music CDs, including those by such top Sony artists as Celine Dion and Michael Bolton.

The “gateway” AOL software will allow users who place the otherwise music-only CD into their computer’s CD-ROM player to get up to 50 free hours of access to the giant online service. It will also send users to the artists’ World Wide Web sites, official and otherwise.

The deal between Sony and AOL extends beyond the music-only CDs, however. Sony is also said to have allowed AOL to place its software — necessary to access the service — on all new Sony personal computers, both laptops and desktops.

Such a deal would be the first such wide-ranging deal between AOL and a “vertically integrated corporation” like Sony that has both hardware and software divisions. (Matsushita Electric Industrial Corp. and Toshiba Corp. would be two others, as an example.) AOL already worked a similar deal with German media conglomerate Bertelsmann Music Group, but Bertelsmann lacks a hardware division.

If the concept succeeds, look for additional AOL plug-ins to appear on a wider range of Sony Music releases.

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