TCI Music revamps rockin' Web sites

TCI Music, whose musicvideo channel the Box has increased its number of cable homes to 20 million from 6 million in just two years, this year will relaunch the Web sites of the Box and digital audio service DMX in an effort to integrate the different businesses within TCI Music.

TCI Music shareholders, if they desire, have until Aug. 13 to sell their shares to Liberty for $8, so TCI Music has been intentionally quiet about its business plans.

However, Tom McPartland, president and CEO of TCI Music, said the company will do its best to take advantage of the potential synergies between the Box, DMX and SonicNet, which operates the music Web sites SonicNet and Addicted to Noise.

On the Box’s new Web site, which will be relaunched by October, users will be able to request a particular musicvideo that will then appear on the Box’s cable channel.

New relationship

“In a very near term, we get to have a converged relationship between the TV set and the PC,” said McPartland. “That will be a real-world precursor to some of the things we want to do with the digital set-top box.”

The new Box Web site will make the cable channel more user friendly in other ways. To find out what videos are available on the Box, TV viewers have to wait for a slow-moving list to scroll. Users of the new Box Web site, however, will instantly be able to access a list of the entire 300 musicvideos in rotation on their local Box.

The new DMX Web site — scheduled to launch in August — will provide extensive information about the 100 DMX chan-nels.

The Box cable channels will also benefit from TCI Music’s Web site content. McPartland said the Box will begin carrying artist interviews and music news courtesy of SonicNet.

By integrating the Box, DMX and the SonicNet sites, TCI Music is also trying to lay the foundation for a retail business that will sell compact discs, artist paraphernalia and concert information and tickets.

Once digital boxes roll out in some quantity, McPartland hopes to allow consumers to download digital music for a price. For example, DMX users will be able to choose 1,000 songs from DMX’s alternative channel that would download onto the digital cable box.

While TCI Music develops these new endeavors, the company may also benefit from a deal that’s been in the works. Liberty Media, the John Malone-run company that owns 84.5% of TCI music, has held discussions with Cablevision Systems’ Rainbow Programming about somehow merging the Box and Rainbow’s MuchMusic video music service, the dominant Canadian music cable channel that Rainbow imports into the U.S. as a joint venture with Chum Ltd.

Serious talks

A Liberty source said serious talks with Cablevision/Rainbow won’t likely start again until after Aug. 13.

The idea of merging the Box with MuchMusic is attractive because the backing of Liberty and Cablevision means the merged music channel might finally offer a challenge to MTV.

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