Cabler launches online radio service SonicNet

After months of hyping its future efforts on the Internet, MTV Interactive today is bowing the redesigned Web sites of its cablers MTV and VH1, as well as an online radio service from SonicNet.

The unveiling comes just in time for Webnoize99, a three-day Internet music confab that kicks off today at the Century Plaza Hotel & Towers in Los Angeles.

MTVi’s sites — MTV.com, which targets the teen set; the older-skewing VH1.com; SonicNet.com; and 13 Web sites around the world for MTV Latin America, VH1 U.K. and SonicNet Japan — feature a new look, streaming audio and video, radio services, e-commerce and events in which Netizens can participate online while watching shows on-air.

Game plan offered

In outlining MTVi’s ‘Net strategy, Nicholas Butterworth, prexy and CEO of MTVi, told Daily Variety that “it’s much more interesting to use the Web to let people interact with our TV, music and video programming. We’re offering music fans what they want, from digitally downloaded music to convergence programming between our television networks and the Web.”

Indeed, MTV.com will let Netizens compete against on-air contestants of gameshow WebRiot, beginning Nov. 29. MTV.com has attracted 2.2 million visitors to the site to view such events as “Spankin New Music Week.”

Through VH1.com, collectors will be able to bid live on memorabilia auctioned off on the cabler’s “Rock Collector” show.

VH1.com also features VH1.0, a video service that allows VH1 fans to search through the VH1 video archives.

MTV heads for radio

But MTV is also taking a major step into online radio services.

Music site SonicNet.com, which the cabler acquired last year, adds streaming audio service Radio SonicNet to its offerings: Netizens can create their own personal radio station by choosing tracks and artists from 75 different music genres or listen to 35 stations that are already available.

Site also provides stations that have been pre-programmed by artists including Britney Spears, Montel Jordan, TLC and Moby, and enables fans to access news and information on more than 50,000 artists and provides related links.

VH1.com features radio station VH1atWork, hosted by DJ Maria Chambers.

“MTV Networks has always built successful businesses by creating new ways to present music to targeted audiences around the world,” said Fred Seibert, prexy of MTV Networks Online and chairman of MTVi.

Ready for action

Butterworth said the Internet has evolved enough to enable MTV “to build a clear e-commerce franchise” and profitably leverage advertising.

For some time, MTV Networks’ sites have been the leading music sites on the Web in terms of visitor traffic. But critics have said MTV hasn’t done enough online. Considering that MTV’s cable brands reach 300 million homes, it didn’t need to do much to become a leading ‘Net brand.

“It’s not that MTV didn’t do a good job before,” Butterworth said. “We’re just being very aggressive now. We can go beyond our programming on TV. Music on the Internet is going to be a ubiquitous experience. Because the technology has gotten better and because we’ve gotten more sophisticated, we believe 2000 is the year that streaming audio comes into its own.”

The company is still planning to commit $300 million in on-air promotion to push its revamped sites.

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