UMG to go digital

Music co. will offer downloadable catalog

Universal Music Group announced Friday that it will soon provide secure music downloads over the Internet, less than two weeks after the company’s rival, EMI Recorded Music, started a push to do the same.

In a keynote address to the Jupiter Consumer Online Forum in New York, Seagram President and CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. said that download capabilities will be up and running sometime this spring. A spokeswoman for the company declined to give a more specific date.

“Our approach to digital downloading is not to reproduce the music experience of the physical world on the Web, instead we can create a new music experience for consumers,” Bronfman said. “Downloading allows promotion and consumption to occur side by side. A consumer can hear a sample of a track and purchase it immediately.”

Separate unit

In January, the Universal Music Group formed a separate business unit, Global e, to manage the company’s digital music strategy. On Friday, Bronfman said this division will be in charge of the download project.

Heather Myers, who worked on the Universal-PolyGram merger and was senior vice president for UMG’s Electronic Commerce and Advanced Technologies unit, is general manager of Global e.

Bronfman said that music from a broad range of genres will be available for download.

“We’ll offer a relatively small number of tracks, but we will build our offering over time so that eventually it encompasses the lion’s share of Universal’s catalog,” he said.

Following EMI’s lead

In mid-February, EMI Recorded Music said it intends to offer digital downloads on its Web site some time in the coming months. If the merger with Time Warner goes through, available downloads could include a broad spectrum of tremendously popular artists, from Madonna to The Rolling Stones.

Besides announcing the digital download strategy, Bronfman addressed the perpetual rumors that are circulating about the future of the company.

“I have to apologize,” he said, tongue-in-cheek. “Due to the stress of actually running our business every day, I’m unable to announce today our much-rumored business combination with News Corp., AT&T, Viacom, Disney, Bertelsmann, Yahoo!, USA Networks, NBC, Sony, Microsoft or any Paul Allen-affiliated company.”

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