MusicNet cues up tests of digital tune service

100,000 tracks to be available through streaming, download

Confirming rumors that had been circulating for the past week, nascent digital music company MusicNet said it has shipped its technology platform to retail partners America Online and RealNetworks and is planning a limited demo of the service for 500 select testers beginning Oct. 5.

MusicNet, which is backed by major labels Warner Music, EMI and BMG Entertainment, didn’t give an estimate as to when consumers would have full access to the service, but RealNetworks recently said it would have a consumer product ready in 60 days. Earlier this year, MusicNet had predicted the service would go live by the end of summer.

Netco also revealed more detail about the scope of the new offering. Roughly 100,000 tracks will be available, through either streaming or a special 30-day download, from the initial service, including work from Elvis Presley, the Dave Matthews Band, R.E.M. and Eric Clapton.

Fee variation

MusicNet strategic adviser Richard Wolpert said the matter of pricing the service would be up to the retail partners, each of which can integrate the digital music platform into its own offerings as it chooses. But the company did suggest a sample pricing guideline of $9.95 a month for 50 temporary downloads (which can be renewed the following month if desired) and 50 music streams.

Wolpert conceded that the service probably will not become the sole medium through which people get their music in the future, “but if you’re looking at the service as an augmentation of the CD-buying process, then it begins to make sense.”

Exec also confirmed reports that the Recording Industry Assn. of America had reached a tentative agreement with music publishers orgs to secure licensing rights for music on the Net — long considered a major hurdle to the legal viability of the services.

MusicNet is one of two ventures supported by a major-label consortium readying for launch. PressPlay, owned by Sony Music and Vivendi Universal, said Tuesday that it plans to launch by the end of the year.

Staying put

One thing MusicNet won’t offer — at least initially — is portability: Tracks downloaded on the service cannot be burned onto a CD or uploaded into a portable device, because the security risks are too great, Wolpert said.

However, he said, the company will work to incorporate portability into a future version of MusicNet, adding that the feature will be available in less than a year.

“We do recognize that it is one of the most, if not the most requested feature for digital music,” he said.

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