Joining the chorus

Pressplay inks EMI for digital distrib

Pressplay, the digital music initiative backed by Vivendi Universal and Sony, has inked a licensing deal with EMI, marking the first major crossover between two forthcoming label-backed subscription services.

The nonexclusive deal gives Pressplay the largest library of musical content yet amassed by a digital distribution Netco, with the backing of labels repping more than 50% of the recorded music market.

EMI will contribute roughly 50,000 digitized tracks off the bat to Pressplay, which plans to launch before year’s end, and EMI will add more gradually after the service’s consumer rollout, said Pressplay topper Andy Schuon. Among the top acts in EMI’s stable are Janet Jackson, Lenny Kravitz and Radiohead.

“The more major music companies we have in the fold the better,” Schuon said. “This fills in a lot of the blanks from the top-200 charts across every genre” in Pressplay’s offering.

EMI, which will not get equity in Pressplay from the pact, remains a 20% partner and content contributor in MusicNet, an online music subscription firm also backed by Bertelsmann, Zomba Music, AOL Time Warner and RealNetworks. MusicNet is also set to bow before the end of 2001.

Move solidifies EMI’s position as one of the most receptive of the majors to working with new technologies and distribution methods — including some, like CD-burning services, from which rival majors have shied away over copyright concerns.

“This is exactly the way it should be,” said EMI senior VP and head of new technology Jay Samit. “If you had a service that had all the content, then you’d have a walled garden, and the artist and consumer would get nothing.”

Deal could also help assuage concerns from U.S. and European regulatory bodies, which are looking into whether MusicNet and Pressplay will have an unfair dominance over the nascent digital distribution market.

For its part, MusicNet also welcomed the deal. “This shows that the labels will be looking to license their catalogs to other parties in order to offer the broadest possible selection of music to consumers,” strategic adviser Richard Wolpert said in a statement.

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