Service first with free on-demand music sans ads

Music streaming site Rdio has launched a free version of its service, making it the first to offer free on-demand music without ads.

The free tier, which bows today, will operate in concert with Rdio’s existing paid tiers. Users can sign up for a free account through Facebook or by supplying an email address and will not be required to supply credit card info or download software to begin listening.

Users will see an onscreen meter denoting how much free music is available to them each month. Rdio declined to disclose precisely how many hours will be available.

The move comes at a busy time for the digital music streaming world, which was shaken up during the summer by the U.S. debut of Spotify, the first on-demand service to offer a free option. Further disruption arrived with Facebook’s Open Graph platform, which allows users to share streaming music activity through their profiles but requires the user’s friends to subscribe to the same service to sample the content.

Last month, streaming service MOG unveiled a free, ad-supported tier of its own, and longtime on-demand player Rhapsody announced a 30-day “free trial” period for its offering. (Rhapsody also acquired Napster on Monday.)

Rdio’s lack of an ad-supported model for its free service is unique. While Spotify is betting on converting many of its free users to paid subscribers, the company does accrue some revenue from advertising. Rdio CEO Drew Larner noted that while the service’s gratis option extends well beyond typical trial periods, the free ride does not continue indefinitely, and free users will be asked to subscribe eventually.

Created by Skype and Kazaa founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, Rdio was launched in 2010 and has a catalog of 12 million songs.

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