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Four biggies team for online media delivery

EMD is next notch to secure digital distribution

AT&T, BMG Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Matsushita Electric will announce today that they have teamed to develop technology allowing the secure digital delivery of music, video and text, and to test it on a large scale.

The technology, dubbed Electronic Media Distribution (EMD), would allow the storage and retrieval of media on various electronic devices such as personal computers, DVDs and portable digital music devices like the Rio or Nomad.

This cooperative partnership of tech, music and electronics titans is the latest step toward the industry’s goal of providing a technology permitting the secure digital distribution of music on a wide scale. Complicating that objective is the need to design technology that will find favor among both ‘Netizens and technologically challenged fans.

The pact follows BMG’s alliance with Universal Music Group in the newly minted Getmusic.com, a site permitting the purchase of albums by fans and linked to BMG’s established sites.

Bringing in heavyweights

The firms will likely add additional heavyweights from other industries to the Electronic Media initiative (for example, BMG owns a chunk of AOL) with an eye toward creating a technology that can be widely used and is compatible with other formats.

If consumers are forced to pick one format over another, the marketplace could become fragmented.

“The near-term focus of EMD is to build a (technology) solution which we believe is viable, and the far-reaching goals are to build a marketplace that consumers are going to be able to get what they want from it,” Kevin Conroy, senior veep of BMG Entertainment, told Daily Variety.

“Our focus has been to make sure the interests of our company in the areas of programming, e-commerce and digital distribution are well represented. This will help us patiently and proactively accomplish that goal.”

At first blush, the alliance bears some similarities to Project Madison, IBM’s upcoming test of music-downloading technology in a select number of homes in San Diego.

The Madison effort involves all the Big Five record congloms, but it’s a closed-end test designed more to gauge consumers’ taste. The Electronic Media Distribution is a much wider initiative.

Sony and Microsoft recently pacted to improve the software giant’s Windows Media Technologies 4.0 with Reciprocal’s digital rights management protection. They plan to make downloadable music available later this year.

The Electronic Media Distribution effort will give the Secure Digital Music Initiative another potential technology to endorse. The SDMI is a consortium of music companies, tech firms and hardware outfits formed last year to develop an industry standard for downloadable music.