Sony Music online with Microsoft tech

Conglom to use 4.0 format to digitally distribute music

HOLLYWOOD — In a major boost for Microsoft, Sony Music Entertainment will announce today it will use the tech giant’s Windows Media Technologies 4.0 format to offer digitally distributed music online.

It is the first time Sony Music has publically admitted it will allow its artists’ music to be digitally downloaded, and is not merely testing the waters.

Sony’s move follows Universal Music Group’s endorsement of Inter Trust’s technology, and significantly raises the stakes in the race to get the consumer, as well as the music industry, to pick a delivery format and start using it.

Also at stake is a piece of the $2.3 billion pie that online music sales are expected to account for by 2003.

Sony execs said Tuesday the timing of their announcement is unrelated to the recent flurry of alliances announced by record companies and tech firms, and is the result of an ongoing relationship which recently gelled into a pact.

Ironically, BMG Entertainment, the conglom which has been leading the music industry’s move to go online, has yet to publicly endorse a digital delivery format.

Its execs have been working closely with many of the major tech companies to find a format which they believe protects artists’ copyrights. EMI recently en-tered the digital distribution fray and has yet to back a tech firm’s play.

Copyrights protected

“We believe the Microsoft technology when it actually goes into final version…will allow the protection of our artists’ copyrights,” Fred Ehrlich, senior veep and general manager of new technology and business development for Sony Music Entertainment, told Daily Variety.

Sony will make product available once Microsoft’s tests are complete and a final version is released in the summer.

If the timetable holds, it would put Sony ahead of the other major music congloms by making its music available for downloading.

The deal also gives Microsoft a leg up in the fight for the attention of consumers, in addition to the 35 million or so web denizens who have already used its 3.0 streaming media format.

“Consumers don’t have to think twice about us,” said Wil Poole, senior director marketing and business development for Microsoft’s streaming media division. “We have a system that works, is easy for consumers and offers great audio quality.”

The Microsoft alliance will not preclude Sony from using proprietary technology developed by its parent or other formats in development.

It is still involved with Warner Music in the so-called Madison Project which will download music in a closed test later next month.