Universal strikes accord with Virgin

Pair to launch unlimited download service

The U.K. music biz has applauded a pioneering move by Universal Music and Virgin Media to partner on an unlimited music download subscription service.

Financial terms and launch date were not disclosed, but the agreement — revealed Monday — has been hailed as beginning a new era for the music business.

The pact will allow Virgin Media’s broadband customers to stream and download as many songs and albums as they like, and transfer those digital files to any device that they want, such as iPods, MP3 players, mobile phones or personal computers.

In contrast to other subscription services, consumers would be able to keep the music for as long as they like.

The cost of a monthly subscription has not been announced, but the service will be tiered, with an entry-level price for customers who download music regularly but don’t want an unlimited service, right up to the full-access, unlimited download level.

Other record labels and music publishers are expected to follow Universal’s lead, meaning Virgin Media customers could soon have access to millions of individual tracks.

As part of the deal, Virgin Media is clamping down on the unauthorized distribution of digital files across its network.

Although the Virgin Media-Universal deal is not the first of its kind — a similar deal was launched in Scandinavia last year — it is certainly the most significant in terms of the size of the market involved.

Its announcement has won plaudits from politicians and industry organizations alike.

“It is very encouraging to see an ISP and a record label working together as creative partners,” said Geoff Taylor, CEO of record label trade body BPI. “The fact that Virgin Media will … tackle persistent illegal downloaders demonstrates that this is a … workable way forward.”