With Universal deal, Listen.com now boasts Big Five

Listen.com Inc. said Monday that it signed a licensing deal with Universal Music Group (UMG), making its Rhapsody digital music subscription service the first to boast content from all five major labels.

Under the nonexclusive deal, UMG will make its digital catalog available to Rhapsody subscribers in the U.S. only, a UMG spokeswoman said.

Listen has already sealed deals with EMI Recorded Music Inc., Sony Music Entertainment Inc., BMG Entertainment Inc. and Warner Music Group, giving it the lead in the race to provide legitimate major label music online. The San Francisco company, which launched last year, dubs its service a "celestial jukebox," offering listeners radio and music on-demand for under US$10 a month.

But although Rhapsody is the first to woo all Big Five labels to licensing deals, its full catalog service does not offer the digital download or CD burning capabilities which are considered key in luring listeners from free file-swapping services to more legitimate offerings. Ever since the downfall last year of rogue music-swapping service Napster Inc., a handful of players have been gunning to attract consumers to paid subscription services. Few analysts believe they will take off, however, until they provide the breadth of content users are accustomed to seeing on free file-sharing networks.

While major-label backed players MusicNet and Pressplay boast download capabilities, they have yet to cross-license each other, leaving their music catalogs wanting.

Listen's deal with UMG significantly inflates the company's music library, allowing it to immediately offer access to more than 175,000 tracks, from 150,000 previously. Furthermore, more tracks will become available as the company encodes more UMG music, Listen said.

Universal Music Group, a unit of Vivendi Universal SA, represents popular artists such as Eminem, Sheryl Crow and U2.

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Scarlet Pruitt

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