MusicNet adds Britney, Backstreet Boys

MusicNet, the digital music distribution company formed by AOL Time Warner Inc., Bertelsmann AG, EMI Group PLC and RealNetworks Inc., has signed a fourth record label to provide music to the service, RealNetworks Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Rob Glaser announced Tuesday at the Plug In conference here.

MusicNet's new partner, Zomba Recording Corp., is the world's largest independent record label and features such artists as Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and N'SYNC.

Zomba made a cash investment in MusicNet, making it a minority partner, MusicNet said.

Rushing the stage to the tune of Spears' "Oops...I Did it Again," Glaser, who is also interim CEO of MusicNet, made the announcement while showing a demonstration of the long-awaited subscription service to the audience at Jupiter Media Metrix Inc.'s Plug In forum in New York.

"This is a tangible thing, this is not a pipe dream," Glaser said of MusicNet, which is due to be launched later this quarter.

In another announcement, Glaser said that RealNetworks will be providing music and video content for the Nokia Corp. 9210 Communicator multimedia mobile that is now shipping in Europe and Asia.

Glaser was shortly followed on the conference room stage by rival music honcho Edgar Bronfman, Jr., executive vice chairman of Vivendi Universal SA. Bronfman's company backs competing online music subscription service Pressplay, along with Sony Music Entertainment Inc.

The tension between the two companies and executives was clear, especially given that MusicNet sealed a deal with Napster Inc., the upstart music download site that Vivendi Universal has battled in court for copyright infringement.

"Nothing Universal has done or I have done has put us in (consumers') best-loved category in terms of fighting Napster," Bronfman said.

Regardless, Bronfman is optimistic about the launch of Pressplay, slated for the first half of September.

"It's not enough to win the legal war. At the end of the day we need to go to market and give people an alternative (to Napster)," Bronfman said.

The executive conceded, however, that the online music war would "be a little messy for a year or two."

Jupiter's Plug.In forum ends Tuesday.

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