MusicNet to distribute songs in Windows Media format

Online music service MusicNet said Thursday that it is offering its entire catalog of more than 350,000 songs in Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media 9 Series file format, giving the software giant greater presence in the booming digital music market.

The deal underscores digital media companies' desire to get a strong footing in the online music industry, which has been dominated so far by renegade peer-to-peer (P-to-P) file swapping services.

Apple Computer Inc.'s recent success with its iTunes Music Store, which boasts more than 2 million downloads since its launch in April, demonstrates the potential of legitimate players, however.

Although MusicNet has had support from traditional Microsoft rivals -- the service is currently distributed through America Online Inc. (AOL) and has recently received funding from digital media competitor RealNetworks Inc. -- the deal with Microsoft will allow MusicNet to offer music in multiple file formats.

This agreement marks the first time a digital music service has offered multiple file formats, according to a statement released by MusicNet President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Alan McGlade.

For Microsoft, the agreement allows it to further propagate its file format, and reach digital music consumers, despite MusicNet's close relationship with AOL. In fact, Microsoft and AOL have recently decided to ease their rivalries and work together to deliver digital media to consumers, after settling a private antitrust suit late last month.

MusicNet offers music for streaming, downloading and burning online, with content from the Big Five labels as well as independent record companies.

The service's main competitor, Pressplay, was acquired by Roxio Inc. last month. Roxio has said that it intends to use the service as a foundation for the relaunch of fallen song swapping service Napster.

MusicNet is hopeful that by offering multiple file formats, it can get a leg up on the competition, however.

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