Music debate, not about formats anymore

The music industry is being forced to recognise the impact of music on the Web and while it gets to grips with the technology, IT companies are falling over themselves to deliver the 'best' distribution model for the coming revolution.

Among those vying for attention are e-commerce firms offering end to end solutions for record companies desperate to deliver music online. MODE (Music On DEmand) is a European company hoping to tempt the major labels.

The company's CEO Iain Clark is concerned that a US-centric solution will be difficult to implement in Europe. "There are issues of copyright, the problems of multiple territories and the importance of local repertoire to consider," he says. According to Clark the MODE technology is perfect for the European market.

Clark is convinced the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) will endorse no single format. "SDMI is trying to establish standards for hardware players. Beyond that they will develop standards for security and watermarking but it is unlikely it will recommend a single format," he says.

Record companies are also refusing to endorse any one standard. BMG Entertainment -- home of Whitney Houston and TLC -- believes the emerging formats will have to live together. Internet and new media manager Rob Wells sums up the attitude of many: "MODE will be one of many solutions available. Once they all conform to SDMI standards it will be down to record companies and retailers to decide what solution they choose."

One music industry insider predicts the clamour over formats will become irrelevant as the market becomes saturated with devices like Creative's Nomad . These players will be capable of playing any format. "With everything going digital it doesn't matter how it is carried," he said.

Jollyon Benn, of the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) agrees but is keen to stress the importance of protecting copyright: "The most crucial thing will be standardisation. There needs to be something, like the SDMI initiative underpinning that standardisation."

Artists keen to jump on the digital music bandwagon include Dave Stewart and David Bowie who, according to BMG's Wells have both dabbled in Internet delivery. While MP3 remains the format of choice for rebel artists like the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy , few mainstream artists have chosen the format. Wells believes they are waiting for the SDMI to resolve copyright issue and predicts a glut of major artists joining in the digital beanfeast later this year.

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