Virgin goes jamming online

Will offer music on request, using heavy-duty distribution technology.

Virgin Entertainment Group -- the parent company of Virgin Megastores -- is to offer downloadable music over the Internet via an online service called Virgin JamCast.

In partnership with U.S. technology company Wavo, Virgin will offer users the chance to listen to and purchase a variety of music and games from major labels and independent artists. The service will be available on the Internet at Jamcast.com as well as on Web-enabled TVs, via set-top boxes.

Unlike other similar services, content will be delivered to users on request. Consumers choose their favourite music and files are automatically delivered to their PCs. Users who register to the service will receive around 25 music files of their choice every week. If, after browsing the files, the user does not wish to buy, new files sent the following week will write over them.

JamCast employs corporate IP multicasting technology to deliver music. This differs from traditional streaming by delivering information to hundreds of thousands of users simultaneously, theoretically eliminating download time. Wavo says it can also deliver music to television set-top boxes using analogue or digital TV signals.

The service will support a variety of music formats including MP3 and Liquid Audio prompting some to criticise the service for being confusing. But Wavo president Peter White is not worried: "We will provide software to give customers full access to all the tools they need. In the long term, players will support all formats so we don't think there will be confusion," he said.

Virgin e-commerce president Glen Ward hopes the service will make downloading music easier and faster for the consumer. "The service holds great promise for simplifying what traditionally has been a laborious process for downloading music," he said.

The service goes live next month and CDs will be available for between $10 and $15 (£6 and £9).

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