Universal trials free broadband video downloads

They'll be free for a while, but questions remain as to whether consumers will pay to watch a music video

Music fans with broadband access are being targeted by Universal Music Group, which launched a new download site Wednesday. For a four-month trial period, Musicuwant.com will give users free access to enhanced music videos.

To get access to the service, users need a high-speed Internet connection such as DSL, cable-modem, T1 or T3. Universal has added flash animations, photography and new images clips to existing videos to create new streamed multimedia content, and they plan to use the trial period to measure how interested music lovers are in music video streaming. Fans of Hanson, the pop group who are signed to Universal, can see interviews with the band as well as watching a special feature. The Universal portfolio also includes Shania Twain, Guns'n'Roses and Pavarotti.

Andy Strickland, editor of dotmusic.com, is sceptical as to whether there is a market for Musicuwant.com's video streaming service, given how easy it is to access free pop videos through TV and the Internet at the moment. "It all comes down to the question of cost, and how much content is available. Users will probably pay a monthly subscription charge, permitting them to access as many videos as they like. However, with four MTV channels and VH1 on TV, and several Web sites that already offer free videos, I think it unlikely that people are going to be prepared to pay," he said.

Universal, which is still involved in legal wrangles with MP3.com, began selling songs over the Web earlier this month. Strickland believes that, rather than trying to sell their material on the Web themselves, the large music publishers should license the online rights of their collections to third parties with established Web presence, such as his own company. "Dotmusic has around one million unique visitors per month, and we're currently negotiating with publishers such as Universal with a view to signing a licensing agreement," he said. "However, at the moment there's no agreement as to how much a company should charge for Internet distribution rights, because you have start-ups who are prepared to spend literally all their money to get their hands on content," he explained.

Strickland expects that we'll start to see music giants like Universal entering into licencing agreements with dot-coms in around six months time.

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