MTV and Microsoft are teaming up for a new online music service, dubbed Urge, that will offer both songs and videos, directly competing with Apple’s iTunes Music Store. Announced on Tuesday, Urge will offer more than 2 million songs from major and independent labels, as well as MTV Networks programming—which includes MTV, VH1 and CMT—and content original to the store.
Although no details have been announced yet on pricing, MTV Networks tells Playlist that Urge will offer an a la carte subscription plan, with different pricing levels. Urge will launch in 2006, and although there is no firm launch date yet, more details will be forthcoming at the Las Vegas C.E.S. show in January.
MTV Networks also tells Playlist that Urge will offer free promotional music videos. (Currently Apple’s iTunes Music Store sells music videos for $1.99 per download.) However, these will only be available as streaming videos on Urge, meaning users cannot save them to their hard drives or, presumably, portable music players.
According to MTV Networks, Urge will offer a much wider range of music to choose from than can be found on its traditional cable offerings, with a stated goal of helping its users discover new music. In addition pop, rock and country, or whatever band might be the flavor of the week, MTV Spokesperson Jeannie Kedas noted that this could include jazz, blues and other genres not limited to contemporary popular music. The initial press release notes that everything “from alt-country to zydeco” will be available.
MTV Networks parent company Viacom’s venture into the online music vending word will join existing stores by Yahoo!, Napster, and Real Networks, as well as Microsoft, all of which are trying to de-seat the current sales leader, Apple.
The iTunes Music Store owns more than 70 percent of all online music sales, according to figures released this Fall. In fact, according to the NPD Group, Apple is now one of the ten overall leading music retailers in the United States, selling more music than Borders, Tower Records, or Sam Goody in the third quarter of 2005.
Yet whereas it once had the online market largely to itself, Apple faces increasing competition from other online vendors, many of which, like MTV, are offering subscription-based plans rather than Apple’s pay-per-download model.
Subscription services are akin to renting music, and allow users to pay a monthly fee to download tracks to authorized machines, including both PCs and some portable media players. Often, the number of downloads are unlimited, yet once a subscription expires, for whatever reason, that music becomes unplayable.
Many analysts have called for Apple to release a subscription plan, yet as long as it continues to dominate the online music market, others
note that there is no compelling reason for it to do so. To date, no subscription services are compatible with the Apple iPod.