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FlyTunes powers AccuRadio iPhone streaming

FlyTunes, a free mobile Internet radio service with a dedicated streaming interface for the iPhone and iPod touch, has announced a partnership with AccuRadio.com that will bring the latter’s 320-plus radio channels to iPhone and iPod touch users. FlyTunes will power the new AccuRadio iPhone portal, which will offer stations for rock, pop, jazz, country, classical music, Broadway, and more. “The move to the mobile Internet has been a big question in the broadcasting industry in the past few years,” said FlyTunes CEO Sam Abadir. “Today’s announcement that AccuRadio is bringing over 320 stations to millions of iPhone and iPod Touch owners proves that mobile Internet radio is now ready for prime time—and I expect terrestrial broadcasters to follow this trend shortly.” The new service is available immediately and can be accessed from any iPhone or iPod touch by visiting accuradio.com.

FlyTunes expands Internet radio offerings

FlyTunes, a free mobile Internet radio service with a dedicated streaming interface for the iPhone and iPod touch, has announced it has expanded its offerings to over 160 channels that cover “all genres of music, as well as talk, sports, and local weather.” Music channels added to the service include top rated Radio Paradise, SmoothJazz.com, RauteMusik.fm, and 53 music channels from 181.fm. In the talk category, FlyTunes has added NPR, TheScore.com, and local weather in the top 15 U.S. markets. Launched in January, FlyTunes claims to have signed up “hundreds of thousands” of iPhone and iPod touch users, with the average user listening for eight hours every month. “We’re quite proud that FlyTunes has been so well accepted by iPhone users,” said Sam Abadir, FlyTunes CEO. “In the near future, we’re going to continue to sweeten the experience by adding more great content, new features like time shifting and station personalization, and support for other internet-enabled mobile devices.” FlyTunes is available as a free service for Mac and PC users, as well as for the iPhone and iPod touch. The service is available at flytunes.fm.

Report: Amazon now #2 digital music retailer

Amazon’s MP3 store has become the number two digital music retailer, according to USA Today. The newspaper’s report claims that much of Amazon’s success is attributable to cooperation from the four major record labels, all of which gave Amazon permission to sell their music without DRM, while some have denied Apple the same opportunity. Apple has stated that it hoped to offer 50% of its catalog in DRM-free format by the end of last year, but failed to meet the number. “The labels think Apple has too much influence,” said Phil Leigh, an analyst at Inside Digital Media. Ted Cohen, former EMI executive and managing partner of the Tag Strategic consulting firm, said Amazon’s store “removed some of the stranglehold iTunes had on the market.” iTunes currently offers 2 million songs available without DRM, according to the report, while Amazon offers roughly 4.5 million DRM-free tracks. Despite the labels’ prior claims that DRM-free music sales would encourage piracy, the new offerings do not appear to be hurting online music sales, which are up 26% so far this year, according to Neilsen SoundScan. Pete Baltaxe, director of digital music with Amazon, said “Songs sold without DRM, at high quality, with album art, that’s the best way to get people to buy music instead of stealing it.”

Sony BMG planning iPod-compatible subscription music service

Speaking with German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Sony BMG Music Entertainment CEO Rolf Schmidt-Holtz has said that the company is developing an online music subscription service that would give users unlimited access to its music and would be compatible with all digital music players, including the iPod. Although he did not offer a timeline for the service’s roll out, Schmidt-Holtz did say that the simplest way to charge for the service would be a flat rate fee of $9 to $12 per month, and that it was “even possible that clients could keep some songs indefinitely, that they would own them even after the subscription expired.” Schmidt-Holtz also said the company was in talks with other music distributors but did not clarify with whom, adding that it is possible that mobile phone operators might also be considered as partners, letting their users download songs to their phones. Last week, it was reported that Apple was negotiating with major music labels to offer an unlimited music rental service.

EU pushing for longer royalty windows

European Union Commissioner Charlie McCreevy has said that singers and musicians should earn royalty fees for a longer period of time. McCreevy suggested that the artists should receive royalties for 95 years, nearly double the current 50-year limit, and on par with the royalty period for U.S. artists. “If nothing is done, thousands of European performers who recorded in the late 1950s and 1960s will lose all of their airplay royalties over the next ten years,” said McCreevy, the union’s internal market chief. “These royalties are often their sole pension.” McCreevy also said that the group wants to again look at reforming copyright levies charged on blank discs, data storage, and portable media players. 19 of the EU’s 25 nations charge copyright levies, including Finland, France, and Germany.

Starbucks and AT&T announce Wi-Fi partnership

Starbucks and AT&T have announced plans to offer AT&T Wi-Fi service at more than 7,000 company-operated Starbucks locations in the U.S. The partnership will result in a mix of free and paid Wi-Fi services at Starbucks stores, including two free hours of Wi-Fi access per day for Starbucks Card holders. Starbucks Cards are the company’s refillable gift cards, which are available in various denominations, and cost nothing except for the amount of currency added to the card. AT&T broadband and U-verse internet customers will have unlimited free Wi-Fi access, and AT&T’s remote access services business customers will be able to access the service as well. According to the announcement, AT&T will “soon extend the benefits of Wi-Fi at Starbucks to its wireless customers.”

“People want to stay connected to their world 24/7, and Wi-Fi hot spots, broadband and wireless make that mobility possible,” said Rick Welday, AT&T chief marketing officer, Consumer. “Laptops and smartphones give us the online mobility we crave, and now millions of AT&T and Starbucks customers will get Internet access free from the comfort of their neighborhood Starbucks.”

“Our new relationship with AT&T gives us the opportunity to expand and enhance the range of digital entertainment experiences for our customers as well as our partners, including the continued rollout of the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store at Starbucks,” said Ken Lombard, president, Starbucks Entertainment.

In addition to the free access for qualifying AT&T customers and Starbucks Card holders, tiered access to the AT&T Wi-Fi network will also be offered. Two hours of Wi-Fi access will cost $3.99, while a monthly membership will be available for $19.99, and will include access to any of AT&T’s 70,000 hot spots in 89 countries around the world. AT&T Wi-Fi access at Starbucks will be rolled out on a market-by-market basis, with implementation beginning this spring and finishing by the end of 2008.

Amazon to acquire Audible.com for $300 million

Amazon.com has announced that it has reached an agreement to acquire Audible Inc. for approximately $300 million. Audible.com is the leading online provider of digital spoken word content, and is the preeminent provider of audiobooks for the iTunes Store. “Audible.com offers the best customer experience, the widest content selection and the broadest device compatibility in the industry,” said Steve Kessel, Amazon.com’s senior vice president for worldwide digital media. “Working together, we can introduce more innovations and bring this format to an even wider audience.” “This deal brings together two pioneering companies that share a long history of ceaseless focus on improving the customer experience,” said Donald Katz, founder and chief executive of Audible.com. “We are very excited to be joining a company as innovative as Amazon.com.” Under terms of the agreement, Amazon will make a cash tender offer to purchase all of the outstanding shares of Audible.com for $11.50 per share.

Amazon MP3 to begin international rollout in 2008

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Amazon has announced it will begin an international rollout of its Amazon MP3 DRM-free MP3 digital music store sometime in 2008. Recently, the company announced the addition of music from Sony BMG to Amazon MP3, making it the first digital music store to offer DRM-free songs from all four of the major music labels. “We have received thousands of e-mails from Amazon customers around the world asking us when we will make Amazon MP3 available outside of the U.S. They can’t wait to choose from the biggest selection of high-quality, low-priced DRM-free MP3 music downloads which play on virtually any music device they own today or will own in the future,” said Bill Carr, Amazon.com Vice President of Digital Music. “We are excited to tell those customers today that Amazon MP3 is going international this year.” Amazon did not disclose a specific launch timeline for its individual international sites.

Youth MP3 player market growing, over half use iPod

Use of digital music players is growing among youths, with more than half of those naming iPod as their brand of choice, according to the results of a new study. NPD analyst Anita Frazier, who recently contucted a study called “Kids and Digital Content,” said that “the average age of first use of portable digital music players has declined over the last three years.” According to the study, 31 percent of kids aged 6-10 now use digital music players, and 54 percent of those use an iPod. A majority of those users said they use an iPod nano. Youths aged 2 to 14 who own music players have an average of 125 songs, 10 TV shows and 15 movies on their device, Frazier said. “By third grade, half of the kid population in grade school has an MP3 player,” said Paul Metz, senior VP at C&R Research. Several factors are said to contribute to the proliferation of the players among youths, including hand-me-downs from older family members, more lower-priced, kid-friendly players, and kids’ desire to be more like adults. [via Macworld UK]

Sony BMG to offer DRM-free music through Amazon MP3

Amazon.com has announced that it will be adding music from Sony BMG to its Amazon MP3 DRM-free music store later this month, which will make it the only service to offer DRM-free tracks from all four major labels. “We are excited to offer Amazon MP3 customers DRM-free MP3s from SONY BMG, which represents many of the most popular musicians from the past and present,” said Bill Carr, Amazon.com Vice President for Digital Music.  “Our Amazon MP3 customers will be able to choose from a full selection of DRM-free music downloads from all four major labels and over 33,000 independents that they can play on virtually any music-capable device.”   “We are excited to be working with Amazon as they continue to build new markets for digital music,” commented Thomas Hesse, President of Global Digital Business & U.S. Sales for Sony BMG. “We are constantly exploring new ways of making our music available to consumers in the physical space, over the internet and through mobile phones, and this initiative is the newest element of our ongoing campaign to bring our music to fans wherever they happen to be.” In addition to offering DRM-free music from all four labels, Amazon MP3 also features tracks from more than 33,000 independent labels, and now offers over 3.1 million songs from more than 270,000 artists.

Casio announces iPod-friendly Exilim digital cameras

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Casio has announced plans to introduce four new Exilim compact cameras featuring an iPod-friendly video capture mode that records in the H.264 format with ACC audio, making it easy for users to load their movies into iTunes and onto their iPod and/or iPhone. The new models include the Exilim Card EX-S10, a 10.1-megapixel pocket camera that the company bills as “the world’s smallest and thinnest,” the Exilim Zoom EX-Z80, a small 8.1 megapixel digital camera available in six different colors, and the 10.1-megapixel Exilim Zoom EX-Z200 and EX-Z100, which both offer a wide 28 mm lens and 4x optical zoom. The Exilim Card EX-S10 is expected to ship in February for $250; the Exilim Zoom EX-Z80, Z200, and Z100 are expected in March and will sell for $200, $280, and $330, respectively. [via Imaging Resource]

Sony BMG planning to drop DRM

Sony BMG will become the last of the “big four” music labels to offer its music catalog without digital rights management, according to a BusinessWeek report. Citing people familiar with the matter, the report claims that the company is finalizing its plans, and will begin DRM-free sales sometime in the first quarter, possibly in concert with a Super Bowl promotion involving Sony artist Justin Timberlake, Pepsi, and Amazon. The promotion will kick off Feb. 3 and will offer free distribution of 1 billion songs from all of the major labels through Amazon’s DRM-free MP3 store. In an open letter penned last February, Apple CEO Steve Jobs called on the labels to abandon DRM. Following the letter’s publishing, EMI began DRM-free sales through several services, including the newly-launched iTunes Plus, only to be followed into DRM-free sales by Universal Music Group, who in August revealed plans to sell DRM-free tracks from several online retailers while excluding iTunes. In December, Warner Music Group made its catalog available through Amazon’s DRM-free MP3 service, while joining Universal in what appears to be a boycott of Apple’s own DRM-free iTunes Plus service. It is unclear whether Sony BMG plans to make its music available through iTunes Plus, or whether it will choose to join Warner and Universal by eschewing iTunes for the Amazon MP3 store.

Digital album packaging to improve in 2008

Digital album packaging is set to improve in 2008, adding extras such as more interactive album art, lyrics, liner notes, and more, according to a Reuters report. CD sales continue to outpace those of digital albums, the report claims, in part because the digital versions lack the extras one receives with a physical album purchase. Of those in a position to offer enhanced digital album sales in ‘08, iTunes is the “most likely candidate,” due to its ability to roll out new features simultaneously across both iTunes and iPods. The article also mentions Microsoft’s Zune as another candidate, while stating that Apple may use the enhanced offerings as a way to “make nice” with its label partners.

Apple readying HD Radio push for Macworld

iLounge has learned that Apple plans a push for iTunes Tagging-ready, HD Radio-equipped boomboxes with iPod docks during the mid-January Macworld Expo event in San Francisco, California. Announced in September, iTunes Tagging is a new HD Radio feature designed to further boost iTunes sales by allowing listeners to “Tag” the currently playing song, automatically adding its information to a “Tagged” playlist on the connected iPod. When synced with a computer, the playlist appears in iTunes, making it easy to purchase tagged tracks from the iTunes Store. 

iBiquity Digital, the developer of HD Radio technology, currently offers a special end-to-end Reference Kit for the production of HD Radio receivers with iPod Docks and iTunes Tagging. The kit is available to all licensees of both Apple’s Made For iPod program and iBiquity; iPod accessory manufacturers such as Sony, Griffin Technology, and Cambridge Soundworks have all announced HD Radio products, though none has specifically announced iTunes Tagging support.

Since the announcement of iTunes Tagging, CBS Radio, Clear Channel, Cumulus, Cox, Entercom and Greater Media have all announced that they are in the process of installing iTunes Tagging technology. “We are very pleased with the strong support iTunes Tagging has received from the broadcast radio industry,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s Vice President of iPod Product Marketing. “iTunes Tagging is a great way for local broadcasters to jump into the digital music space and for consumers to easily discover new music on their HD Radio and enjoy it with iTunes and their iPod.” According to a document on iBiquity’s website, “Apple plans to offer participating stations a revenue share for songs referred to and purchased on iTunes,” adding extra incentive for HD Radio broadcasters to adopt iTunes Tagging.

Amazon MP3 adds Warner Music Group Catalog

Amazon MP3 has announced the addition of Warner Music Group’s digital audio catalog to its DRM-free MP3 offerings. Amazon and Warner will also offer products such as album bundles containing exclusive tracks, in addition to a la carte downloads. “Our customers are delighted with our DRM-free MP3 service. We have received thousands of emails from our customers since our September launch thanking us for offering the biggest selection of high-quality MP3 audio downloads which play on virtually any music device they own today or will own in the future,” said Bill Carr, Amazon.com Vice President of Digital Music. “With the addition of great Warner Music Group content, our customers will discover even more of the music they love on Amazon MP3.” Michael Nash, Senior Vice President, Digital Strategy and Business Development for Warner Music Group, said, “Consumers want flexibility with respect to what they can do with music once they purchase it, and we want them to have that flexibility, which is why we’re pleased to offer our artists’ music on Amazon MP3.” Amazon MP3 now offers more than 2.9 million songs from over 33,000 record labels, including DRM-free music from Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and EMI.

RIAA argues against legality of ripped MP3s

In a supplemental brief filed in the case of Atlantic vs. Howell, in which the defendants are being sued for sharing music over KaZaA, attorneys representing the RIAA have argued that music files ripped to computers for personal use, particularly in the MP3 format, are “unauthorized copies.” The brief states: “It is undisputed that Defendant possessed unauthorized copies of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted sound recordings on his computer.  Exhibit B to Plaintiffs’ Complaint is a series of screen shots showing the sound recording and other files found in the KaZaA shared folder on Defendant’s computer on January 30, 2006. Virtually all of the sound recordings on Exhibit B are in the ‘.mp3’ format. Defendant admitted that he converted these sound recordings from their original format to the .mp3 format for his and his wife’s use. The .mp3 format is a ‘compressed format [that] allows for rapid transmission of digital audio files from one computer to another by electronic mail or any other file transfer protocol.’” Previously, in the U.S. Supreme Court, attorneys representing the record companies stated that “it’s perfectly lawful to take a CD that you’ve purchased, upload it onto your computer, put it onto your iPod.” [via Gizmodo]

Universal Music’s Morris, Dupri speak out on iTunes

Recently, two executives from Universal Music Group — CEO Doug Morris, and Island Urban Records (which is owned by UMG) president Jermaine Dupri — have spoken out against Apple, Steve Jobs, and the iTunes ecosystem. Morris, in an interview with Wired, and Dupri, in a blog posting on The Huffington Post.

Morris, who once called MP3 players “repositories for stolen music,” responded to the suggestion that the labels allowed Apple CEO Steve Jobs to create “in effect an Apple Walkman that played only Apple cassettes,” by saying, “We were just grateful that someone was selling online. The problem is, he became a gatekeeper. We make a lot of money from him, and suddenly you’re wearing golden handcuffs. We would hate to give up that income.” This past summer, UMG decided not to renew its long-term iTunes contract, instead offering its catalog on a month-to-month basis, and then announced that it would sell DRM-free tracks through online stores other than iTunes, part of an effort by Morris to lessen Apple’s dominance in the market. Morris is currently working on his “Total Music” initiative, which seeks to join the major labels and other hardware companies to create a new line of devices that offer unlimited music for the life of the device, by adding the cost of the service to the price of the player. Unfortunately, the service will almost certainly require DRM, which may lead to even more illegal music downloads. “Locking things up is actually good for piracy,” says David Pakman, CEO of eMusic.

Dupri, meanwhile, argues that Apple should allow artists to decide whether to sell their album as a whole, or to allow individual songs to be purchased as singles. Dupri suggests that Apple needs the record labels more than they need Apple, stating, “If anything, WE made iTunes… So if we as artists, producers and label executives stand up, those guys at Apple can either cooperate, or have nothing for people to buy and download on their iPods.” He goes on, saying, “...Universal sells one out of every three records. All it’ll take is for Warner Music to say, ‘You know what, I’m with you,’ for us to shut ‘em down. No more iPods! They won’t have nothin’ to play on their players! We can take back the power if we’re willing to sacrifice some sales to make our point.”

New RealPlayer software offers iPod video transfers

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RealNetworks has introduced the latest version of its RealPlayer software, which includes the ability to download and record non-DRM protected videos from “thousands of sites” for playback online or offline. As part of the RealPlayer Plus package, users will be able to transfer these downloaded videos to the iPod nano (with video), iPod classic, and fifth-generation iPod. “Now consumers can use the one-click download functionality to view Web video offline on their PC or transfer video to popular portable media devices like the iPod,” said Harold Zeitz, senior vice president of media software and services at Real. “RealPlayer is one of the most popular applications around the world, and by the end of the month our customers from North America to China will have this one-click video download functionality and the ability to watch videos on the go with their iPods in their own native languages.” Real promises continued development on the player, and plans to add video transfer support for the iPhone and iPod touch in early 2008. RealPlayer is available now as a free download from realplayer.com; the upgrade to RealPlayer Plus, which includes support for iPod video transfers, is available for the one-time cost of $40.

PumpOne announces video trainer series for iPod

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PumpOne, developers of portable personal training programs for the iPod and other portable devices, has announced the launch of PumpOne Video. PumpOne Video is a new trainer series that incorporates exercise video, images & audio coaching to create a “portable personal trainer.” Each PumpOne Video Trainer consists of a series of exercises images, audio tips and video clips demonstrating proper form. Once viewed, the user can then perform the exercise. “For today’s busy person looking to lose weight, gain strength & get in great shape, these video workouts are essential,” says Craig Schlossberg, President of PumpOne. “PumpOne Video mixes individual needs in the most user-friendly format –all accessible on an iPod, nano or iPhone. You can take your complete workout program with you wherever you go.” PumpOne Video Trainers are compatible with the iPod classic, touch, nano (3G), iPhone, and any other device that supports MPEG-4 video, and retail for $19 for 12 workouts (includes both video & image-based trainers).

NBC Universal wanted cut of Apple hardware sales

NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker has said that along with flexible pricing experimentation, the company was seeking a cut of Apple’s hardware sales during iTunes contract negotiations. Speaking at an event organized by Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, Zucker said “We wanted to take one show, it didn’t matter which one it was, and experiment and sell it for $2.99. We made that offer for months and they said no,” Zucker said. “Apple sold millions of dollars worth of hardware off the back of our content and made a lot of money,” he added. “They did not want to share in what they were making off the hardware or allow us to adjust pricing.” NBC Universal, in partnership with Fox, today launched a public beta of the Hulu.com video service. Responding to a separate question, Zucker said that “Apple has destroyed the music business. If we don’t take control on the video side, they’ll do the same” to video.

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