Universal Music Group Will Go Online Soon

One of the music industry's "big five" will soon begin offering its wares as digital downloads. Seagram, Ltd. chief executive Edgar Bronfman, speaking on Friday, March 3 at the Jupiter Consumer Online forum in New York, said his Universal Music Group will start selling music online this spring.

Seagram's CEO sees the Internet as the panacea for anything that might ail the music industry—despite last year's record sales, only a tiny fraction of which took place over the Net. "We need to stop thinking about selling round things," Bronfman stated. "In the future, we'll be selling songs, albums, multi-song packages, compilations, services, subscriptions, streaming, and on and on."

Universal, 1999's most successful label, is apparently confident that its download technology is relatively immune to hacker attacks, and will make part of its more than one-million-song catalog available in secure digital form in the coming weeks. The online race has been fueled by the recent announcement of the merger of AOL and Time Warner, and the subsequent announcement of the merger of Warner Music with EMI, one of the last large independent music companies.

Music fans will be able to hear Universal tunes with the popular RealJukebox player. Universal's digital format will comply with guidelines established by the Secure Digital Music Initiative, according to a Seagram spokesman. Seagram is pushing its online effort ahead of an announced six-month rollout plan announced in January. Many other music companies are accelerating their Internet moves.

"The record companies have definitely taken a different attitude in the last few weeks," commented Emusic.com president Gene Hoffman. Despite the enthusiastic publicity, he and industry analysts expect Universal's initial online offerings will be meager due to copyright concerns. Forrester Research analyst Dan O'Brien agreed: "The fine print not usually announced is that only a small subset of the label's catalog is actually available online. They still think of the Internet as more of a promotional medium than a true distribution channel."