HITS Daily Double
Dubbed Sony Connect, the service will offer some 500,000 tracks at the now de rigueur price of 99 cents per track and $9.95 per album. More to the point, the service is intended to work with Sony electronics.


Hopes Digital Service Will “Connect”
With Music Fans
Ah, January—the crisp air, the sense of renewal… the barrage of technology press releases from the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas.

But even with numerous large tech players making announcements, the news that the U.S. division of Sony Corp. will launch a paid download service is the biggie of the moment.

Dubbed Sony Connect, the service will offer some 500,000 tracks at the now de rigueur price of 99 cents per track and $9.95 per album. More to the point, the service is intended to work with Sony electronics; the company is launching several new music gadgets simultaneously.

New-media veteran and former EMI exec Jay Samit, as General Manager, will manage day-to-day operations of the service under the SCA umbrella.

"Digital music distribution is still in the early stages of development," said Mr. Samit. "Because of Sony’s strong brand, terrific hardware, and experience with content creation through its entertainment businesses, we are in the unique position to offer consumers an easy-to-use, affordable service that is compatible with the broadest number of devices. As Sony is already the clear leader in the portable audio market, the goal of the Connect service is to empower music lovers to enjoy music in more ways than ever before. Now when do I get my free big-screen Wega?"

"Sony is committed to creating entertainment services where digital content can be securely distributed and enjoyed," added Sony Broadband Entertainment Exec VP and Chief Strategy Officer Robert S. Wiesenthal. "The Connect music service is an important component of Sony’s overall digital strategy in the United States, which is ultimately to replace hamburgers with tuna sushi in every American kitchen."

The new Connect service will come to market in phases. After a series of test trials for a limited number of users, it will officially launch in the spring of 2004. Upgraded software with more flexibility, features and tighter integration with Sony products will be released in the summer of 2004. Sony Connect then plans to upgrade the service and the software continually for use with additional Sony products, as well as devices from other manufacturers. Consumers will receive information about the Connect service when they purchase a new Sony compatible device.

Connect will vend music in the ATRAC format, a higher-quality audio codec than MP3, and Sony is unveiling devices that play ATRAC CDs, as well as a new version of its MiniDisc player.

Like Apple with its iTunes Music Store, Sony will be able use the lure of its download service to sell gear—especially portable players—without having to worry too much about the margins on its content.

Unlike Apple, Sony has a music division that owns a significant portion of that content, and is therefore positioned to keep a bit more of the download money in the company coffers.

Trial offers and promotions will lead the way for the service; Sony already has a pact with United Airlines offering travelers the chance to redeem miles for downloads. Hey, it’s better than another trip to Omaha.

Sony’s announcement follows news earlier this week that tech giant RealNetworks will also open a digital music store.

Sony Music was previously part of a joint venture with UMG to sell music online via the pressplay service, which was later purchased by Roxio and morphed into the new Napster. Speaking of Napster, that service has announced it will vend its software at Target stores.