November 14, 2003 10:47 AM PST

CNET to buy, retune MP3.com

Internet media company CNET Networks announced Friday that it is acquiring the assets of online music distributor MP3.com.

San Francisco-based CNET Networks said it has signed a definitive agreement with Vivendi Universal Net USA to acquire the assets of MP3.com, with the deal scheduled to close in December. Terms of the transaction were not released. CNET Networks operates an array of technology-oriented Web sites including CNET.com, Builder.com, GameSpot, mySimon.com, News.com and ZDNet.

News of the deal first surfaced in an e-mail sent by MP3.com to its customers and posted to its site late Thursday. In the e-mail, MP3.com informed users that its Web site would no longer be accessible in its current form and that CNET Networks plans to reintroduce the music site with new features and services. MP3.com said that after the site's removal, all of the online content on its servers will be deleted and promised that previously submitted musical works in its possession will be destroyed.

MP3.com was once the standard-bearer for digital visionaries looking to the Internet to undermine the power of the traditional music business. By offering free online storage space and access to any band, signed or not, the company and founder Michael Robertson hoped to create a new distribution mechanism that would expand how people got music and what kind of music they listened to.

Robertson did succeed in winning the enmity of the major record labels, who sued the company for tens of millions of dollars when he launched a service that allowed people online access to music they owned. But the rise of Napster and file-swapping did as much to eclipse MP3.com's star.

With free access to major label and other music available through Napster, people flocked to it and other trading networks instead. Robertson ultimately sold the MP3.com property to Vivendi Universal, which maintained the unsigned artist database but used the company's technology to launch Pressplay, the digital music subscription service co-owned with Sony Music Entertainment.

After a corporate shakeup, and the realization of mounting debt, Vivendi lost interest in maintaining money-losing digital assets. It sold Pressplay to Roxio to let it run Roxio's new Napster service. MP3.com is one of the last music assets to go, following the sale of digital music company Emusic to a New York investment firm last month.

CNET Networks representatives said the company aims to augment its position as a provider of interactive content through the acquisition, with plans to enter the online music market through MP3.com. However, a company representative said the revamped site would not compete with music download services such as Napster. Instead, the company plans to turn MP3.com into a source of information for digital music.

CNET Networks believes MP3.com can attract an audience similar to visitors of its GameSpot Web site, which features video game reviews and downloads. The company did not announce a timeframe for its planned relaunch of MP3.com but said it is interested in connecting with artists and record companies that have previously distributed their music via the site.

CNET Networks is the publisher of News.com.

 

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