December 22, 2005 11:52 AM PST

Verizon plans to offer mobile music downloads

Verizon Wireless is expected to introduce a music download service next month that will let subscribers purchase music wirelessly over their mobile phones and transfer songs between their phones and Windows PCs, CNET News.com has learned.

The new service, called V Cast Music, is scheduled to become available on Jan. 16 at Circuit City, Verizon Wireless stores and Verizon's Web site, according to documents seen by CNET News.com. It would allow customers to browse, preview, download and play music from a mobile handset and a computer.

The service is designed to offer songs from artists on major music labels, including Warner Music Group, EMI Music, Universal Music Group and Sony BMG. Verizon expects to offer more than a million songs by spring, the documents said.

A Verizon representative declined to discuss further details before a Jan. 5 press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The press conference is scheduled to feature Verizon Chief Executive Denny Strigl, and Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer is expected to attend. Details still to come include those for service and song prices, handsets that support the service and the number of songs those devices will hold.

Verizon's entry into the music download market was expected and comes amid a broad push by a mobile phone companies to challenge Apple's success with iTunes and the iPod. Sprint Nextel introduced a similar service in October with the Sprint Music Store. Motorola took a different route. It teamed up with Apple to unveil an iTunes-compatible phone, the Rokr, in September.

Verizon hopes to stand out from the crowd with a feature it claims is unique. Through a partnership with Microsoft, the V Cast Music service allows customers to transfer music between Windows PCs and mobile phones. Verizon says it's the only wireless services company in the U.S. to offer that feature. Customers also need Windows Media Player 10 to access the V Cast Music store.

Verizon launched the first version of its V Cast program early last year, tapping Microsoft technology to help run a streaming video service of much better quality than anything previously on the market in the United States.

That initial deal helped solidify a relationship between the two companies that would be extended with the new V Cast Music service. The music service marks another critical step forward for Microsoft into the mobile infrastructure market, where it had initially been slow to gain traction.

Delivering music over mobile phone networks has been one of the biggest topics of discussion in the music industry over the past year, with services in Europe and Asia launching ahead of those in the U.S. Warner Music owner Edgar Bronfman even told attendees at a recent mobile phone industry gathering that they were at "the music industry's most important conference."

Record labels have looked at the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent around the world on ring tones--the snippets of songs that substitute for a conventional phone ring--and seen that as ample evidence that consumers are likely to purchase music over the phones as well.

But label executives are also eager to jump-start a viable alternative to Apple Computer's iTunes. The music companies have chafed against the power that Apple's Steve Jobs has acquired to set industry-wide prices and policies for digital music, and some executives hope to see that diminish as the phone companies gain market share.

It's still an open question whether consumers in the U.S. will react as eagerly to music services on the phone as have their counterparts overseas, however.

GartnerG2 analyst Mike McGuire said his firm's research data hasn't shown a groundswell in demand for full iTunes-like capabilities on the phones.

"We've seen a lot of interest in listening to music, but not necessarily in downloading it over the air," he said.

Pricing will also be a critical issue. The Sprint store, which launched in October, charges $2.50 per song, compared to the 99 cent average at iTunes and other PC-based stores. Verizon representatives would not discuss pricing, but documents indicate it is leaning toward Sprint pricing. Like Sprint, the company plans to deliver two copies of each song with every download--one for the phone and one for the PC.

Phone companies and labels have defended that kind of price premium in the past, saying that consumers will pay extra for instant gratification and convenience, as opposed to waiting until a PC is handy. Analysts have said that consumers in the U.S., who are more accustomed to Internet and PC-based services than their Asian and European counterparts, may be more willing to compare the prices directly to those offered by iTunes and other online rivals, however.

Song capacity is another key factor. Sprint's service lets customers store up to 1,000 songs on certain Sanyo and Samsung phones with the purchase of a 1GB memory card. Motorola's iTunes-compatible Rokr holds just 100 songs.

See more CNET content tagged:
Verizon V-Cast Music, Verizon Communications, Warner Music Group Corp., mobile phone, music download

9 comments

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no thanks
Verizon allows you to move the music to a PC huh? This is the same company that disables bluetooth in its phones. Pfft.

No thanks Verizon, I just want a cell phone to make calls and check voice mail. I don't need your expensive add ons.
Posted by R. U. Sirius (745 comments )
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good idea
i think that this is a good idea for verizon. i'll be checking that out soon
Posted by val31 (37 comments )
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price per song
a little high for me
Posted by ErvServer (25 comments )
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Cost
The price is way high. Besides worms are starting to appear in cell phones. No thanks!
Posted by paulsecic (298 comments )
Link Flag
Overpriced songs loaded with DRM - No thanks!
I'll simply use iTunes.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Verizon is BRILLIANT!!!
$2.50 per song (estimated)?!?
You know your kids aren't gonna wait 10 minutes to get to a
record store and pay $12 for a CD when they can download a
crappy 128 Kbs version of the same CD for $25 or so!!!
Especially if they don't pay their own cell phone bills. Why spend
their money when mommy and daddy can pay twice as much for
it!
The phone Co's have already pushed text mesaging as a way for
kids to keep in touch with their friends (at $.10 per message).
Now it's ring tones, and music downloads for $.99 to $2.50 per
download (plus a hefty sum per Kb downloaded I'm sure)!
Adults don't do this kind of crap, kids do, and this kind of stuff
is aimed at them.
Cell phones... The new "Joe Camel"!!!
Posted by fear_and_loathing (82 comments )
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