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Microsoft Readies Zune’s International Debut But May Not Happen Until 2010

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With Staci D. Kramer: Yes, Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is moving ahead with plans to take its Zune business international. No, Microsoft isn’t giving out many details. In an interview with, Chris Stephenson, general manager of global marketing for Microsoft’s entertainment business, said “It’s always been part of our ambition to go international.” Stephenson’s comments followed a report by, which cited Microsoft sources as saying the Zune music player would launch in Australia, China, and Europe this fall. The Zune is currently available only in the United States and Canada.

Stephenson said that Microsoft had not moved to introduce the Zune abroad because the company had wanted to focus on the Zune business model first. He said that rights-clearance issues were not a factor, adding that “the labels are very keen” to see Zune grow.

When Microsoft does launch Zune abroad, don’t expect the Zune device to go on sale at the same time that Zune services — like the Zune Marketplace and Zune software — make their international debut. “It doesn’t follow that everything goes to market at the same time,” Stephenson said, emphasizing the importance of what Microsoft now calls the Zune platform. That would mesh with Microsoft’s recent moves to separate its Zune services business from the Zune hardware unit. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has said that Zune services will go beyond the device and the PC to the phone and TV. Presumably, one of those initiatives could debut abroad before the Zune device.

As for the Zune itself, despite considerable chatter to the contrary, Stephenson emphasized that it was not going away: “The Zune device is not dead.”