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MSN Carefully Relaunching UK Music Service With Downloads, Streams

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MSN UK is relaunching its music downloads offering on an in-house platform, seven months after it was knocked offline by Nokia’s decision to get OD2 out of the white-label download store game.

There are two aspects to the new service on MSN Music, both of them tentative

Download-to-own (public beta): £7.99 for 10 “credits”, where one credit buys 10 singles or one album (in other words, £0.79 per track). Tracks will be DRM-free Windows Media Audio (WMA) format, with MP3 planned to “progressively replace” WMA.

Streaming (closed beta): Offered for free in-page with visual display ads, no audio ads; but so far only to a few thousand invited guests.

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) has secured “about a million” tracks, including those from all four majors, with other labels added “as and when we can”, MSN UK executive producer Peter Bale told paidContent:UK.

MSN will be pleased to have its downloads reinstated after OD2’s exit, but the decision not to launch in MP3 at a time when many pay-for services have gone for the format and the hesitance around free streaming make the launch appear unfinished…

Bale said MSN wants to test both the technology and the business case for streaming: “Streaming is incredibly interesting to everyone at the moment, but there is a certain cost in providing it.

We have to explore the business model for streaming, explore the demand for it. It’s about not making promises we can’t fulfill – this is a tactical step to plug a gap we had in MSN Music service, but not go all guns blazing.”

Any new music service is likely to attract Spotify comparisons from some sections of the press, and MSN Music also relaunches amid new-wave services ISP like Sky Songs and Virgin Media‘s upcoming package. But discovery will be important, Bale said: “The key is that it’s integrated with our music content service – so there will be a much higher level of integrated with the stories and pictures on our MSN Music site.”

He added he new platform build can be traced to Microsoft’s Musiwave acquisition, now part of its entertainment and devices division: “We’ve built this on an in-house Microsoft platform, the same one that supports Zune in the States.” But nothing should be read in to the Zune connection.