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Thu, Mar 15, 2001 - Page 18 News List

New online music service to face tough competition

INTERNET Although Sony, which owns the site, has high hopes for their new venture, analysts warn rampant piracy will present a major challenge to its operations

By Tim Culpan  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Online music site PlanetMG.com was launched in Taiwan yesterday, bringing with it Sony's vision for secure, paid music downloads.

A division of Sony Marketing Asia-Pacific, PlanetMG uses Sony's proprietary ATRAC3 compression technology for secure music downloads and piracy prevention.

Visitors to the bilingual site can sample songs for free but will need to pay US$1.99 to download tracks that can then be played on a PC or ATRAC3-compatible MP3 player. Most non-Sony MP3 players are unable to play ATRAC3-encoded songs. "It makes sense for Sony to have a site to allow online access to music sales and promotions," said Paul Tan (陳保華), regional business development manager at PlanetMG.

But Tan also recognized that the company will face an uphill battle trying to compete with a burgeoning piracy problem in Taiwan.

"There's a lot of work to do, it's a tough business," he said.

PlanetMG was first launched in its home base Singapore in October last year before spreading to Hong Kong and Australia. Taiwan is its largest market to date.

While the Taiwan market may be bigger, the competition is likely to be fierce, less so from legitimate businesses than the multiple channels for pirated music.

According to record industry body the International Federation of the Phonographics Industry (IFPI), piracy cost Taiwan's music industry US$100 million dollars last year with illegal MP3s becoming a growing problem.

A six-month police crackdown on piracy last year saw 20 percent of cases coming from university campuses where students were caught downloading MP3s from sites such as Napster and it's local counterpart, Kuros.

But PlanetMG is confident that its pay-for-use model will find success in Taiwan.

"It's just a question of time before people start to pay for online music," said Nicholas Koh (許文祥), regional manager at PlanetMG.

Yesterday's launch saw much discussion of Napster and the popularity of online music while the company kept pointing to the illegality of Napster and it's numerous colleagues.

In addition to a download service, Tan said the company is working on subscription-based service that will allow listeners to get streaming audio for a flat fee.

The site features a large array of Taiwan content, with fans being able to download songs from Sony's top selling local artist, Coco Lee (李玟).

While the site is still dominated by Sony, independent labels such as Taiwan's Crystal Records (水晶唱片) have signed up to sell songs and promote their artists.

Ren Chiang-da (任將達), managing director of Crystal Records, said he doesn't expect many sales from the site.

"I don't think it will help a lot. It's just a symbol," he said.

"But its a good way to promote our artists," he added.

The site currently has around 400 songs in its catalogue, with around half being from Sony's own artists. Tan expects another 300 songs to be added by the end of the month with further additions from Sony's library as they become encoded and catalogued.

As well as being a stand-alone site, PlanetMG has partnered with local broadband ISP GigaMedia Ltd (和信超媒體). GigaMedia will integrate Planet's content into its own lifestyle sites while providing surfers a chance to buy online through PlanetMG.

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