MTV, RealNetworks Merging Digital Music Stores?

MTV Networks and RealNetworks Inc. will merge their online digital music stores in the latest attempt to reduce Apple Inc.'s hold on the music download market, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday morning.

MTV has scheduled a news conference concerning online music for 11:00 AM ET Tuesday, but company representatives declined to comment on the Journal's report, which cited unnamed sources.

Verizon Wireless Inc. and Vodafone Group PLC will distribute the new alliance's content for mobile devices, the paper reported.

MTV Networks, owned by Viacom Inc., already runs Urge, its own music download service. MTV partnered with Microsoft Corp. on Urge, which launched in May 2006. RealNetworks runs Rhapsody, a subscription service which offers access to its entire catalog for a monthly fee and also sells individual songs.

It was unclear what changes would be made to the Urge or Rhapsody services, both of which were still running on Tuesday morning.

In other online music news, Wal-Mart said it will sell MP3s on its Web site free of DRM (digital rights management) technology, which means tracks should play on competing multimedia players such as the iPod and Microsoft's Zune.

Wal-Mart will continue to sell songs in Windows Media Audio, Microsoft's proprietary format. That format will be cheaper, at $.88 per track, but encoded at 128K bps (bits per second). MP3s will be better quality, at 256K bps.

Pricing for the higher-quality MP3s will be US$.94 per track or $9.22 per album, Wal-Mart said. Music will come from major labels including Universal Music Group and EMI Group PLC, with artists including The Rolling Stones and Coldplay, Wal-Mart said.

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