MSN/AmEx Debut Online Music Hub

Microsoft Corp.'s MSN and American Express on Monday launched a jointly created alternative music hub targeting young professionals. Dubbed "In the Mix," the content on the co-branded alternative music destination is designed to attract professionals between the ages of 25 and 35--the target demographic for the American Express Blue card.

Gayle Troberman, MSN brand solutions director, noted that as part of the agreement, MSN created the entire "In the Mix experience" with Blue for American Express' target demographic in mind. "Blue is a young professional audience," she said, noting that the median age of online music buyers is 28. As young professionals spend more time on their PCs, Troberman said it's clear that digital music is becoming a more prominent part of their lives.

"In the Mix" is sponsored by Blue for American Express and developed and hosted by MSN. The site features articles, album release news, and genre-specific content including music videos, custom playlists, feature artist exclusives, and of course, music downloads. A set of featured songs called the "Blue 50" includes the 50 most popular alternative songs, as determined by the MSN and AmEx Blue editorial teams. Visitors to "In the Mix" can influence which artists and songs make the "Blue 50" by participating in a weekly poll.

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As part of the sponsorship agreement, American Express Blue, Delta SkyMiles, and American Express Charge card holders will receive a free music download at MSN Music for every 10 purchased songs. The offer lasts until November 8, 2005; song credits are redeemable until June 30, 2006.

Also, until May 8, 2006, those who apply for a Blue card from American Express through the Web will be eligible to receive 10 free music downloads at MSN Music. Credits will be rewarded upon card approval.

New data from Ipsos Insight indicates that the digital music audience is growing. In the first half of 2004, the number of users who downloaded paid music increased 150 percent, according to Ipsos' quarterly digital music study. The market research firm estimates that 20 million Americans have now paid to download music.

MSN's Troberman said it's still "pretty early" days for paid online music services. "Consumers are only just moving digital music en masse," she said, adding that the service with the best mainstream functionality will ultimately win the battle for consumer usage. MSN will be looking to leverage its considerable user base of 350 million unique visitors per month to drive greater share to MSN Music, which just launched on October 12.

Apple's iTunes currently dominates the fledgling market, with an estimated 70 percent share. according to the NPD Group. Troberman pointed out that iTunes corners what is still a very small market. "The idea of keeping things separate and proprietary will be a difficult proposition going forward," she added.

MSN Music files are compatible with any Windows Media-enabled device; according to Troberman, this includes over 70 different portable music devices. However, these devices are not compatible with Apple's iPod or Apple iTunes music files.

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