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MTV steps up Net music initiative

Further cementing its strategy for attracting online music lovers, MTV Networks Online details plans for its online music division, MTV Interactive, formerly dubbed the "Buggles Project."

Further cementing its strategy for attracting online music lovers, MTV Networks Online today detailed plans for its online music division, which will be called MTV Interactive and will be run by former SonicNet president Nicholas Butterworth.

The new company, which will include the MTV.com, VHI.com, and SonicNet brands, also will incorporate technology from Imagine Radio, which MTV parent Viacom acquired in February and has been building upon under an initiative it called the "Buggles Project," according to the company.

Nicholas Butterworth, former president of SonicNet, was named president of MTVi, the company said.

The move is part of Viacom's ongoing push online, which also includes plans for a children's hub site, code-named "Project Nozzle." That site is expected to launch in the fall. Viacom is planning to spin off both MTVi and the children's site, executives have said.

Viacom is one of several large media companies--including Time Warner, Sony, and News Corporation--trying to expand their offline brand recognition on the Web. Doing so allows them to gain more knowledge of their audience, which in turn lets them market more directly to consumers.

In addition to moves online by major media firms, a number of companies are creating or have launched music hub sites as consumers increasingly are demanding all manner of music content online. Sony is planning to launch a music hub dubbed Uville in the fall, which will join already-existing properties such as Launch and Tunes.com.

MTV Networks Online is taking a slightly different tack from some of its competitors, however. Although SonicNet will be a central hub for MTV Networks Online and will aggregate content from MTV.com and VH1.com, among other sites, the company will continue to market its existing brands, Butterworth said today in an interview.

"We're not going to try and force anyone through any one gateway," he said, adding that the company will use its popular cable channels to promote all the brands.

MTV Networks Online also is looking to expand further in several directions, Butterworth said. He pointed to international properties, wireless services, fast access services such as cable, and e-commerce as the "big growth areas" on which MTVi will concentrate.

Butterworth also said the company's properties will offer downloads of music, as well as other content such as news and information programming, through its partnership with Diamond Multimedia subsidiary RioPort. He declined to say which MTV or VH1 programs may be available for download.

MTV Networks Online last month took a stake in RioPort, which builds hardware and designs software for music downloading and also operates RioPort.com, a download and information site.

In addition, the company has "created a new engine" for delivering audio and video content that incorporates personalization features from Imagine Radio, Butterworth said.

He added that VH1.com will be relaunched in October with the new features and said audiences can expect "incremental adds to SonicNet throughout the fall."

The company also is launching a weekly music trivia game show in October dubbed Web Riot, which will air on MTV. Up to 50,000 viewers at a time will be able to play along online, Butterworth said.