As a part of Viacom's online music network, which includes MTV.com and VH1.com, SonicNet lets Net users create personal radio stations or preprogrammed genre channels ranging from rock to country. Celebrities such as Britney Spears and Enrique Iglesias also program stations that users can stream for hours on end using their computers and music-playing software.
Through MTV Interactive's partnership with RioPort.com, SonicNet has quietly posted a beta area of its site, dubbed D-Rev 2000, which offers free digital downloads of songs by independent artists and promotional tracks by more well known singers. The section, which will officially be unveiled next week, includes download reviews by SonicNet's more than 20-person editorial team and news about the digital music sector.
The free download area on SonicNet is the first piece in MTVi's overall plan to incorporate digital music sales throughout its network. By early next year, when consumers are listening to a radio station on SonicNet or watching a video on MTV.com, they will be able to instantaneously purchase available digital singles to play on computers, portable devices and eventually home and car stereos.
In the face competition, SonicNet, like the other music sites, wants to offer visitors a more extensive menu, including news and record sales. Although the market for music downloads is still unproved, Net radio stations are anxious to tap into e-commerce as a way to bolster existing revenue from advertising.
America Online's Net radio site Spinner.com, for one, already allows users to buy CDs, and it launched a digital download area last week.
"Every three-and-a-half minutes on Radio SonicNet we have the opportunity to introduce new content to our listeners--from downloading a track to buying a CD to reading news or reviews," said Justin Herz, general manager and senior vice president of SonicNet.com.
SonicNet also plans to offer its own music store and will get a cut of the digital music sales it generates through its stations.
Although sites such as EMusic.com charge for digital downloads in the unsecured MP3 format, and MP3.com offers free tracks and CD sales by independent artists, RioPort supports the entrenched recording industry's Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), which aims to curb the trafficking of illegal copies of music.
RioPort already has inked a deal with "Big Five" record label Universal Music to digitally distribute its music. This means its partner, Viacom, is in a good position to supply digital tracks by the in-demand artists featured on its MTV television and online networks.
"We can create this experience where you can hear the music you want to hear, and we think we can provide a better consumer experience by bringing commerce into SonicNet," Herz said.