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Universal plays music programs on high speed

Heralding new statistics showing a surge in the broadband population, the music company is starting to gauge the tastes and habits of music consumers with high-speed Net connections.

Heralding new statistics showing a surge in the broadband population, Universal Music Group is starting to gauge the tastes and habits of music consumers with high-speed Internet connections.

The Seagram-owned music company, through its eLabs strategy and marketing unit, launched MusicUwant.com, a site for music videos created specifically to be viewed over broadband. Universal will monitor how consumers respond to the offerings over a four-month trial period.

The videos come with bells and whistles that would choke narrowband connections. These include added Flash animations overlaid on the video content as well as photographs, text and supplementary video footage that consumers can call up while music videos play.

"Because broadband promises the delivery of content that is closer to television, we're offering the first broadband music programs ever made," said Lisa Farris, senior vice president for eLabs.

Internet media companies including RealNetworks and NBCi currently tailor sites to broadband users. Court: Shut down NapsterBut analysts said that while those sites aggregate content coded at higher bit rates, Universal has gone a step further in combining media types for the broadband environment.

Universal "recognizes that there has to be a marketing effort to attract and hold listeners to broadband content," said T.S. Kelly, analyst with Nielsen/NetRatings. "There are streaming players that have offered broadband content with a mixture of different resources, but this is the first time a music company has said, 'You know what? It's time to take measures into our own hands.'"

The music company's broadband pilots are being launched as the traditional recording industry scrambles to cope with the popularity of digital distribution enterprises like MP3.com and Napster. While fighting these Internet businesses in court over alleged copyright infringements, Universal also has been introducing its own initiatives, including a system for digital downloads called Bluematter earlier this month.

The broadband effort also coincides with new statistics suggesting that the broadband audience is expanding at a breakneck pace. The number of people with high-speed access--defined as any connection faster than 56K--at home rose from about 5 million in January to 7 million in April and 8 million in July.

Universal's pilot program will monitor the success of various programming and formats on MusicUwant.com. Likening this phase of experimentation to the early days of cable television, Nielsen/NetRatings' Kelly said these pilots will likely change over the four-month period.

"I'm not 100 percent sure that in its current form it's going to be attractive to viewers," Kelly said. "But they have a huge library of content, and they have to start experimenting."