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Madonna, live on your cell phone

Verizon Wireless and Vodafone will be offering a live simulcast of Madonna's launch concert for her new album on Wednesday.

Madonna fans who can't get tickets to the intimate concert kicking off the release of her latest album in New York City on Wednesday night can catch a glimpse of the show on their cell phones.

Verizon Wireless and Vodafone are teaming up with the pop diva to promote the new album Hard Candy, which hit stores on Tuesday. And as part of this deal, the wireless operators will deliver a live global mobile simulcast of Madonna performing four songs at New York's Roseland Ballroom.

The simulcast, which is the first time Verizon or Vodafone has ever streamed a live event to cell phone subscribers, will begin at 7 p.m. PDT on Verizon's V Cast Performances channel on Wednesday, April 30. And it will be offered on Vodafone's Live broadcast channel starting at 3 a.m. GMT May 1 for subscribers in several international markets including the U.K., Germany, Spain, Italy, and France. The four songs will be archived on the V Cast Performances channel for 30 days, giving fans who couldn't tune in a chance to see it later.

The concert simulcast is part of a larger mobile content distribution and promotion deal that Verizon Wireless and Vodafone have worked out with Warner Music International to promote the new album. Earlier this month, Verizon Wireless offered subscribers an exclusive "mobile underground remix" of the new Madonna single "4 Minutes," a song that also features Justin Timberlake.

A handful of lucky Verizon Wireless subscribers, who downloaded the full-song, ringtone, or ringback tone of "4 Minutes" through V Cast, have won tickets to the concert.

Verizon has been racking up deals with individual artists, such as Prince, Timberlake, John Legend, and Shakira, in an attempt to promote its music store and service. The company claims it is the second-largest music store on the market behind Apple's iTunes, with more than 3 million songs in its library. And in the first quarter of 2008, it sold a total of 34 million "units," which included ringtones, ringback tones and full music tracks, according to Ed Ruth, director of digital music for Verizon.

Mobile music, along with other data services like mobile Web surfing and e-mail, are important for Verizon as it tries to get its customers to spend more each month on additional services. So far, its efforts seem to be working. On Monday, the company reported that mobile data, which includes music downloads, accounted for over 20 percent of the company's total wireless revenue in the first quarter of 2008. And it said that customers on average spent nearly $12 a month on data services. These are fees that are above and beyond what customers pay for basic voice minutes.

While it's clear that mobile music can have big benefits for Verizon, the company also believes that it offers the music industry an opportunity it can't get using any other distribution method. As an example, Ruth noted the huge success of Shakira's 2006 single "Hips Don't Lie" when it was offered exclusively on V Cast. The song was originally offered as a ringback tone. And when it was eventually released as a full track and aired on the radio, demand was so strong for the song that it immediately hit the top of the charts when it was widely released, Ruth said.

"The big problem that the music industry is facing is that physical sales of music are failing," he said. "And digital music is trying to catch up. But what we offer is a unique ability to offer consumers content in multiple formats."

And it's this ability to sell the same piece of content in multiple ways that is likely the main reason that artists and record labels are working with mobile operators like Verizon. A consumer who really loves Madonna's "4 Minutes" single can spend $2.99 for a standard ringtone, $1.99 for a ringback tone, and another $1.99 if he buys the full track using his phone or 99 cents if he downloads it from his computer. (Verizon also offers a 20 percent discount for subscribers buying the song as both a ringtone and ringback tone.)