Viacom's MTV makes major Net music drive

Overhauling its network of music Web sites, MTV Interactive is making its most aggressive move yet to rule the Net the way its brands have dominated television.

3 min read
Overhauling its network of music Web sites, MTV Interactive is making its most aggressive move yet to rule the Net the way its brands have dominated television.

Viacom's MTVi division was created in August and includes the MTV.com, VH1.com and SonicNet brands, as well as 13 international sites for music lovers in regions such as Latin America, the United Kingdom and Japan.

MTVi's fresh portfolio of sites are some of the first fruits of Viacom's "Buggles Project" to expand its online music network with more e-commerce, television integration, video and audio streaming offerings, better navigation, and user tools such as personal jukeboxes. The company has created a "universal music platform" to deliver its services and content across the network.

"We decided that no one single site can be the ultimate destination for everyone, so having a universal music platform ensures that each of our brands is world-class," said MTVi CEO Nicholas Butterworth.

MTVi is unveiling its made-over sites as music and Net executives convene in Los Angeles for Webnoize 1999 to discuss issues facing the industry and to keep an eye on the competition.

Viacom's Net push comes at a time when the entrenched music industry is in a frenzy to take on start-up ".com" companies and emerging music delivery technologies, as well as to deal with how to secure their valuable intellectual property in the Digital Age. The official launch of MTVi's network also comes on the heels of the successful initial public offering of MP3.com.

"This is our first big gear shift into the Net economy," said Fred Seibert, president of MTV Networks Online and chairman of MTVi.

The digital music industry

at a glance

HQ: New York, N.Y.  
CEO: Sumner Redstone  
Employees: 49, 180  
Annual sales: $12.1 billion  
Annual income: ($122.4 million)  
Moved from Amex: April 1999  
Ticker: VIA  
Exchange: NYSE

Viacom quotes
Viacom news

Source: Bloomberg 11/10/99

is racing on all fronts from the market for handheld playing devices to e-commerce and jukebox sites. The crowded field includes music track clearinghouses, such as MP3.com, RioPort, Myplay and EMusic, which let users make personal playlists; Net music directories and search sites such as Listen.com and Scour.net; and software companies including RealNetworks and Microsoft, which make online music players and have their own Net audio formats.

Like other sites, MTVi wants to make sure that music listeners can buy their favorite tracks--online or off--as soon as they hear them.

"You don't have to know anything except what pocket your money is in to go buy a record at Tower Records--that is how simple we want it to be on the Net," Seibert said.

The company has partnered with RioPort to let users easily access tracks despite varying digital formats and to eventually tap "pay as they play" online music.

"We'll be integrating downloads through RioPort as well as artists' merchandise by the end of the year," Butterworth said. "People have talked for years about a future when you're watching a video and you can click a button on your remote control and buy the album. We're not quite there yet, but we do believe in convergence in that sense."

The new MTV, VH1 and SonicNet
Instead of packaging all its TV music channels into one Net brand, MTVi is sticking with its multiple identities online.

MTV.com is targeted at people aged 12 to 24. The new site includes an interactive trivia game, WebRiot, that lets Net users play simultaneously against on-air contestants. It will also include "Spankin' New Music Week," which showcases artists' best work. The last installment on the site generated 3.5 million video streams and drew 2.2 million visitors to MTV.com.

VH1.com, on the other hand, is focused on users aged 25 and older. The site has a tool called "the Roadie," which lets fans aggregate music and news on a personal page. An auction area on VH1.com lets users bid on music memorabilia.

The revised SonicNet is still aimed at all music listeners, with pre-programmed radio stations by the site as well as artists and a feature that lets visitors create their own stations.