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Rumor Mill: Microsoft has perfect pitch for MTVi

The software giant and Viacom unit are negotiating an alliance that will help the two battle the AOL Time Warner online music juggernaut, sources say.

    Now that bombs are dropping on Afghanistan, the technology news media's habit of borrowing from the vocabulary of war to describe the machinations of software companies seems a bit melodramatic, to say the least. Fortunately the browser war has been declared over, or we would have to rename it after something more proportional, like a boxing match, or a spelling bee.

    Still, the wartime maxim that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" comes to mind with the latest rumors grinding through the mill, which are pairing Microsoft's MSN Music initiative and Viacom's MTVi unit.

    Rumor has it that Microsoft and Viacom are negotiating an alliance that will help the two battle--that is, score points against--the AOL Time Warner online music juggernaut.

    Consider what Microsoft and Viacom are up against: the world's largest ISP; its Web radio service Spinner; the Net music player Winamp; AOL's MusicNet online subscriptions alliance with RealNetworks, EMI Recorded Music and BMG Entertainment; Radio@AOL, an online radio station to be built into AOL 7.0; and a newly focused AOL Music division under former BMG Entertainment executive Kevin Conroy.

    Microsoft has been doing its best to keep time to the music, launching MSN Music this spring with play list personalization technology acquired with MongoMusic a year ago. It also allied itself with Vivendi and Sony's subscription service Pressplay. And the software giant cozied up to the MTV generation Friday with its announcement that Madonna, who's signed to AOL Time Warner's Warner Bros. label, would sing backup on its Windows XP marketing blitz.

    An alliance with MTV could go a long way toward boosting Microsoft's musical ambitions, but the benefits would cut both ways. MTV has a great brand, which Microsoft would like to exploit, and MTV could use access to MSN's claimed 250 million consumers worldwide.

    Microsoft and Viacom declined to comment. But those familiar with their negotiations said a deal was brewing.

    "MTV is really interested in joining Microsoft's music initiative," said one of our musically inclined Skinformants close to Viacom. "They have been talking for a while. Think about MTV's desire to be on the Web. They have an interesting brand, but that's about it."

    Analysts said the two companies' music efforts would harmonize nicely.

    "We're at a time when most of the major media companies and music-oriented sites are looking at opportunities and prospects, so it's perfectly natural that MSN Music would be talking to MTV," IDC analyst Susan Kevorkian told the Rumor Mill. "If this partnership comes to fruition, MSN would be using MTV to leverage what's still a relatively new music effort."

    Power play
    Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the president has appointed former Netscape Chief Executive and VC baron Jim Barksdale to his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board for a two-year term.

    The board's mandate is, in part, "to ensure that major programs are responsive to clearly perceived needs and that the technology employed represents the product of the best minds and technical capabilities available in the nation."

    Whether Barksdale's experience on the browser war battlefield was thought to have qualified him for the post is unknown.

    In other job market news, Al Gore paid a visit a few months back to the campus of start-up Good Technology, armed with his black SUVs and Secret Service detail. A crowd formed, and Gore shook hands. Rumors abound that he may be headed for the boardroom, but the company denies it. Every week I suffer battle fatigue and shell shock unless you send me your rumors.