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SonicNet to relaunch music site

The relaunch, set for March, is part of a strategy to create a music-oriented Web community and battle intense competition.

SonicNet on Monday will announce plans to relaunch its popular music site, part of a strategy to create a music-oriented Web community and battle intense competition.

The relaunch, set for March, will include continuous streaming audio and video, breaking news, and a "library" of music information, the company said. It also said its new community, dubbed "SonicNet: The Online Music Network," will help "bridge the gap between television and the Internet."

Also in March, the company plans to debut new additions to the SonicNet roster of sites, which includes Addicted to Noise, video-on-demand site Streamland, the Alternative Buyers Guide, and international editions of its flagship site.

Along with "making a new SonicNet site," the relaunch is the beginning of an expansion of SonicNet as a network, Nicholas Butterworth, president and editor in chief of SonicNet, said today.

"SonicNet the brand will still be focused on 18- to 24-year-olds and cutting-edge music," he said. "But the new sites will make SonicNet a platform for any kind of music people want."

Butterworth declined to comment specifically about the new sites, but said they will "broaden SonicNet's focus to include other genres and musical tastes."

However, the Internet music scene has not proven profitable despite its potential for easier and cheaper distribution, sampling, and sales of music. Analysts have estimated that online music sales make up less than 1 percent of the roughly $40 billion-a-year music business.

Although online music companies such as SonicNet and N2K (owner of Music Boulevard and publisher of Rocktropolis, Classical Insites, and Jazz Central Station) have loyal customers, they're still waiting to generate sustained profits.

Butterworth noted the difference between SonicNet's strategy and that of some competitors.

"A lot of the focus on the Net has been in CD sales," he said. "Long term, we think having a consumer brand is going to be really important in the music space. We're focusing on content to do that."

In December, SonicNet's parent, Paradigm Entertainment, announced a merger with TCI Music, a unit of cable giant Tele-Communications Incorporated. The deal closed earlier this month.

Although the buyout bolstered SonicNet's finances, some industry analysts have speculated that TCI's conservative style (its interests include Family Channel and the Discovery Channel) may limit SonicNet's ability to offer controversial content. One example: SonicNet's news area covered the recent flap over the song and video, "Smack My Bitch Up," by the band Prodigy, but Streamland would not play the video.

"If people think [the merger of SonicNet with TCI Music] is a big corporate sellout, they're definitely in for a surprise," Butterworth said. "In this case, bigger really is better. There will be much more here for everyone."

SonicNet is aware of the risk inherent in being owned by a media giant. But in announcing the relaunch, the company vows, "Remaining true to its audience, SonicNet will continue to feature breaking news, live chats, artist interviews, live broadcasts, and on-demand music videos."

And Butterworth defended SonicNet's new parent as being more laid back than its reputation. "TCI is trying to become more friendly to creativity," he said. "They have not imposed anything on our culture."