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The all-new clickable music video

Universal Music tests online video technology that turns band members' clothing into interactive ads.

Universal Music is kicking off an online experiment with interactive music videos, turning band members' figures into one-click gateways for selling a singer's shirt or concert tickets.

Working with British start-up Coull, Universal Music is experimenting with an idea that's had a decidedly mixed response on interactive TV services. Starting with British bands Girls Aloud, Busted and Razorlight, the label is creating a series of interactive music videos for Internet play, hoping to use them as direct ways to sell albums, tickets and other band-related merchandise.

"Fans are very familiar with hyperlinks," Rob Wells, Universal Music's director of new media, said in a statement. "Using Coull's (technology) we can now give them the same kind of interaction in a video program, which is a major breakthrough."

The Coull technology, and its first embodiment in next week's single from girl group Girls Aloud, is realizing one of the Web's most persistent--and so far elusive--visions for digital video.

Much of the periodic resurgence of interest in interactive television is grounded by companies' desire to sell products or services directly inside TV shows. But this kind of hyperlinked TV programming , provided by companies such as OpenTV, hasn't been tremendously successful.

Technologists have looked for a variety of ways to make Internet video directly interactive as well. The MPEG-4 multimedia specification has for years contained a standard way to create patches of video that act as independent objects, so they can be clickable or treated differently than the video around them.

Unlike the basic audio and video components of MPEG-4, this advanced technology still has found little widespread use.

Coull's system works without the need for any proprietary formats or software downloads. Video can be pre-treated by the company and then streamed to any ordinary Windows Media or RealNetworks player, Coull said. Most of the technological work is done with a proprietary editing tool to treat the video, then streamed online normally.

The Bristol, England-based company has been working on the technology for about seven years, but the rise in the number of high-speed Net subscribers over the past year has given it a boost, a Coull executive said.

"What's happened in last 18 months is an explosion of broadband, and there's now a distribution mechanism to get this rich media out there," Coull CEO Irfon Watkins said. "We're taking advantage of that now."

The Universal trial marks the first commercial use of the technology, but the company is also working on projects with other British music labels, Watkins said.