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AOL gets 'NSync with band promotion

The boy band, which dropped an exclusive deal with Microsoft, has joined the AOL camp in the online giants' battle for the favor of pop superstars.

    America Online has enlisted teen idols 'NSync as it continues to battle Microsoft's MSN for the favor of pop superstars.

    The AOL deal comes after 'NSync and Microsoft allowed a one-year Web contract to lapse in November. Previously, fans had access to exclusive 'NSync content, including electronic newsletters, photos and unseen video footage, through 'NSync-branded versions of MSN Messenger and Microsoft Windows Media Player.

    It's unclear why 'NSync let the MSN deal lapse. MSN, which says it has eight million subscribers, would not break out the number of people who signed up for the co-branded service during the yearlong promotion. In joining forces with AOL, however, the boy band will gain access to a much larger captive audience: AOL, the world's largest online service, counts some 33 million subscribers.

    "Music has become an increasingly important part of the online experience, as millions of consumers now regularly discover, listen to, and buy music online," Kevin Conroy, a former BMG Entertainment executive who now heads AOL's online music initiatives, said in a statement. The deal with 'NSync "is another example of how music is redefining the interactive experience, and how the interactive experience is redefining music."

    A representative for the band could not be immediately reached for comment.

    AOL said Wednesday that its members can purchase advanced tickets to the band's upcoming "Celebrity " tour, scheduled in more than 30 cities beginning March 3. AOL members also will be able to pre-order upcoming albums, enter online sweepstakes, join chats, and read interviews and a diary chronicling the group's tour. AOL said it will also develop an 'NSync Celebrity DJ station on Radio AOL, an 'NSync screensaver and an 'NSync skin for its Winamp player.

    The AOL Time Warner division has made aggressive efforts to polish its appeal to consumers. In May, AOL let members buy advanced tickets to Madonna's "Drowned World" tour. Response was overwhelming: The company said it sold its block of tickets in less than two hours, leaving some unhappy subscribers unable to get in on the deal.

    An MSN representative declined to provide specific details about its defunct 'NSync contract, saying the service is "routinely working with other artists" to provide special content. For example, an agreement with pop vocalist Janet Jackson let MSN offer subscribers a limited number of presale tickets to concerts as well as an online chat with the superstar.

    Despite such offers, analysts say that winning skirmishes over top music acts may not significantly affect rival services in their ongoing battle for consumer devotion.

    "There's probably enough big acts to go around where Microsoft and AOL can both be successful at these promotions," said Phil Benyola, a digital media research associate for investment company Raymond James Financial. "It's all about who you know and what you're connections are and what you can bring to the table to sign up a group like this to do a revenue share."