Operated by start-up FullAudio, the long-promised service joins an increasingly crowded field of hopefuls trying to tempt Net music fans to trade in their post-Napster file-swapping services for legal music downloads. The small company is betting that distributing alongside the biggest radio corporation in the business will give it enough clout with consumers to compete with major-label-backed rivals Pressplay and MusicNet.
Analysts say the Clear Channel radio sites could be a valuable home for music-subscription services. But they're not ready to give FullAudio and its giant partner the green light.
"It will be interesting to see how the Clear Channel audience reacts to this," said P.J. McNealy, research director with GartnerG2, a division of the Gartner research firm. "Radio has traditionally been free."
FullAudio joins Listen.com in the field of independents seeking consumers' music dollars. To date, however, those dollars have been scarce. While none of the major figures has yet disclosed subscriber figures, analysts have uniformly warned that relatively few people will sign up until at least next year.
At this point, even the major-label-backed services are still working out thorny licensing issues. Listen.com is the only service to have gained access to music from four of the Big Five labels.
MusicNet, Pressplay and FullAudio each offer music from three major labels. Analysts have generally predicted that consumers would want access to songs from all five before signing up in large number.
Each service also provides different features and prices. FullAudio's Clear Channel sites will offer 50 songs download per month for $7.49, or 100 downloaded songs for $14.99. Those songs can't be burned to CD or transferred to an MP3 player, however.
Rival services include a similar, but not identical set of features. Pressplay and Listen.com each allow some limited CD burning, and Listen.com allows unlimited songs to be played but is only a streaming service, for example.
Other services are on their way. Most notably, Napster has been attempting to launch its own legal music-swapping service for months, but has been unable to settle its long-running court dispute with the record labels.
The FullAudio service will be a test of radio stations' brand loyalty with consumers. The rise of CD burning, car MP3 players and satellite radio has led some analysts to predict rough waters ahead for radio stations.
The service will initially launch on five Clear Channel-owned Phoenix, Ariz., radio station sites, but will ultimately reach 30 Web sites as Clear Channel brings stations in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City into the program.
The radio giant will be looking at how the service does in those markets before adding more. But even if they are ultimately successful, it will take time, analysts caution.
"Consumers haven't exactly gone screaming into the streets with their credit cards for these services yet," McNealy said.