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Sony launches Music Unlimited digital music subscription service

December 22, 2010 | 11:10 am

Just in time for Christmas -- if you're going abroad, that is -- Sony on Wednesday unveiled a digital music subscription service featuring a catalog of 6 million songs from Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, EMI Music and Sony Music Entertainment.

For now, the service is only available in the U.K. and Ireland, but Sony said it plans to expand it to the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Italy and Spain next year. Called Music Unlimited, the service costs 3.99 euros a month for the basic version, which streams ad-free radio much like Pandora. A premium version that lets listeners play songs on demand costs 9.99 euros a month.

Subscribers can listen via Sony devices that are connected to the Internet, including the PlayStation 3 game console, Blu-ray players, Vaio computers and smart phones. While the service can work on cellphones that use Google's Android operating system, it is currently not compatible with Apple's iPhones.

Sony will face fierce competition, both in Europe and the U.S. Spotify, a music streaming service based in Sweden, had been wildly popular with Europeans, largely because its ad-supported version is free.

In the U.S., a number of services currently jockey for a dwindling number of subscribers willing to pay for music streaming. The vast majority of Pandora's popular Internet radio listeners pay nothing for the service. The number of paying subscribers to on-demand digital music services such as eMusic, Rhapsody and MOG are said to be fewer than 2 million in the U.S., the world's largest music market.

For Sony, the music service is the Japanese company's latest attempt to marry its entertainment assets, including Sony Pictures and Sony Music, with its consumer electronics business. The company in April launched a streaming video rental service that can be accessed through its Internet-connected Bravia TVs and Blu-ray players. It has been offering the video service on its PlayStation 3 game consoles for more than a year.

-- Alex Pham

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