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"Honestly, this presents an opportunity for new and emerging artists to have access to a significant audience—we're inviting them to reach our audience. This is really a programming and promotional platform for a group of artists that are underserved through traditional media."
——Kevin Conroy, AOL Music
AOL ADDING TWO NEW
MUSIC SERVICES
Neither Service Includes Secret Mind-Control Technology, So There Is Nothing To Fear
Paving the way for an ever more synergized future both among its own properties and the AOL Time Warner conglomerate as a whole, America Online has announced two new additions to its AOL Music division.

The first, dubbed the AOL Artist Discovery Network, aims to provide AOL users with original music programming and information with an emphasis on new and developing artists. Under the direction of AOL Music's programming group, which includes head of audio programming Chris Douridas, the new sub-site will plug music from majors including Atlantic, DreamWorks (for which Douridas has served as an A&R rep), Elektra, J, Priority, RCA and Warner Bros. and indies including Ark 21, Grand Royal and TVT.

"We've invited major and independent labels to bring us content and information about new artists and developing artists," AOL Sr. VP and head of AOL Music Kevin Conroy told HITS in an interview. "Honestly, this presents an opportunity for new and emerging artists to have access to a significant audience—we're inviting them to reach our audience. This is really a programming and promotional platform for a group of artists that are underserved through traditional media."

The Artist Discovery Network, in addition to including listening features such as genre-based "listening lounges," will allow users to receive music information relevant to their geographic area by entering their zip codes. Conroy says this feature, which is made possible through cooperation with AOL's AOL Local division, ties in to a guiding AOL strategy, which is to "localize the experience wherever possible." This ties in to AOL Music's effort to become more important among AOL users and the music industry by becoming more useful, he says. "We're building a bridge between what we know is happening in the marketplace and presenting that to our audience as opposed to trying to reinvent the wheel."

The second new initiative, called [email protected], is derived from AOL's Spinner Internet radio and Winamp media player properties. Set to launch in the fall, the new service will reside on the AOL application's tool bar, where users will have access to about 50 radio channels, some taken directly from Spinner. [email protected] will also feature AOL-exclusive programming, including a weekly "interactive" Top 40 countdown show hosted by Douridas. Watch your back, Casey Kasem.

While AOL says it plans to introduce additional music features later this year such as customizable radio and a music recommendation tool, Conroy says the current iteration of [email protected] in general, and the countdown show specifically, will sidestep the current licensing flap surrounding interactive webcasting. "We're thinking about community aspects, principally, so that members can interact with programmers and create community around the radio experience. The interactivity is not geared toward customizing the programming," he says.

AOL Music, of course, will also be among the first to roll out the major-label supported MusicNet, a joint venture among AOLTW company Warner Bros., BMG, EMI and RealNetworks. While details such as whether charges for MusicNet purchases will be able to be billed to a user's AOL account have yet to be worked out, Conroy says the service will benefit from AOLMusic's enhancements. "Our view is by enhancing our programming and providing for a really compelling listening experience, we'll pave the way very nicely for MusicNet's introduction."

While some have sniffed at AOL's music efforts and claim the service has had little effect on album sales despite the prime placement of links to music and artist information on its home page, the fact that the service has 30 million members can't be denied, nor can recent Media Metrix data which shows the AOL Music channel had 23 million unique visitors in June. And with the company's increased emphasis on music and localized content, music marketers will likely have more frequent and better-targeted opportunities to get their messages heard.

And at AOLTW HQ, meanwhile, corporate brains will be pulling out all the stops to leverage the many possibilities for synergy: In addition to other facets of AOL including its AOL Entertainment and AOL Teen channels, as well as Netscape and Internet chat applications ICQ and AIM, which all have cross-promotional marketing potential of their own, the mothership's other entertainment properties, such as Warner Music Group, HBO, the WB television network and a host of print publications including the music-heavy Teen People will all be interacting with the online megalith's music initiatives.

For example, AOL is sponsoring Madonna's "Drowned" tour. AOL will be promoted at all tour stops and will make concert music and video clips available for download online. Other initiatives include HBO's "Reverb" series, which beginning next month will contribute content and be promoted on AOL, and the WB's "Popstars" series, which has already been heavily pumped.

"What I really want people to understand is that AOL is making the commitment to bring music to the AOL member," Conroy says. "Ultimately, we want to create a point of destination that pulls together a whole range of programming products and services that really brings music to the forefront."

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